Obama DoJ continues legal action against NYT intel reporter

posted at 12:55 pm on April 29, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

When the Bush administration pursued legal action against New York Times reporter James Risen to discover the source of his leaks for the book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, critics charged the White House with conducting a vendetta.  The Times had published a series of leaks from inside the counterterrorist operations of the federal government, most of which Risen had written or co-written.  However, if Risen was looking for a little Hope and Change in the Obama era, the new administration had a surprise for him:

The Obama administration is seeking to compel a writer to testify about his confidential sources for a 2006 book about the Central Intelligence Agency, a rare step that was authorized by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

The author, James Risen, who is a reporter for The New York Times, received a subpoena on Monday requiring him to provide documents and to testify May 4 before a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., about his sources for a chapter of his book, “State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration.” The chapter largely focuses on problems with a covert C.I.A. effort to disrupt alleged Iranian nuclear weapons research. …

Mr. Risen and a colleague won a Pulitzer Prize for a December 2005 New York Times article that exposed the existence of the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program. While many critics — including Barack Obama, then a senator — called that program illegal, the Bush administration denounced the article as a damaging leak of classified information and opened an investigation into its sources. No one has been indicted in that matter.

The second chapter in Mr. Risen’s book provides a detailed description of the program. But Mr. Kurtzberg said the Justice Department was seeking information only about Mr. Risen’s sources for the ninth chapter, which centers on the C.I.A.’s effort to disrupt Iranian nuclear research. That material did not appear in The Times.

The chapter dealt with a clumsy attempt at disinformation from the CIA in February 2000. The agency had hoped to derail Iranian research into nuclear weapons by surreptitiously giving them designs with flaws that would have rendered the devices impotent.  Unfortunately, the Russian scientist who was supposed to give Tehran the plans found the flaws so obvious that he needed to correct them in order to maintain his own credibility.  Just as unfortunately, no one knows whether the Iranians had figured out that the Russian scientist at the center of the plot was working for the CIA prior to the publication of Risen’s book, which the Times notes in this report.

The Bush administration got a subpoena in January 2008, but Risen stalled until after the election.  He may have presumed that Barack Obama would not force his testimony on the matter, a perhaps reasonable assumption given the tacit support Senator Obama had expressed for Risen’s other exposés noted by the Times in this report.  Instead, Eric Holder pursued a new subpoena — and now Risen has to either testify about his sources or go to jail for contempt of court.

Earlier this week, I covered a controversy about California’s shield law and noted that journalists have to protect sources in order to report effectively.  I also argued that an exception should be made for national-security matters, given the nature of those efforts and the need to keep our tactics and assets from public exposure.  Those who see wrongdoing within the system have other channels to use — either through the chains of command, or by going to Congress.  This case, though, has the complication that the incident reported by Risen had been brought to Congress, which declined to act on it.  Still, the leaker chose a rather uncourageous method of dealing with the failure; he or she could have made this information public and borne the consequences of breaking the laws on confidentiality for this material and putting the life of a CIA source at risk.

Overall, the White House and the DoJ made the right decision to enforce those laws through this subpoena.


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Now, this is real sedition…

d1carter on April 29, 2010 at 1:01 PM

OBAMA = NEOCON TYRANT!

MadisonConservative on April 29, 2010 at 1:05 PM

color me surprised…

cmsinaz on April 29, 2010 at 1:07 PM

Once a leaker always a leaker. Obama has to know who to thank or prosecute.

Socmodfiscon on April 29, 2010 at 1:07 PM

Interesting, but I question the timing!

Del Dolemonte on April 29, 2010 at 1:08 PM

Well! At this rate, I may be able to count the things Obama’s done right in the double digits!

Glad to see we recognize that free speech DOES have limits, even if it takes some half-@$$ed newshound blabbing government secrets to make us see the light.

Dark-Star on April 29, 2010 at 1:09 PM

Glad to see we recognize that free speech DOES have limits, even if it takes some half-@$$ed newshound blabbing government secrets to make us see the light.

Dark-Star on April 29, 2010 at 1:09 PM

This isn’t a freedom of speech issue.

Heralder on April 29, 2010 at 1:13 PM

Overall, the White House and the DoJ made the right decision to enforce those laws through this subpoena.

It’s just this worthless administration looking for some credibility before november…

SHARPTOOTH on April 29, 2010 at 1:14 PM

The Obama administration is seeking to compel a writer to testify about his confidential sources for a 2006 book about the Central Intelligence Agency, a rare step that was authorized by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

How is it rare? Bush admin subpoenoed the writer in 2008. Or were they stating it was rare for Holder to actually subpoena someone?

