Few Details in CIA Espionage Case From Journalist Risen | Courthouse News Service
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Few Details in CIA Espionage Case From Journalist Risen

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) - New York Times reporter James Risen did not make it easy for prosecutors when he finally appeared in court Monday to testify in the case against a former CIA agent accused of leaking confidential information.

After six years of resisting subpoenas to reveal where he got information on a botched CIA operation that appeared in his book, "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," Risen was finally forced to appear at a hearing Monday to answer limited questions about his journalistic experiences and book material.

The hearing took place one week before former CIA agent Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, accused of leaking classified CIA information to Risen, is set to go on trial.

Risen easily answered prosecutor James Trump's first few questions about where he works and whether he previously wrote affidavits regarding Sterling's case, but he balked when Trump asked if he had a confidentiality agreement with the sources he used for writing "State of War."

"In my reporting, I have used both unnamed and identified sources," Risen said. "Where my articles or book say I had unnamed sources, I had unnamed sources. Where my articles or book say I had identified sources, I had identified sources."

As Trump tried several times to have Risen answer explicitly whether he had a confidentiality agreement with any sources, Risen simply repeated his answer.

Trump then asked Risen if he had a non-confidentiality agreement with Jeffrey Sterling when he wrote a 2002 New York Times story detailing Sterling's allegations that the CIA discriminated against him when he was fired from the agency. Risen declined to answer that question, indicating that he was concerned his answers would be used by the government to form a broader conclusion.

"I don't want to provide information that I believe the government wants to use as a building block for a larger mosaic in this case," Risen said.

Trump then asked Risen more information about chapter 9 of "State of War," the portion at the heart of Sterling's case and the government's inquiries of Risen. In the passage, Risen describes Operation Merlin, an attempt by the CIA to provide faulty nuclear plans to Iran in an effort to slow the Iranians' nuclear weapons development.

While Risen tried to avoid giving any specifics about where his chapter 9 information came from, he stood by its accuracy.

"My chapter 9 accurately reflects information that I obtained from unnamed sources and other information gathered through my reporting," Risen said.

The court had to recess briefly when Trump presented Risen with an affidavit he wrote in 2010, containing information he did not remember disclosing. After the recess, Risen acknowledged to the court that chapter 9 contained some publicly available information, as well information gained by confidential sources and his own research.

Under further questioning, Risen told the court unequivocally that he would not breach any confidentiality agreements he made with any sources "regardless of government sanctions." He also declined to point out exactly which paragraphs in his book used information provided by confidential sources.

"Would your testimony at trial be identical to your testimony today?" Trump asked Risen.

"Yes, I believe so," Risen answered.

Sterling defense attorney Edward McMahon told U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema that because Risen's lack of detailed testimony prevents the government from establishing even basic facts about its case against Sterling, he will likely file a motion to dismiss the case.

With Sterling's trial set to begin Jan. 12, Brinkema told the government that it now has to decide whether it will call Risen to testify during the actual trial.

Risen and his attorneys declined to answer any questions as they left the courthouse, and defense attorneys and prosecutors in the Sterling case remained in court to continue with a closed portion of the hearing.

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