WASHINGTON, July 19 (RIA Novosti) – A US federal appeals court Friday ordered a New York Times reporter to testify whether a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official disclosed classified information about a covert CIA operation against Iran, a ruling with implications for the US media’s ability to protect sources amid a government crackdown on leaks.
In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said veteran Times national security reporter James Risen must testify whether former CIA official Jeffrey Sterling disclosed to him classified information about an unsuccessful CIA plot against Iran’s nuclear program.
“He is the only one who can identify Sterling as the perpetrator of the charged offenses,” Judge William Traxler wrote in the majority opinion that overturned an earlier ruling by a lower court decreeing that Risen was not required to reveal his source.
Sterling is among seven US citizens that have been charged with the US Espionage Act of 1917 during the administration of President Barack Obama, more than twice as many during the previous 90 years, Bloomberg reported.
Those charged include fugitive former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who is currently seeking political asylum in Russia from the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Risen, who disclosed information about the Iran operation in his book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,” could be jailed for contempt of court if he refuses to testify.
In a dissenting opinion, Appeals Court Judge Roger Gregory said the ruling deals a serious blow to the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and marks a serious infringement on press freedoms.
“Our country’s Founders established the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press as a recognition that a government unaccountable to public discourse renders that essential element of democracy — the vote — meaningless,” Gregory wrote.