Odie1941 on April 29, 2010 at 1:19 PM

This clown should get a cell in a federal pen.

Hening on April 29, 2010 at 1:19 PM

Did Risen get anyone killed or did he just embarrass the wrong people?

MB4 on April 29, 2010 at 1:20 PM

I guess I’m more cynical than the previous commenters.

I don’t see this going anywhere. Justice will screw it up or something. I don’t believe they have one iota of intent to carry this through.

For one thing, it’s not just the reporter. The reason to peirce his confidential source is to get to the bureaucrat who leaked. No way Obama wants to punish the bureaucrat. Heck, he couldn’t even fire people caught with PORN on their computers!

I’ll eat my hat if this doesn’t get dropped down the line.

jeanneb on April 29, 2010 at 1:20 PM

Enlightened self-interest wins out over vendettas here — if the administration stopped the DOJ action, they’d face the problem of having set precedent for themselves if some anti-Obama person in the intelligence community starts leaking classified info to the Wall Street Journal, or some other news outlet not considered friendly to this White House.

jon1979 on April 29, 2010 at 1:21 PM

jeanneb on April 29, 2010 at 1:20 PM

Your cynicism has good logic behind it…although I think any reporter who manages to honk off enough important people that two successive administrations take legal action isn’t going to get off scot-free.

Yes, suing reporters is rather like wrestling with a greased pig anymore, but the situation changes when you have an octopus in the sty.

Dark-Star on April 29, 2010 at 1:24 PM

Did Risen get anyone killed or did he just embarrass the wrong people?

MB4 on April 29, 2010 at 1:20 PM

We don’t know, and they would never tell us. If they outed a CIA plant, that CIA plant may be safe now, but is there some operative that vouched for the plant? If the bad guys know for certain that operative A lied to them, then now they know for certain that operative B lied to them. And they may still be able to get to operative B. Knowing something is different than suspecting something.

RBMN on April 29, 2010 at 1:32 PM

They told me if I voted for Sarah Palin we’d have a thuggish administration trying to silence it’s critics in the media. And they were right!

Seriously, exposing our intel operations during war time is, ah, what’s that word? Oh yes, treason. It is giving aid to our enemies.

rbj on April 29, 2010 at 1:34 PM

Glad to see we recognize that free speech DOES have limits, even if it takes some half-@$$ed newshound blabbing government secrets to make us see the light.

Dark-Star on April 29, 2010 at 1:09 PM

You neocons care no more for free speech than the libtards when someone says something you disagree with.

Dark-Star on April 29, 2010 at 1:20 PM

Why don’t you take a stand and uh, actually stick with it OK?

Johnnyreb on April 29, 2010 at 1:38 PM

Smoke & mirrors.
Just another step in the agenda towards the past administration.

christene on April 29, 2010 at 1:42 PM

Why don’t you take a stand and uh, actually stick with it OK?

Johnnyreb on April 29, 2010 at 1:38 PM

Why don’t you try to distinguish between flippantly telling someone who has a different political opinion to shut up, and someone who is compromising national security?

Or can you?

Dark-Star on April 29, 2010 at 1:44 PM

As always, I question the timing.

Where were they forty years ago, when The Pentagon Papers were being published daily by the NYT? And practically every year since then?

What does Obama so desperately need to keep hidden?

logis on April 29, 2010 at 1:46 PM

Overall, the White House and the DoJ made the right decision to enforce those laws through this subpoena.

But “making the right decision” is a lot easier when you know the media will soft-pedal it for you, isn’t it? The contrast in the degree of outrage this has generated shows how America’s security is compromised by the media for the benefit of its favorites, when the wrong party is running the Executive.

drunyan8315 on April 29, 2010 at 2:03 PM

More evidence that both the “give enough monkeys enough typewriters” and the “stopped clock is right twice a day” theories are correct!!

landlines on April 29, 2010 at 4:05 PM

Hmmm.

If I had a million monkeys …. hell with the typewriters we’ll just put them together into a big building somewhere near Langley and call the whole thing the CIA.

memomachine on April 29, 2010 at 5:47 PM

Since when does Obama care about national security, treason and the destruction of our military?

profitsbeard on April 29, 2010 at 7:51 PM

Tomorrow’s NYT editorial really just writes itself, doesn’t it?

Paul_in_NJ on April 29, 2010 at 10:50 PM

Now if Risen had only used his investigating skills to uncover Obama’s secrets instead of stabbing his country in the back.

docdave on April 30, 2010 at 12:48 PM