James Risen is a New York Times reporter who has done great damage to the national security of the United States, some through leaks he has published in the Times and some through leaks the Times has passed. The case of fired CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling involves one such leak on which the Times passed but that Risen included in his book State of War. Sterling was prosecuted and convicted of violating the Espionage Act for the leak. Risen remains at large.
Risen not only remains at large, he is lionized as a First Amendment hero by Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes and, most recently, by Sarah Ellison in the current Vanity Fair: “What was New York Times reporter James Risen’s 7-year legal battle really for?”
I have written about Risen and the Sterling case in many posts including “At the Sterling trial” and “Risen at large.” Paul wrote about Risen and Sterling in “Jeffrey Sterling convicted; his accomplice remains free.”
Provoked by the Times, Gabriel Schoenfeld wrote the book on the First Amendment and national security; the book is Necessary Secrets. Gabe has also written the best articles about the Sterling case. For a full understanding of what Risen has wrought in this matter I urge interested readers to read Schoenfeld’s Weekly Standard articles “Not every leak is fit to print” (2008), “What gives?” (2010), and “A privileged press?” (2014) as well as Schoenfeld’s Power Line post “A Risen in the sun.”
I asked Gabe if he would comment on Ellison’s Vanity Fair article. He writes:
For his role in the Espionage Act prosecution of former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterlin, Sarah Ellison, writing in Vanity Fair, presents New York Times investigative reporter James Risen as an intrepid reporter and hero of the First Amendment. But the article is a vivid demonstration of the imperviousness of certain human minds to inconvenient facts and contrary arguments.
The subject of leaks of classified information is exceptionally complex, involving a trade-off between fundamental goods.. Some leaks inform the public, while others endanger it. Who gets to decide what secret information should be released is a thorny question pitting the public’s interest in transparency against its interest in security. What’s not a thorny question is that the particular leaks in the Sterling case were exceptionally damaging to the United States and the value to the public from releasing the secret information at issue was scant. The New York Times itself declined to publish the information for precisely that reason. Contrary to the picture drawn by Vanity Fair, James Risen is not a hero at all. He put himself above the law and endangered the public. The facts of the case have been explored in depth in posts here at Power Line and articles in the Weekly Standard.
In addition to the links to the Weekly Standard article above, Gabe cites “Why journalists are not above the law” (Commentary, February 2007), “Send this reporter to jail” (Daily Beast, May 2010), and, most recently, “Time for a shield law?” (National Affairs, Spring 2014).