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James Risen: Obama 'greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation'

New York Times reporter James Risen has exhausted his legal options after six years of fighting a government subpoena trying to force him to reveal a confidential CIA source.
By Gabrielle Levy   |   Aug. 18, 2014 at 1:36 PM   |   Comments

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NEW YORK, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- James Risen, the New York Times reporter facing jail time for refusing to disclose a confidential government source, slammed the Obama administration for its track record prosecuting reporters.

Risen's legal options were exhausted in June when the Supreme Court rejected his appeal to avoid naming a source for his 2006 book, State of War. The government claims they need Risen's testimony to prove former CIA official Jeffrey Sterling leaked intelligence on Operation Merlin, in which the CIA planned to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program through information sold by Russian scientists.

"It's hypocritical," Risen said, referring to comments from both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder in support of journalists who have faced police resistance while covering protests in Ferguson, Mo., this week.

"A lot of people still think this is some kind of game or signal or spin," he said, speaking to his colleague, Times columnist Maureen Dowd. "They don't want to believe that Obama wants to crack down on the press and whistle-blowers. But he does. He's the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation."

"Here, in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground," Obama said, delivering a statement from his vacation on Martha's Vineyard last week.

"Journalists must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told," Holder added.

Back in May, Holder signaled that his goal was not to imprison reporters, but rather to pressure Sterling into pleading guilty before his trial.

"No reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail," Holder said.

Indeed they have kept the pressure on Risen, even renewing the Bush administration subpoena against him when it expired in 2009. And recent stories have detailed the administration's Insider Threat Program, described by McClatchy as "a government-wide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions."

Dowd says all this means Obama's and Holder's defense of press freedom means little so long as reporters don't turn their pens against the administration's practices.

"Risen may be trapped in Ibsen," she writes, "but Obama is channeling Orwell."

Follow @gabbilevy and @UPI on Twitter.
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