Posts Tagged ‘James Risen’

FOI Update: Federal appeals court rules against reporter’s privilege in James Risen case

A federal appeals court ruled July 19 that the First Amendment does not protect reporters from being forced to testify against confidential sources suspected of sharing unauthorized information with them, according to The New York Times.

This decision against the so-called reporter’s privilege came from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va. The court ruled James Risen, an author and a national security reporter for the Times, must testify against a former Central Intelligence Agency official charged with giving him classified information. Risen said he’s willing to go prison to protect his source, according to the Times.

The information was not for an article in the Times. It was for a chapter in Risen’s 2006 book, “State of War,” that portrays efforts by the CIA. under the Clinton administration to trick Iranian scientists as “reckless and botched in a way that could have helped the Iranians gain accurate information,” The Times said.

Chief Judge William Byrd Traxler Jr. justified the ruling by writing: “Clearly, Risen’s direct, firsthand account of the criminal conduct indicted by the grand jury cannot be obtained by alternative means, as Risen is without dispute the only witness who can offer this critical testimony.”

The 118-page decision comes one week after Attorney General Eric Holder announced new guidelines for leak investigations to supposedly tighten the circumstances for obtaining reporter’s records.

“It’s very disappointing that as we are making such good progress with the attorney general’s office and with Congress, in getting them to recognize the importance of a reporter’s privilege, the Fourth Circuit has taken such a big step backwards,” Gregg Leslie, the legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Times.

For more information about the case, read The New York Times article.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI DAILY DOSE: Alleged leaker bites back with subpoenas, Open Gov Partnership holds first big meeting

CIA leaker throws down with subpoenas for gov. employees

Ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling is tossing his own subpoenas into the mix in the court case investigating his alleged leaking of CIA information to New York Times reporter James Risen.

He is subpoenaing three current or former Senate Intelligence Committee employees, according to Politico.

Sterling’s lawyers filed a motion Monday for subpoenas of records from three committee employees, including its budget chief Lorenzo Goco. They also requested permission to subpoena official records from the Senate.

The staffers were working for the committee when Sterling complained to the panel in 2003 about the CIA’s Operation Merlin, which targeted Iran’s nuclear program and was detailed in Risen’s 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

Sterling’s subpoenas could lead to legal conflict over whether internal Senate records are exempt from a defendant’s subpoenas.

These aren’t the first controversial subpoenas filed in the case. Risen has received three subpoenas so far, and is awaiting U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema’s decision on whether she will honor his request to quash the third.

If Sterling’s Senate subpoenas are honored, it could help bolster his defense’s argument that Senate staffers were the culprits for the leak, according to Secrecy News.

U.S. hosted Open Gov Partnership meeting

The State Department held the first major Open Government Partnership meeting Tuesday.

OGP is an international project focused on getting solid commitments from various governments to promote transparency and fight corruption, among other things.

The program could help advance the Obama administration’s plans to use technology to develop better governing methods and strengthen democracy and human rights efforts worldwide, according to the State Department’s website.

Topics at the Tuesday meeting included breakout sessions on encouraging civic participation and promoting transparency efforts. Also covered was technology that could be helpful open government tools for governments.

Scan the meeting agenda and OGP brochure for more details.

Put this one in the “win” category for international cooperation on some of the most important issues in government: being open with citizens about federal information and welcoming their participation.

– 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).

FOI DAILY DOSE: NYT reporter may be forced to testify, whistleblowers ask Congress to help protect them

NYT reporter James Risen may not be able to quash subpoena

The third time may not be a charm for New York Times reporter James Risen, who may not be able to quash yet another subpoena from the Justice Department.

Risen filed a motion to quash a subpoena last week that would require him to testify in a criminal court case against ex-CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling, who is accused of leaking information to the reporter about a CIA operation to harm Iran’s nuclear program.

The information on the program was reportedly published in Risen’s 2006 book “State of War.”

