US journalist facing jail term for refusing to testify in CIA officer’s trial

James RisenBy IAN ALLEN |
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. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #536 (US edition)

James Risen

James Risen

►►US federal agencies sitting on decade-old FOIA requests. In the United States, as Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are growing, a new study has found that eight government agencies are sitting on requests filed over ten years ago. According to the Knight Open Government Survey, conducted by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the single oldest request is now 20 years old. FOIA requires agencies to process and respond to a request within 20 business days. ►►US journalist seeks to avoid testifying at CIA agent’s trial. A sizeable percentage of FOIA requests are filed by journalists, who are also on the receiving ends of most intelligence-related ‘leaks’ in the United States. One of those journalists, James Risen, of The New York Times, has been subpoenaed by the Obama administration to testify at the trial of Jeffrey Sterling. Sterling is a former CIA employee, who has been arrested under the Espionage Act for allegedly revealing details about Operation MERLIN to Risen. MERLIN was a botched US effort to provide Iran with a flawed design for building a nuclear weapon, in order to delay the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program. Times lawyers argue that the First Amendment should shield Risen from having to testify at Sterling’s trial. ►►US intel research agency works on 3-D holographs. Also in the United States, IARPA, the US intelligence community’s technical research wing, has announced that it is working on a system that lets intelligence analysts collaborate with each other using “interactive 3-D holographic displays”. Through this system, IARPA hopes that intelligence personnel could take simultaneous virtual strolls through real-life target locations, help plan raids, etc.

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