James Risen (born c. 1955) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist for The New York Times who previously worked for the Los Angeles Times. He has written or co-written many articles concerning U.S. government activities and is the author or co-author of two books about the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a book about the American public debate about abortion.
Risen grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, graduated from Brown University in 1977, and received a master's degree in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in 1978. He is now an investigative reporter for The New York Times, where he has worked since 1998.
Risen is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. He won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2006 for his stories about Pres. George W. Bush's warrantless wiretapping program. He was also a member of the New York Times reporting team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for coverage of 9/11 and terrorism.
Risen has written three books: Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War (Basic Books) (Judy Thomas, co-author) 1998; The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the KGB (Random House) (Milt Bearden, co-author) 2003; and State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (The Free Press) 2006. State of War was a New York Times bestseller. In 2007, Risen was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Reports on government surveillance programs
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Risen and Eric Lichtblau were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2006 for a series of controversial investigative reports that they co-wrote about the National Security Agency's surveillance of international communications originating or terminating in the United States codenamed "Stellar Wind" and about a government program called Terrorist Finance Tracking Program designed to detect terrorist financiers, which involved searches of money transfer records in the international SWIFT database. The Associated Press reported on May 24, 2011 that Risen is being called as a witness in the Jeffrey Sterling trial for alleged leaks of classified information.
The White House Press Office issued a statement on August 6, 2007 that the New York Times article on the Congressional and Presidential approval of a six-month extension of terrorism monitoring in the United States was misleading.
State of War
Risen is the author of the book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (January 2006). The book makes numerous allegations about Central Intelligence Agency activities. It alleges that the CIA carried out an operation in 2000 (Operation Merlin) intended to delay Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program by feeding it flawed blueprints for key missing components - which backfired and may actually have aided Iran, as the flaw was likely detected and corrected by a former Soviet nuclear scientist the operation used to make the delivery.
While doing research for the book, Risen's email and phone connections with former CIA Operations Officer Jeffrey Alexander Sterling were monitored by the US federal government. The US federal government also obtained Risen's credit and bank records. The CIA Public Affairs Office issued a press release indicating that Risen's book contains serious errors in every chapter.
Risen writes in State of War that, "Several of the Iranian [CIA] agents were arrested and jailed, while the fate of some of the others is still unknown", after a CIA official in 2004 sent an Iranian agent an encrypted electronic message, mistakenly including data that could potentially identify "virtually every spy the CIA had inside Iran". The Iranian was a double agent and handed over the information to Iranian intelligence. This also has been denied by an intelligence official. Risen also alleges that the Bush Administration is responsible for transformation of Afghanistan into a "narco-state", that provides a purported 80% of the world's heroin supply.
The publication of this book was expedited following the December 16, 2005 NSA leak story. The timing of The New York Times story after the Iraq election in mid December 2005 is a source of controversy since the story was delayed for over a year. The New York Times story appeared two days before a former NSA employee, dismissed in May 2005, requested permission to testify to two Congressional intelligence oversight committees. Byron Calame, the Public Editor of The New York Times, wrote in early January 2006 that two senior Times officials refused to comment on the timing of the article. The Department of Justice (DOJ) also conducted an investigation of the sources of the security leak involving the NSA. Risen says this book is based on information from a variety of anonymous sources, that he would protect.
The issue of journalists protecting their anonymous sources was widely discussed during this time period due to the Valerie Plame affair. In that case, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for refusing to reveal a source for a story of hers. The Attorney General hinted in a Washington Post article on May 22, 2006 that journalists may be charged for any disclosure of classified national security information. President George W. Bush, in a June 25, 2006 news conference, was critical of the publication of information of classified programs by the New York Times.
United States v. Sterling
Jeffrey Alexander Sterling was being investigated during the Bush administration. In 2010 he was indicted under the Espionage Act of 1917, one of the few people in US history whose alleged contact with a journalist was punished under espionage law, part of Obama's crackdown on whistleblowers and "leaks".
Risen was subpoenaed in relation to the case in 2008. He fought the subpoena, and it expired in the summer of 2009. In what the New York Times called "a rare step," the Obama administration renewed the subpoena in 2010. In 2011 Risen wrote a detailed response to the subpoena, describing his reasons for refusing to reveal his sources, the public impact of his work, and his experiences with the Bush administration.
In July 2013 US Court of Appeals from the Fourth Circuit ruled that Risen must testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling. The court wrote “so long as the subpoena is issued in good faith and is based on a legitimate need of law enforcement, the government need not make any special showing to obtain evidence of criminal conduct from a reporter in a criminal proceeding.” Judge Roger Gregory disagreed with the rest of the judges, writing “The majority exalts the interests of the government while unduly trampling those of the press, and in doing so, severely impinges on the press and the free flow of information in our society.”
Wen Ho Lee
In an article that Risen cowrote with Jeff Gerth for The New York Times that appeared on March 6, 1999, they allege that "a Los Alamos computer scientist who is Chinese-American" had stolen nuclear secrets for China.
The suspect, later identified as Dr. Wen Ho Lee, pled guilty to a single charge of improper handling of national defense information, the 58 other counts against him were dropped, and he was released from jail . No espionage charges were ever proven. The judge apologized to Dr. Lee for believing the government and putting him in pretrial solitary confinement for months.
