The Justice Department says the CIA's need for secrecy trumps the public's interest in knowing about a screwed-up operation that put nuclear secrets in Iran’s hands.
The spy gambit blew up in the agency’s face when the Russian scientist it was using to peddle nuclear blueprints to Iran got cold feet and disclosed that the documents had been salted with false information, according to an account by New York Times reporter James Risen in his 2006 book, “State of War.”
The CIA officer who ran the screwed-up operation, Jeffrey Sterling, is being prosecuted on charges of illegally releasing classified information about it. The government is trying to compel Risen to testify about his sources.
Risen says he’ll only discuss what he’s written about the years-old operation, because he’s pledged confidentiality to his sources.
“A reporter’s testimony should be a last resort, not the first resort,” Risen’s attorney Joel Kurtzberg argued in federal court in Alexandria, Va., Wednesday, according to an account by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
"If they want Mr. Risen’s testimony, their burden is to show you they have no other reasonable alternative, but they don’t show you anything about what their case will look like," Kurtzberg said.
Likewise, the judge in the case, Leonie M. Brinkema, asked the government last week to consider unsealing all the grand jury pleadings in the case in redacted, declassified form.
"Given the significant legal issues raised in these pleadings and their relevance to the publicly filed case against Jeffrey Sterling, the public interest in access is strong and any further sealing should be kept to a minimum," Judge Brinkema wrote on June 28, according to Secrecy News.
Unh-unh, responded the Justice Department’s lawyer, William M. Welch II.
"The government has reviewed the grand jury pleadings, and respectfully believes that the need for grand jury secrecy continues to outweigh any public interest in disclosure," Welch said in a response filed last night.