- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Demands by Republicans for an investigation into who told the press about secret CIA prisons is the fourth prominent probe in Washington this year that threatens to suppress the information flow from government sources to reporters.

In two cases of a Pentagon analyst and White House aides, federal prosecutors have gone after the government officials for talking to the press about classified material or attempting to get information to the press via a third party. In a third instance, former nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee is winning his court battle to force five reporters to divulge their sources for news stories about him. Judges agree with him.

The probes can have a chilling effect for potential government sources. If they expose a government foul-up or other sensitive matter, government sources may find themselves under investigation or the reporters they talked to in front of a grand jury demanding to know their sources.

“If you are a source, and you have something, some normal stuff, you probably shouldn’t have any worries,” said Brent Baker, vice president of the Media Research Center. “But if an individual is leaking something secret that higher-ups don’t want people to know, certainly in the back of your mind you know that your role might eventually be disclosed.”

Brant Houston, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, said: “We are in one of those times when there is a tremendous battle by those who want to keep most of the nation’s information secret.”

“I believe what is going on, particularly in Washington, D.C., makes everyone extremely cautious and careful about what their understanding is with confidential sources,” he said.

Special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald has been the most aggressive in trying to determine who in the White House divulged the name of CIA employee Valerie Plame. He forced two reporters to testify before the grand jury, sending one to jail in the process.

Meanwhile, the White House renounced any right to source confidentiality in the Plame matter, meaning aides were free to discuss the name of any reporter with whom they had a working relationship.

Reporters fear Mr. Fitzgerald has set a dangerous precedent: anytime the government wants to prosecute the leak of classified information, it can summon reporters in front of a grand jury and demand to know their sources.

Federal judges backed Mr. Fitzgerald’s hunt, just as they have in Mr. Lee’s search for the identity of sources for stories that said he committed espionage at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

In the Pentagon case, the U.S. government went after analyst Larry Franklin, who provided classified information about Iran to a pro-Israel think tank. He pleaded guilty in October to three counts of passing classified information.

Now, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee want Congress to try to find out who leaked to The Washington Post the existence of secret CIA prisons holding high-value al Qaeda suspects.

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