On September 26, 2000, the New York Times apologized for significant errors in reporting of the case. Dr Lee and Helen Zia would later write a book, My Country Versus Me, in which he described Risen and Garth's work as a "hatchet job on me, and a sloppy one at that". He points out numerous factual errors in Risen & Gerth's reporting. The Times was one of five newspapers, including also the Los Angeles Times, which jointly agreed to pay damages to settle a lawsuit concerning their coverage of the case and invasion of privacy.
Views on KGB's involvement in JFK assassination debate
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In a 1999 article in the New York Times, regarding revelations from the Mitrokhin Archives of long term KGB efforts to promote the theory that there was a CIA conspiracy to assassinate President John Kennedy, Risen writes, "The K.G.B.'s clumsy propaganda campaign never had much of an impact on the debate over the Kennedy assassination in the United States."
- Bearden, Milton, and James Risen. The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA's Final Showdown with the KGB. New York: Random House, 2004. ISBN 0-345-47250-0 (10). ISBN 978-0-345-47250-2 (13). (Also available as an E-book.)
- Risen, James. State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. New York: Simon & Schuster (Free Press imprint), 2006. ISBN 0-7432-7066-5 (10). ISBN 978-0-7432-7066-3 (13).
- –––, and Judy Thomas. Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War. Perseus Publishing, 1999. ISBN 978-0-465-09273-4 (13).
- Wen Ho Lee - Chinese-American Los Alamos scientist accused of espionage
- COINTELPRO - FBI counter-intelligence program investigating and disrupting dissident political organizations within the United States
- ECHELON - secretive world-wide signals intelligence and analysis network run by the UKUSA Community, capturing radio and satellite communications, telephone calls, faxes and e-mails nearly anywhere in the world
- Carnivore - FBI wiretapping of e-mail and internet communications through proxy computers installed at Internet Service Providers
- CALEA - to make clear a telecommunications carrier's duty to cooperate in the interception of communications for Law Enforcement purposes, and for other purposes
- Operation Mockingbird - alleged Central Intelligence Agency operation to influence domestic and foreign media
- Espionage Act of 1917 - WWI law used in the 21st century to punish communication with journalists
- Isikoff, Michael (13 December 2008). "The Fed Who Blew the Whistle: Is he a hero or a criminal?". Newsweek.
- JAMES RISEN and ERIC LICHTBLAU (December 16, 2005). "Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts". The New York Times.
- Isikoff, Michael (2011-01-06). "Ex-CIA Officer Charged with Leak to Reporter". NBC New York. Retrieved 2011-01-07.
- MacBride, Neil H. (2010-12-22). "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. JEFFREY ALEXANDER STERLING, Defendant". IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA, Alexandria Division. Retrieved 2011-01-07.
- Isikoff, Michael (2011-02-25). "DOJ gets reporter's phone, credit card records in leak probe". MSNBC.
- Josh Gerstein. "Feds spy on reporter in leak probe - Josh Gerstein - POLITICO.com". politico.com. Retrieved 2011 03 25.
- PHILIP SHENON (February 1, 2008). "Times Reporter Subpoenaed Over Source for Book". The New York Times.
- Savage, Charlie (2010-04-28) U.S. Subpoenas Times Reporter Over Book on C.I.A., New York Times
- Affidavit of James Risen, June 21, 2011 (with exhibits and attachments), Federation of American Scientsts, Sterling case files
- Russell Boyce, Court rules journalists can’t keep their sources secret, Reuters, July 19, 2013.
- JAMES RISEN and JEFF GERTH (March 6, 1999). "BREACH AT LOS ALAMOS: A special report.; China Stole Nuclear Secrets For Bombs, U.S. Aides Say". The New York Times.
- DAVID JOHNSTON and JAMES RISEN (December 11, 1999). "THE LOS ALAMOS SECRETS CASE: THE OVERVIEW; Nuclear Weapons Engineer Indicted in Removal of Data". The New York Times.
- MATTHEW PURDY (February 4, 2001). "The Making of a Suspect: The Case of Wen Ho Lee". The New York Times.
- James A. Parker (2000-09-13). "Full Text of Remarks of Judge James A. Parker". WenHoLee.org. Retrieved 2009-07-27.
- "The Times and Wen Ho Lee". The New York Times. September 26, 2000.
- My Country Versus Me, Wen Ho Lee and Helen Zia, 129-132
- Farhi, Paul (2006-06-03). "U.S., Media Settle With Wen Ho Lee". Washington Post. Retrieved May 5, 2010.
- ADAM LIPTAK (June 3, 2006). "News Media Pay in Scientist Suit". The New York Times.
- Karr, Rick. *Web Exclusive: Rick Karr on Government Secrecy. Bill Moyers Journal. PBS. February 29, 2008. Accessed December 16, 2008. (Vodcast.)
- Scheer, Robert. No Defense: "How The New York Times Convicted Wen Ho Lee". The Nation, October 5, 2000.
- Risen, James. "Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts". The New York Times, December 16, 2005.
- –––. "George Bush Insists That Iran Must Not Be Allowed to Develop Nuclear Weapons. So Why, Six Years Ago in the Clinton Administration, Did the CIA Give the Iranians Blueprints to Build a Bomb?". The Guardian, 5 January 2006, (Extract from State of War.)
- –––. "Global Agenda 2003". Speech presented at the University of Delaware, May 7, 2003.
- James Risen – Index of articles published in The New York Times, Times Topics.
- "The 2006 Pulitzer Prize Winners: National Reporting: James Risen and Eric Lichtblau" – Biographies and photographs of these journalists for The New York Times hosted on the official Pulitzer Prize Website.