February 28, 2011

Feds surveiled Risen trying to get sources for his book


James RisenBad news for freedom-loving folks everywhere. Politico reports that the Feds have been spying on New York Times reporter James Risen in the hopes of uncovering his sources for his 2006 book, State of War:

Federal investigators trying to find out who leaked information about a CIA attempt to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program obtained a New York Times reporter’s three private credit reports, examined his personal bank records and obtained information about his phone calls and travel, according to a new court filing.

The scope and intrusiveness of the government’s efforts to uncover reporter James Risen’s sources surfaced Thursday in the criminal case of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer facing federal criminal charges for allegedly disclosing classified information. Sterling is accused of giving Risen details about what Risen describes as the CIA’s plan to give Iran faulty nuclear blueprints, hoping to temporarily thwart the regime’s ambitions to build an atomic bomb.

Sterling’s defense lawyers, Ed MacMahon Jr. and Barry Pollack, noted that the prosecution has turned over “various telephone records showing calls made by the author James Risen. It has provided three credit reports—Equifax, TransUnion and Experian—for Mr. Risen. It has produced Mr. Risen’s credit card and bank records and certain records of his airline travel.”

First Amendment advocates are alarmed at the extent of the information gathered, and its potential to expose a wide array of Risen’s sources and confidential contacts outside the immediate interest of the investigation. Jane Kirtley, a University of Minnesota law professor and former director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told Politico,”To me, in many ways, it’s worse than a direct subpoena. Third-party subpoenas are really, really invidious…. Even if it is targeted, even if they’re trying to just look at the relevant stuff, they’re inevitably going to get material that exposes other things.”

According to Politico, Risen says the government never informed him they were seeking his phone records. But he says he had an inking in 2008, “We heard from several people who had been forced to testify to the grand jury that prosecutors had shown them phone records between me and those people—not the content of calls but the records of calls. As a result of what they told us, my lawyers filed a motion with the court as asking how the Justice Department got these phone records and whether or not they had gotten my phone records.”

“We wanted the court to help us decide whether they had abided by the attorney general’s guidelines,” Risen said. “We never got an answer from the court or the government.”

Stay tuned. As Sterling’s case moves forward it is a sure bet that more information about the Federal investigation into Risen will come out.



Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.