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Journalist fights the Obama administration over its sources

October 20, 2011

Reporters Without Borders is asking the Department of Justice to withdraw the appeal it issued yesterday against New York Times reporter James Risen to force him to testify about his confidential sources at Jeffrey Sterling’s trial. Sterling, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, is accused of leaking top-secret information.

“We remind the Obama administration that its role is not to determine what is good coverage of national security issues,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Jeffrey Sterling’s trial has been indefinitely suspended. Forcing Risen to testify is an attempt to muzzle every journalist who could publish leaked information and to decide what should be in the press,” the international organization defending freedom of information pursued.

In a statement given to Reporters Without Borders on October 20th, James Risen declared “I will continue to fight the government’s effort because I believe that this case is a fundamental battle over freedom of the press in the United-States.” He went on to say, “If I don’t fight, the government will go after other journalists.”

Since Obama took office, his administration has initiated five prosecutions of alleged leakers under the Espionage Act. This is the highest number any administration reached. There is no federal shield law in the United-States that could allow journalists to protect their sources.

In December, 2005, Risen wrote a story for The New York Times revealing that the Bush Administration had been conducting warrantless wiretapping on American citizens. In January, 2006, he published the book entitled State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, that included a chapter about the warrantless wiretapping, and also revealed many other aspects of the Bush Administration’s "war on terror." President Bush got the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation to try to find his sources for the warrantless wiretapping story in The New York Times. But they never found anyone they could try to prosecute and Risen was not subpoenaed.

Instead, in 2008, the Bush Administration subpoenaed Risen over a second criminal leak investigation regarding a story that was only in the book (a failed CIA operation related to Iran). Risen was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury but refused, and the subpoena expired early in the Obama Administration.

In 2010, the Obama Administration issued a new grand jury subpoena to Risen. He again refused, and U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema quashed the subpoena.In 2011, the Obama Administration issued a new subpoena, this one for the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, arrested in the case. Brinkema also quashed that subpoena, only requiring that Risen testify to certain harmless facts, such as to state that he did write the book, and that the book is accurate.

Earlier this month, the same federal judge rejected the Obama Administration’s motion to get her to reverse her earlier ruling on his subpoena. The Obama Administration is now appealing that last ruling.

For more information contact:
Reporters without Borders
Phone: +33 1 44 83 84 84

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