FOI DAILY DOSE: NYT reporter subpoena argued in court, agencies set to revise FOIA policies (maybe)

Judge hears debate on Risen’s motion to quash subpoena

New York Times reporter James Risen’s attorneys argued his case in court Thursday, fighting for his right not to testify in a CIA leak case.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema heard arguments from Risen’s lawyers and from the government, which sought to convince the judge that the reporter’s testimony is a key factor in their case against ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling. Sterling is accused of leaking information about a CIA operation targeting Iran’s nuclear program to Risen.

Information about the operation appeared in the Risen’s 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

Risen’s attorney, Joel Kurtzberg, pointed out that the government hadn’t shown what other available testimonies they had before subpoenaing Risen – a move that should be a last resort only, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Government prosecutors argued that the jury should be privy to information that will provide more certainty in their verdict, including Risen’s testimony.

Risen’s attorneys counter-argued that the prosecution needs to prove that his testimony is a critical, rather than simply supplemental, piece of its case in order to overcome the state shield law.

Risen has said he would testify on information that has already been published or is already known, such as the fact that his writing is accurate and that statements from an unidentified source actually came from an unidentified source. He has said he isn’t willing to reveal any confidential sources. If forced to testify, he could be jailed for his refusal.

Prior to Thursday’s court proceedings, the government responded Wednesday to a court order in which Brinkema asked the court to review Risen’s 2010 subpoena and related documents and decide whether they could be unsealed and released with certain redactions. The judge said this could better inform Sterling’s prosecution, according to Secrecy News.

In response, the government said that the 2010 grand jury proceedings involving Risen should remain secret.

For more information on Thursday’s court arguments, including how the prosecution compared the Sterling case to the recent Casey Anthony case in Florida, read this Politico article by Josh Gerstein.

Agencies with FOIA changes on agendas – will they follow through?

Several government agencies are considering changes to their FOIA regulations in the next six months, according to a Unified Agenda report released Thursday.

Whether these changes will actually come to pass, however, is uncertain.

In recent years, many of the entries agencies have provided for Unified Agenda reports have been for plans that probably wouldn’t be put into action within the next year, according to OMB Watch.

Some of the FOIA regulations listed in Unified Agenda reports have been listed multiple times over the course of several years without being completed.

While the Unified Agenda details the FOIA plans of several agencies, there may be other departments planning similar policy changes that haven’t listed them in their entries for the report because they aren’t explicitly required to include FOIA changes.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email ( or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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