A November 2010 ruling by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, which was made public Tuesday, said that the second subpoena against Risen would be quashed.

But Brinkema also said in the ruling that the longtime NYT reporter may have a tough time escaping a subpoena requiring him to testify in the case, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

With a criminal trial like Sterling’s, Brinkema said in the ruling that the government may fulfill the legal standard needed to beat Risen’s motion to quash.

If the subpoena holds up, Risen – who has said he won’t reveal any confidential sources – could go to jail for refusing to testify.


Whistleblowers ask Congress for more protections

More than 30 whistleblowers signed an open letter promoting the need for President Obama and Congress to provide better whistleblower protections.

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2010 passed in both the House and the Senate, but was kept from becoming law by an anonymous hold that killed the bill at the end of the congressional session in Dec. 2010.

As of this week, it’s been six months since the bill – then in its third version – died in Congress.

The letter calls for Congress to quickly bring back a reincarnated version of the whistleblower protection bill and finally get it enacted into law, according to a Project on Government Oversight blog post.

– 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).

FOI DAILY DOSE: Colo. governor’s cell phone records deemed private, NYT reporter fights subpoena in CIA leak case

Colorado governor’s cell phone records kept private

The Colorado Supreme Court may have handed public officials a new way to keep business discussions free from public scrutiny – make the calls on a private cell phone.

The court ruled Monday that former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s private cell phone records would remain private, crushing The Denver Post’s three-year fight to obtain the information.

In a 4-2 decision, the court decided that the records aren’t covered under the state public records law because Ritter paid for the phone personally with no state reimbursements and didn’t give billing statements to a state agency. He only kept the statements for payment reasons, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The Post tried to convince the court that the phone records should be public because the governor used his private cell to make calls during business hours and to discuss official issues.

This ruling could allow other public officials to keep business matters off-the-record by discussing them via private cell phones – an allowance that could cloud government transparency efforts.

NYT reporter James Risen fights subpoena

New York Times reporter James Risen and his attorneys requested Tuesday that a court quash a grand jury subpoena that would force him to testify in the case against CIA leaker Jeffrey Sterling.

The ex-CIA officer is accused of providing Risen with classified information.

Sterling allegedly provided information on CIA sabotage efforts targeting Iran’s nuclear program, which later appeared in Risen’s 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

Risen’s attorneys argued that the subpoena represented a government effort to retaliate against the reporter for writing critically of the government and that the information sought by the subpoena was protected under the reporter’s privilege supported by the First Amendment and through federal common law.

Check out Risen’s affidavit on the issue and a response from Sterling’s attorneys also arguing against the subpoena on the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News website.

Risen’s motion to quash the subpoena is scheduled for a court hearing on July 7.

– 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).

FOI DAILY DOSE: NYT reporter subpoenaed in CIA leak case and Wisconsin voting issues


A New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize-winner, James Risen, was subpoenaed by the U.S. Department of Justice for the trial of a suspected government whistleblower.

The accused leaker, Jeffrey Sterling, was indicted in December 2010 by a federal grand jury in Virginia. He is on trial for allegedly providing national defense information to Risen that appeared in a 2006 book called “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

No federal law exists that exempts journalists from testifying. Risen’s lawyer told The Associated Press he would attempt to have a judge override the subpoena.

The Society of Professional Journalists has, with other journalism groups and news outlets, pushed for a federal shield law in recent years. The proposed Free Flow of Information Act would protect journalists like Risen from turning over confidential sources and notes in federal cases, though there would be certain national security exceptions.


In Wisconsin, Media Trackers investigated voting practices during the April 5 election using open records requests.

From a small sample of registrations in 15 wards, Media Trackers found evidence of incomplete voter registrations and possible voter registration abuses.

Providing proof of residence for voters was a major problem uncovered by the records request. In one instance, a voter provided an acceptance letter from the University of Minnesota as a proof of residence, which wouldn’t be deemed acceptable under the guidelines by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.

– 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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