New York Times reporter James Risen told a federal judge he won’t testify as part of a CIA leak prosecution in any way that could reveal the identity of a confidential source, as lawyers for the defendant sought dismissal of the case.
Risen appeared today in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia to disclose whether he would answer questions on a limited number of topics from prosecutors in the trial of a former CIA agent accused of leaking him information.
Risen reported classified information about a bungled Central Intelligence Agency program to give Iran false data on how to build a nuclear weapon in his 2006 book, “State of War.” The U.S. says ex-CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling was the source of the leak, and is seeking Risen’s testimony to confirm it.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered Risen to appear before her after prosecutors filed a list of issues they want to question him about. Risen has waged a three-year court battle to avoid testifying in Sterling’s case. Prosecutors’ insistence on his testimony has galvanized critics of the Obama administration’s aggressive pursuit of leakers.
Reacting to the outcry, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in February issued guidelines restricting the use of subpoenas and search warrants for journalists.
According to U.S. lawyers, Holder authorized prosecutors to seek Risen’s testimony on three topics: that he has an unbreakable confidentiality agreement with his source for the ninth chapter of his book, that he wrote the chapter and two newspaper articles based on information from the source and that he previously had a non-confidential reporter-source relationship with Sterling.
Joel Kurtzberg, Risen’s lawyer, had asked that Risen be subpoenaed to make it clear he was being compelled to appear.
“He’s certainly not volunteering to be here,” Kurtzberg has said.
While the topics prosecutors seek to explore don’t directly touch on the source’s identity, they could still point to Sterling. One of the newspaper articles prosecutors want to query Risen about concerns alleged CIA discrimination against Sterling, who is black and sued the agency for racial bias.
Sterling is interviewed at length and is named in the article, which was published March 2, 2002.
The other article, published Nov. 4, 2001, concerns a secret CIA site in New York destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. Sterling isn’t named in that article but, according to the story about his experience of discrimination, he was assigned to the agency’s New York station in 2000.
Sterling was charged in a 10-count indictment in 2010 with unauthorized retention and communication of national defense information, unauthorized conveyance of government property, mail fraud and obstruction of justice. He is scheduled to go on trial this month.
Risen’s resistance to testifying has played out amid a vigorous tracking of leaks to journalists by the Obama administration. Sterling is one of at least seven Americans charged with disclosing national defense information to reporters under the Espionage Act of 1917 during Obama’s tenure, twice as many as in the previous 90 years.
The case is U.S. v. Sterling, 10-cr-485, U.S. District Court, District of Eastern Virginia (Alexandria).
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