The agents expressed interest in documents that would aid the government's case against two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, who have been charged with disclosing classified information, said Kevin Anderson, the columnist's son.
In addition, the agents told the family they planned to remove from the columnist's archive - which has yet to be catalogued - any document they came across that was stamped "secret" or "confidential," or was otherwise classified.
"He would be rolling over in his grave to think that the FBI was going to go crawling through his papers willy-nilly," said the son of the legendary investigative journalist.
Anderson built a 50-year career largely on government leaks, and many of his secrets may have died with him. But he helped expose the Iran-Contra scandal and a CIA plan to assassinate Fidel Castro, CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reports. A paper trail might remain — he once posed on the cover of Parade Magazine clutching secret government papers.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Anderson also says the family is outraged at what it calls government overreaching and "a dangerous departure" from First Amendment press protections and believes that if Jack Anderson were alive "he would resist the government's efforts with all the energy he could muster."
Anderson's relatives are not the only ones hearing from FBI agents interested in the personal papers of the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist.
Mark Feldstein, a George Washington University journalism professor and Anderson biographer, says he was visited by two agents at his Washington-area home in March.
"They flashed their badges and said they needed access to the papers," said Feldstein, a former investigative reporter. Anderson donated his papers to the university, but the family has not yet formally signed them over. In a statement, the FBI said: "These documents contain information, such as sensitive sources and methods."
But that's exactly why a friends, family and journalists say Anderson wouldn't give them up.
The government snooping comes as the Bush Admninistration is pushing leak investigations involving reporters covering the CIA and the National Security Agency, Orr reports. "It's really just a small part of a much broader assault that this administration has been conducting on the news media," Feldstein said.
FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko, a spokesman in Washington, confirmed that the bureau wants to search the Anderson archive and remove classified materials before they are made available to the public. "It has been determined that, among the papers, there are a number of U.S. government documents containing classified information," Kolko said, declining to say how the FBI knows.
The documents contain information about sources and methods used by U.S. intelligence agencies, he said.
"Under the law, no private person may possess classified documents that were illegally provided to them. There is no legal basis under which a third party could retain them as part of an estate. The documents remain the property of the U.S. government," Kolko said.
Anderson died in December at age 83 after a career in which he broke several big scandals and earned a place on President Nixon's "enemies list." Authorities on several occasions tried to find the source of leaked information that became a staple of his syndicated column.