Wednesday, August 20, 2014


The Government May Soon Send This Reporter to Jail. Here Are the Embarrassing Secrets He Exposed.


James Risen speaks at the University of California, Berkeley 
The Obama administration has fought a years-long court battle to force longtimeNew York Times national security correspondent James Risen to reveal the source for a story in his 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. Risen may soon serve jail time for refusing to out his source. The fight has drawn attention to Obama’s less-than-stellar track record on press freedom—in a recent interview, Risen called the president “the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.” But lost in the ruckus are the details of what Risen revealed. Here’s what has the government so upset.

In State of War, Risen revealed a secret CIA operation, code-named Merlin, that was intended to undermine the Iranian nuclear program. The plan—originally approved by president Bill Clinton, but later embraced by George W. Bush—was to pass flawed plans for a trigger system for a nuclear weapon to Iran in the hopes of derailing the country’s nuclear program. “It was one of the greatest engineering secrets in the world,” Risen wrote in State of War, “providing the solution to one of a handful of problems that separated nuclear powers such as the United States and Russia from the rogue countries like Iran that were desperate to join the nuclear club but had so far fallen short.”
The flaws in the trigger system were supposed to be so well hidden that the blueprints would lead Iranian scientists down the wrong path for years. But Merlin’s frontman, a Russian nuclear scientist and defector then on the CIA’s payroll, spotted the flaws almost immediately. On the day of the handoff in Vienna in winter 2000, the Russian, not wanting to burn a bridge with the Iranians, included an apologetic note with his delivery, explaining that the design had some problems. Shortly after receiving the plans, one member of the Iranian mission changed his travel plans and flew back to Tehran, presumably with the blueprints—and the note—in hand. Merlin did not wreck the Iranian nuclear program—in fact, Risen wrote, the operation could have accelerated it.
In a sworn affidavit filed in 2011, and in a recently rejected appeal to the US Supreme Court, Risen has argued that his reporting served the public good. Published at a time when military action in Iran seemed possible, State of Fearrevealed how much of the effort to gather information on Iran’s nuclear capability was not just shoddy but dangerous—even, in the case of Operation Merlin, helping Iran get closer to building a nuclear weapon.
The Bush administration did not see it that way. In 2008, Bush’s Justice Department subpoenaed Risen, demanding that he reveal his source—or face jail time for contempt of court. After taking office in 2009, the Obama administration renewed the Bush-era subpoena and continued to try to identify and prosecute Risen’s source. Justice Department staff believe they know who the source was—an ex-CIA operations officer named Jeffrey Sterling, who was previously an on-the-record source for Risen—but they want Risen to confirm their hunch and fill in a few details. In legal filings, Justice Department lawyers have called Risen a witness to “serious crimes that implicate the national security of the United States” and argued that “there are few scenarios where the United States’ interests in securing information is more profound and compelling than in a criminal prosecution like this one.”
If Risen is called to court to testify but fails to show up or refuses to talk, he’s likely to become the first reporter since Judith Miller in 2005 to be sentenced to jail time for refusing to divulge a source.

We Support James Risen Because We Support a Free Press

The Justice Department is now considering whether to attempt to force New York Times reporter James Risen to testify against one of his alleged sources. If Risen refuses, as he has vowed to, he would likely face harsh fines or imprisonment.

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg says: "The pursuit of Risen is a warning to potential sources that journalists cannot promise them confidentiality for disclosing Executive Branch criminality, recklessness, deception, unconstitutional policies or lying us into war."

Please join Ellsberg and sign below:
To: President Obama and Attorney General Holder

Your effort to compel 
New York Timesreporter James Risen to reveal his sources is an assault on freedom of the press. Without confidentiality, journalism would be reduced to official stories -- a situation antithetical to the First Amendment. 
We urge you in the strongest terms to halt all legal action against Mr. Risen and to safeguard the freedom of journalists to maintain the confidentiality of their sources.
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    At midday on Friday 5 February, 2016 Julian Assange, John Jones QC, Melinda Taylor, Jennifer Robinson and Baltasar Garzon will be speaking at a press conference at the Frontline Club on the decision made by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on the Assange case.


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