The decision, announced on 12 January, ends a seven-year legal battle between the Department of Justice and Risen, an investigative reporter specializing in national security issues who has repeatedly refused to reveal his sources.
Risen was first subpoenaed in 2008 in connection with the Department of Justice’s investigation into Sterling, who was charged in 2010 with violating the Espionage Act for leaking information to Risen for his book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”
The book revealed details of CIA operations including the feeding of deliberately flawed blueprints for nuclear weapon parts to Iranian officials.
After a Virginia court ruled that Risen had to testify, he appealed to the Supreme Court, which rejected his appeal in June 2014. The Department of Justice eventually announced on 16 December that, when he testified, prosecutors would not force him to name his sources.
When Risen testified at a pre-trial hearing on 5 January, he reiterated his determination to protect the confidentiality of his sources. Finally, in a motion filed on 12 January, prosecutors said Risen should be excluded altogether as a witness at Sterling’s trial, scheduled to begin this week.
“We are relieved that the judicial harassment of James Risen is finally over,” said Claire San Filippo, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk. “It is nonetheless unacceptable that a journalist should have to wage such a long legal battle to preserve the confidentiality of his sources. We are also very concerned about the unprecedented frequency with which the current US administration prosecutes whistleblowers.”
Under previous administrations the Espionage Act had only been used three times in leak cases since its adoption in 1917. Violating First Amendment principles, this witchhunt has a direct impact on the work of journalists, who find themselves being suspected of endangering national security.
A shield law would guarantee journalists’ right not to name their sources or reveal other confidential information about their work. Source confidentiality is essential for reporters. Without it, no one would dare to blow the whistle and the truth about many controversial developments would never come to light
The United States is ranked 46th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, 13 places lower than in 2013.