A foreign reporter said on Monday that his phone was seized while on a flight to Europe with Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Hicks.
Idrees Ali, a foreign policy reporter for Reuters who covers the Pentagon, said the Twitter that he was also “prohibited from using electronic devices” due to a policy prohibiting non-US journalists from using devices on government planes.
“This policy was the first time I had experienced this after covering dozens of trips to the Pentagon across three administrations. That means we can’t do exactly what I’m supposed to do on these trips, which is write stories,” Ali said.
“It would mean that any non-US reporter traveling with the Pentagon, State Department, or even POTUS (depending on the plane used) would not have access to electronics to file on the plane, a totally incomprehensible policy,” he added.
The Air Force told The Hill in a statement that crews are responsible for ensuring classified information is protected on their planes. The crew of this flight took a “more restrictive approach”, which led to “miscommunication” about the use of electronic devices.
“Subsequently, the journalist’s electronic devices have been returned to him and will not be affected for the remainder of the trip he is covering,” the service said. “We respect the role of a free press and welcome them on board our flights. We regret the inconvenience we have caused this reporter and will review the policy in the future.
Hicks left the United States on Sunday for a trip to europe, during which she will meet leaders from Norway and the United Kingdom. She will also meet with the leaders of the United States European Command and the United States Africa Command in Germany.
According to Politicswho first reported the incident without identifying the reporter, the Air Force told Ali before boarding that foreigners flying in top-secret classified Air Force planes would not be not allowed to use electronics.
Ali was ordered to hand over his phone ten minutes into the flight to Norway and received it after landing in Norway eight hours later, the outlet reported. He was repeatedly told he couldn’t use his phone because Hicks needed to be able to take a classified call.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement to The Hill that the agency was “pleased” Ali had returned his phone and that the Air Force was reviewing its policy.
“We consider it an obligation – and an honour, quite frankly – to travel with journalists on official trips. Their coverage of the work we do informs audiences around the world about the policies and operations we pursue on behalf of the American people. We consider this coverage to be vital to the democracy we stand for and we respect the value of its independence,” Kirby said.
“We apologize to Idrees and Reuters for this incident and thank them for continuing to cover the Deputy Secretary’s trip to Europe,” he continued.
The Hill has contacted Reuters for comment.