May 26, 2011 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Department of Justice wants reporter to betray source but spares one of its own whistle-blowers

Reporters Without Borders is disturbed to learn that New York Times reporter James Risen was served with a subpoena on 23 May from the Department of Justice to testify at former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling’s trial on a criminal charge of disclosing restricted information to reporters. Risen has been asked to appear in court on 12 September. It is the fourth time he has been subpoenaed. The Department of Justice document received by Risen says he is a witness in the Sterling case and must reveal his sources and information to the jury. If he refuses, he could go to prison for contempt of court. “This subpoena is a serious threat to media freedom and the protection of sources,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The entire journalistic profession is concerned, not just Risen. Sources could stop talking to the press if they know they are not protected. We have long been calling for a federal shield law. “Thirty-six states of the union and the District of Columbia currently have their own legislation guaranteeing journalists varying degrees for protection for their sources. Similar legislation must be adopted at the federal level for the sake of the freedom of information that is enshrined in the US Constitution.” The same day as Risen’s subpoena, it was revealed the Justice Department has decided not to prosecute Thomas M. Tamm, a former employee who told Newsweek he was one of the sources for a 2005 New York Times article (written by Risen and Eric Lichtblau) revealing that President George W. Bush had directed the NSA to conduct large-scale electronic surveillance of Americans in a completely illegal manner, without obtaining warrants. The White House had put a lot of pressure on the New York Times not to run the story. “The Department of Justice’s behaviour is completely inconsistent,” Reporters Without Borders added. “It cannot ask a journalist to testify against a source and at the same time refuse to prosecute one of its own former officials, who revealed the same kind of information as the former CIA official is alleged to have done. Attorney General Eric Holder must publicly explain this contradiction. And given these circumstances, we urge him to drop the subpoena against Risen.” WikiLeaks still targeted
This latest attack on the confidentiality of sources takes on added importance since the release of large numbers of US State Department cables by WikiLeaks and the arrest of the whistle-blowing website’s presumed source, US army private Bradley Manning. During a conference call organized by the Bradley Manning support committee yesterday, Daniel Ellsberg told Reporters Without Borders: “It is my impression that journalists in general do not understand the degree to which their interests as journalists and as members of the fourth estate are threatened by these prosecutions.” During the same conference call, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Reporters Without Borders about a panel last year in Las Vegas in which he, Risen and former CIA official Valerie Plame were all due to have taken part. “I had to cancel because we had the intelligence that the investigation against Bradley Manning was in foresight,” Assange said. “Risen had to cancel because he had intelligence that the investigation against his alleged source was also being reactivated. We could already see the Obama administration attempts to extend the 1917 Espionage Act into territory where it is normally never being treated.” Reporters Without Borders reiterates its support for WikiLeaks and calls for the charges against Manning to be clarified. The material Bradley allegedly passed to WikiLeaks includes the “Collateral Murder” video showing US soldiers in a helicopter shooting Reuters personnel and other civilians.