Former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling was was indicted in January for telling New York Times reporter James Risen secret details of a failed CIA plot to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program in 2000. Though Risen never wrote about the plot in the Times, as the CIA convinced him it would harm national security, he did write about it in a 2006 book.
Now, the Times reports, federal prosecutors, with the approval of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., are “trying to force” Risen to testify at a criminal trial about his source.
To what extent are reporters’ conversations with sources protected? Not by any specific federal law. Nonetheless, Justice Department rules try to avoid forcing reporters to reveal information about their sources.
Justice Department regulations instruct prosecutors to “ordinarily refrain” from issuing subpoenas to the news media that could damage its “news gathering function,” citing “the importance of freedom of the press to a free and democratic society.”
But the rules also allow the attorney general to make an exception after weighing “the proper balance between the public’s interest in the free dissemination of information and effective law enforcement.”
Still, Risen plans to fight this subpoena as he has fought others on this case in the past. “I am going to fight this subpoena,” Risen told the Times. “I will always protect my sources, and I think this is a fight about the First Amendment and the freedom of the press.”