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James Risen Prepared to "Pay Any Price" to Report on War on Terror Amid Crackdown on Whistleblowers

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Original published at Democracy Now!


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We spend the hour with veteran New York Times investigative reporter James Risen, the journalist at the center of one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades. In 2006, Risen won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting about warrantless wiretapping of Americans by the National Security Agency. He has since been pursued by both the Bush and Obama administrations in a six-year leak investigation into that book, "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration."

Risen now faces years in prison if he refuses to testify at the trial of a former CIA officer, Jeffrey Sterling, who is accused of giving him classified information about the agency's role in disrupting Iran's nuclear program, which he argues effectively gave Iran a blueprint for designing a bomb. The Obama administration must now decide if it will try to force Risen's testimony, despite new guidelines issued earlier this year that make it harder to subpoena journalists for their records. Risen's answer to this saga has been to write another book, released today, titled "Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War."

"You cannot have aggressive investigative reporting in America without confidential sources -- and without aggressive investigative reporting, we can't really have a democracy," Risen says. "I think that is what the government really fears more than anything else." Risen also details revelations he makes in his new book about what he calls the "homeland security-industrial complex."

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TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour with the journalist at the center of one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades: veteran New York Times investigative reporter James Risen. In 2006, Risen won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting about warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency. His story would have come out right before the 2004 presidential election of President Bush over John Kerry. It might have changed the outcome of that election. But under government pressure, The New York Times refused to publish the story for more than a year, until James Risen was publishing a book that would have had the revelations in it. He's since been pursued by both the Bush and Obama administrations in a six-year leak investigation into that book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.

James Risen now faces years in prison if he refuses to testify at the trial of a former CIA officer accused of giving him classified information. In June, the Supreme Court turned down his appeal of a court ruling forcing him to testify in the criminal trial of ex-CIA analyst Jeffrey Sterling, who prosecutors believe gave him information on the agency's role in disrupting Iran's nuclear program. In State of War, Risen showed that instead of hampering Iran's efforts, the CIA effectively gave Iran a blueprint for designing a bomb. James Risen has vowed to go to jail rather than testify at Sterling's trial, which is set to begin in January.

In a story broadcast Sunday, General Michael Hayden, who led the CIA until 2009 and, before that, led the NSA, told Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes he does not think Risen should be forced to divulge his source.

MICHAEL HAYDEN: I'm conflicted. I know the damage that is done. And I do. But I also know the free press necessity in a free society. And it actually might be that I think, no, he's wrong, that was a mistake, that was a terrible thing to do, America will suffer because of that story. But then I have to think about: So, how do I redress that? And if the method of redressing that actually harms the broad freedom of the press, that's still wrong. The government needs to be strong enough to keep me safe, but I don't want it so strong that it threatens my liberties.

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AMY GOODMAN: Well, the Obama administration must now decide if it will try to force James Risen's testimony and risk sending one of the nation's most prominent national security journalists to jail. President Obama has already developed a reputation as the most aggressive in history when it comes to targeting whistleblowers. His Justice Department has brought eight cases so far, more than all previous administrations combined. On Friday, federal prosecutors hinted they may decide not to press for Risen's testimony, under new guidelines issued earlier this year that make it harder to subpoena journalists for their records.

James Risen's answer to this saga has been to write another book. Released today, it's titled Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. He writes the book is his answer to how, quote, "to best challenge the government's draconian efforts to crack down on aggressive investigative reporting and suppress the truth in the name of ceaseless war."

James Risen, welcome back to Democracy Now!

JAMES RISEN: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: It's great to have you with us.

JAMES RISEN: Thanks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, your new book is Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. You're quoting John Kennedy here.

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