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Technical glitch reveals reporter's e-mails

A technical glitch has revealed previously blacked out portions of a brief federal prosecutors filed yesterday in their attempt to force two Chronicle reporters to reveal their source of a grand jury transcript. The blacked out passages can be viewed by simply pasting the electronic document into a word processing program. The glitch was first discovered by New York Sun reporter Josh Gerstein.

The blacked out portions of the brief appear to identify the Chronicle’s source as Victor Conte Jr. (right), president of the lab that is alleged to have created the steroids that Barry Bonds and others used to enhance their performance.

The blacked out portions quote a number of e-mails between Chronicle reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada (left) and Conte. The e-mails were obtained by the feds in a raid of Conte’s house. In one of the e-mails, Conte jokingly suggests that he should be placed on the newspaper’s payroll in exchange for information about grand jury testimony.

The Sun’s Gerstein mentions the technical flub in the eighth graf of his story published this morning, but doesn’t go into any detail. But at 2 p.m. (Pacific) today (June 22), the New York Times posted on its Web site an extensive story by Adam Liptak about the once-redacted portions of the federal filing. It wasn’t until 3:10 p.m. when the Chron posted its own story about the technical glitch at its sfgate.com Web site.

The Chronicle won’t comment on the e-mails, but Editor Phil Bronstein thought it was “a little surprising and ironic” that the government, which is concerned about stopping grand jury leaks, didn’t take more care to ensure that redacted information remained confidential.

The inadvertent disclosure raises a question — why are the feds threatening these two reporters with jail if they already know who gave them the grand jury testimony?

UPDATE: At 2:07 p.m. Pacific, the AP moved its version of the story, saying that Conte was identified as “a source” of the grand jury transcripts.

UPDATE 2: At 3 p.m. Pacific, the Smoking Gun, a site that posts legal papers, posts its version, which begins: “In a remarkable Justice Department screw-up …”

• The New York Times has posted the entire brief of federal prosecutors as a PDF, with the redacted portions restored.

• Do it yourself. You can also download the redacted PDF brief from the Chronicle’s web site. Find a blacked out portion of text and use the “Select” tool on the top tool bar to copy the blacked out portion of text. Then, using your cut-and-paste tools, open a blank document in your word processing program (Word, TextEdit, etc.) and paste the blacked out copy there.

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