Federal prosecutors are seeking to compel New York Times reporter and author James Risen to testify at the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer charged with leaking information about a flawed CIA operation to sabotage Iran's nuclear program that Risen reported extensively on.
On July 19, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Obama administration that Risen must testify at Sterling's trial, just the latest case of cracking down on leakers and journalists who publish classified information.
James Goodale, a prominent First Amendment lawyer, calls the administration's campaign against leaks a threat to the ability of reporters to do their jobs. Goodale represented the New York Times in the landmark 1971 Pentagon Papers case, when the Nixon Administration tried to stop the Times from publishing the top secret documents.
Goodale is the author of a new book, Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles, and sees parallels between the Pentagon Papers case and current efforts to prosecute Sterling, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. He was interviewed by Dennis J Bernstein on Pacifica's Flashpoints.
DB: Welcome Mr. Goodale, it's really good to have you. I don't think you could have picked a better time to write this book. And I understand you had some very specific reasons why you wanted to get this information out and posthaste. Could you give us the background?
JG: I wrote this book really as a clarion call to your listeners, to yourself, to journalists to wake up to President Obama and what he had in mind for the press, so that we would be prepared to deal with it. We're in a crisis right now, I would think. In this country, we're all concerned about national security, and what should be done to people who leak.
And my book is about one of the greatest leaks of all time. I was prompted particularly to do the book, not only by the clarion call to Obama but also by the fact that WikiLeaks had, in effect, created a leak comparable to the Pentagon Papers. So that's the background. We've got two great leak stories going on now, one that went on many years ago and we have a president who is very concerned about national security, as indeed President Nixon was, at the time of the Pentagon Papers. So there's a lot going on that has familiar rings to it.
DB: You write ... and I want to ask you straight up. You say "Obama is worse for the press and press freedom than former President Richard Nixon was." Is that hyperbole or is that your case?
JG: Well, what I say is if President Obama goes forward, and he tries to prosecute WikiLeaks, and he tries to do it on a conspiracy theory and he succeeds, he will be worse than Nixon. Because Nixon tried to do the same thing against the New York Times, many years ago. People have forgotten what Nixon tried to do. But he tried to prosecute the Times for the publication of the Pentagon Papers, and he gave up. He failed. So I say, if President Obama could come around and do the same thing to WikiLeaks, that Nixon couldn't do to the New York Times, he will have topped, he will have topped Nixon.
DB: How would you describe Obama's approach to classified information and press freedom?
JG: Well, listen, I'm an Obama supporter. I'm a former member of the Rules Committee of the Democratic Party. But I have to tell you Obama's approach to press freedom, and national security, from my viewpoint is very, very poor. He chasing reporters, he's chasing leaks. I just don't think he's done a very good job about it. And I prove my case a little bit, by the case that came out Friday where he has chased James Risen, a former New York Times reporter, for not disclosing a source of a leak. [Risen] wrote about that leak ... in a book and that case, which was all over the papers on Saturday morning, is a very, very bad case. It proves to me that Obama is chasing the press unnecessarily. And I could go on and on. I've got a pretty good argument here because I predicted this actually, when my book came out on April 1st of this year that he would end up trying to put Risen in jail, etc., etc. ...
DB: Would you just take a moment to remind people what the so-called justification ... what happened here because I don't [think] people understand the details.
JG: Alright, so on Saturday morning if you picked up the front page of the New York Times or you listened to the radio you may have heard that James Risen, a New York Times reporter, had been ordered by an appellate court to disclose his source. His source was ... set out in the book Risen had written and the information in question concerned Iran's nuclear program.
Everyone knows his source was a gentleman named Sterling and what Sterling did, apparently, was he told Risen that the Iran nuclear program was screwed up by some activities by the CIA. Risen put that in his book. He was asked to confirm that the source of his story was the aforementioned Sterling. He refused to do it. So he said he's not gonna ever disclose it, he's gonna go to jail. And the court of appeals in Virginia said "No, the government is right. Risen you were wrong." And it looks like Risen is going to go to jail. That's what that story is about.
DB: Alright. Now ... put that in context, and your concern about where this is going.
JG: Well, my concern is that Obama, to put it in simple terms, is leak crazy. He has indicted six people for leaking. That's twice as many who have been indicted in the whole history of the United States. Three was the record before that. And he is over concerned about leaks, and as a consequence he's ending up wanting to put reporters in jail. And that's not very good for press freedom, obviously.