July 18, 2019

Panel Discussion: Obama’s War on Leaks

A panel of noted journalists and writers, plus a former spokesman for the Justice Department, will discuss the Obama administration’s crusade against leaks of government secrets — and against some of the journalists who report them.

The Administration, which took office vowing to protect whistle-blowers, has repeatedly cracked down on leakers, invoking the Espionage Act in six cases. Several journalists have been threatened with prosecution for publishing what whistle-blowers have told them, and James Risen of The New York Times has been repeatedly subpoenaed to testify against an accused leaker.

Risen will appear on the panel, which will be co-sponsored by the Overseas Press Club of America and the National Press Club on May 1 at the National Press Club in Washington. Other panelists will be James Bamford, author of The Puzzle Palace, a book about the National Security Agency, and Matthew Miller, who served as the Justice Department’s public affairs director for the Administration’s first two years. The moderator will be Jake Tapper of ABC, who challenged the Administration’s policy on leaks at a White House press briefing in February. The event will be the OPC’s principal observance of World Press Freedom Day, May 3

Risen’s subpoena to testify in the case against Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer who is accused of leaking details about efforts to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program, was dismissed by Federal Judge Leonie Brinkema. She said Risen was entitled to protect his sources and that the government had not shown that his testimony was needed to make the case. The government is appealing that ruling.

Bamford’s book was partially based on documents he got through the Freedom of Information Act. He was twice threatened with prosecution for failing to return them after the NSA had the documents “reclassified” as top secret. More recently, Bamford was instrumental in collapsing the Espionage Act case against Thomas Drake, a former NSA official who was charged with ten felony counts for telling a reporter that an NSA software monitor program was both intrusive on privacy and ineffective. Bamford showed that the alleged secrets Drake told were actually unclassified, and the case was settled as a misdemeanor with no penalty.

Miller, who defended the Drake case, has since called it “ill-considered,” though he has argued the administration’s overall record in prosecuting officials over leaks is important to protecting national security. Tapper challenged White House spokesman Jay Carney on the Administration’s apparent double standard on reporting after Carney said the late foreign correspondents Marie Colvin and Anthony Shadid had died “in order to bring truth.” Tapper said the government seemed to believe that “the truth should come out abroad; it shouldn’t come out here.” Carney did not reply directly.

The discussion at the National Press Club is scheduled for May 1, 6:30 – 8 p.m. Admission will be free to OPC and NPC members, $10 to others. Log in to the OPC website to access the member-only promotional code. (How to log in to the website.)

RSVP is essential and can be done at the NPC website >>