News Release

“60 Minutes” Report Undermines DOJ Threat to Jail Risen

0A report that aired on “60 Minutes” last night put the Obama Justice Department more on the defensive in its ongoing effort to compel New York Times reporter James Risen to identify a confidential source — under threat of imprisonment.

On the CBS program, Michael Hayden — a former CIA director as well as a former NSA director — distanced himself from the ongoing threat to jail Jim Risen. “I don’t understand the necessity to pursue Jim,” Hayden said. The comments are a setback for the Obama administration’s pursuit of Risen to force him to betray a source.

The cover article in the current edition of The Nation magazine documents the administration’s extraordinary pursuit of Risen and its parallel moves against former CIA undercover agent Jeffrey Sterling. The article says that “the standard media narratives about Risen and Sterling have skipped over deep patterns of government retaliation against recalcitrant journalists and whistleblowers. Those patterns are undermining press freedom, precluding the informed consent of the governed and hiding crucial aspects of U.S. foreign policy.”

Scrutinizing what the New York Times has called “the most serious confrontation between the government and the press in recent history,” the in-depth article in The Nation sifts through the protracted and ongoing efforts by the U.S. government targeting Risen and Sterling.

“Under Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama’s Justice Department took up where the Bush DOJ left off,” the article reports, assessing the legal maneuvers of both administrations. A vendetta against Risen goes back at least a decade at the CIA, “where officials have loathed his way of flipping over their rocks,” the article says.

Risen has faced a series of subpoenas and legal threats from the Justice Department for almost seven years. Meanwhile, Sterling is facing an imminent trial on 10 felony counts, which include seven under the Espionage Act. He is accused of divulging information to Risen about a CIA operation that gave flawed nuclear weapons blueprints to Iran in 2000.

The Nation article was written by Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler, who are journalists with ExposeFacts.org, a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

The article concludes: “If the government’s indictment is accurate in its claim that Sterling divulged classified information, then he took a great risk to inform the public about an action that, in Risen’s words, ‘may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.’ If the indictment is false, then Sterling is guilty of nothing more than charging the agency with racial bias and going through channels to inform the Senate Intelligence Committee of extremely dangerous CIA actions. Either way, Jeffrey Sterling is now facing dire consequences as a whistleblower in the Obama era.”

The article is posted on The Nation’s website, here. The writers of the piece are available for interviews:

MARCY WHEELER, emptywheel at gmail.com
Wheeler writes widely about the legal aspects of the “war on terror” and its effects on civil liberties. She blogs at emptywheel.net and writes the “Right to Know” column for ExposeFacts.org.
Wheeler said today: “Michael Hayden hesitates to say James Risen should be jailed for protecting his sources, but he does so using an interesting rationale — that Risen, like Hayden himself, was just protecting sources and methods. Yet that equates whistleblowers knowingly risking their livelihood to share important news with the government secretly violating the privacy of millions of Americans.”

NORMAN SOLOMON, solomonprogressive at gmail.com
Solomon is the author of many books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and a co-founder of RootsAction.org.