Posner v. Bazelon on Ruling Compelling James Risen to Testify against Alleged Source

Secrets and Scoops, Part 2

On Friday, a federal appeals court ruled 2–1 thatNew York Times writer and author James Risen must testify in the criminal case against Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA author charged for leaking classified information. Sterling is accused of being the source for a chapter in Risen’s 2006 book, State of War, about a blown scheme by the CIA to trick Iranian scientists. University of Chicago law professor and Slate contributor Eric Posner and Slate senior editor Emily Bazelon argue over what the ruling means for press freedom and the Obama administration’s aggressive effort to plug leaks.

Emily Bazelon: ...My fear about the Risen ruling, along with Obama’s record total of seven leak investigations, is that the public as well as the press will lose out, because the government officials who leak secrets will stop. You’re probably untroubled by that prospect. But when I look at the leak landscape, from Pfc. Bradley Manning’s mass disclosures on WikiLeaks to Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA, I see a lot more benefit to the public than specific harm to national security. Yes, I know, it’s hard to tell from the outside, but the government’s protestations to the contrary are frustratingly vague. I remain more concerned about the culture of government secrecy that has made classifying information increasingly routine than I am about the chinks in the secrecy armor. Where you think the pendulum is swinging on the arc of press freedom vs. government functioning, and what would it take for you to worry that reporters are at the mercy of prosecutors, and, now, the courts?

Eric Posner: The ball long ago fell off the string of the pendulum and rolled into the vault of the New York Times. Government officials referred 153 cases of suspected leaking to the Justice Department from 2006 to 2009. Zero led to an indictment. I’m sure the government fantasizes about a “culture of government secrecy.” The reality is that hardly anything it does is secret. WikiLeaks, Snowden, and the authors of an endless stream of best-selling books have laid bare sensitive details about counterterrorism and nuclear nonproliferation operations, military actions, espionage of foreign enemies, diplomacy, and much else.

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