US journalist facing jail term for refusing to testify in CIA officer’s trial
June 3, 2014 1 Comment
By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A leading American journalist is facing a possible jail term after the United States Supreme Court refused to consider his appeal against testifying at the trial of a former Central Intelligence Agency officer. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, who worked for the CIA from 1993 until 2002, was arrested in early 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was charged with leaking classified information about Operation MERLIN, a botched CIA covert operation targeting Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The operation was publicly revealed for the first time in New York Times reporter James Risen’s 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. In chapter 9 of the book, Risen details a bungled operation by the CIA’s Iran Task Force to pass to the Iranians a series of faulty nuclear bomb design documents. Risen alleges that the CIA operation backlashed and may actually have helped the Iranian nuclear weapons program, as Iranian nuclear engineers would have been able to “extract valuable information from the blueprints while ignoring the flaws”. Risen was summoned to testify in Sterling’s trial, but refused, arguing that having to identify the source of his allegation about Operation MERLIN would infringe on press freedom. On the other side of the argument, the United States government claimed that the freedom of the press does not permit journalists “to refuse to provide direct evidence of criminal wrongdoing by confidential sources”. Risen filed a case in a Virginia court, arguing that he should not be forced to comply with the subpoena issued to him to testify at Sterling’s trial. After the court upheld the subpoena, Risen’s legal team filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. But the Court has now refused to hear the case, which means that Risen will have to testify in Sterling’s trial or face a possible jail sentence. Risen told The New York Times that he would “continue to fight”, while his lawyer said he hoped “that the government will not seek to have [Risen] held in contempt for doing nothing more than reporting the news and keeping his promises” to his confidential sources. Last week, US Attorney General Eric Holder commented that “as long as I’m attorney-general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail”, a statement interpreted by The Times as a hint that the Justice Department would not pursue a jail sentence for Risen. A precise date for Sterling’s trial has not yet been set. The former CIA officer faces up to 120 years in prison if convicted.