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United States v. Sterling

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
724 F.3d 482 (4th Cir. 2013)


Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) case officer Jeffrey Sterling (defendant) was assigned to a highly classified program that targeted Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Two years later, Sterling and the CIA had a falling out that resulted in Sterling filing an unsuccessful employment-discrimination lawsuit against the CIA. Subsequently, Sterling was terminated from the CIA. After the CIA thwarted Sterling’s efforts to write a book about his experiences at the agency, Sterling filed another unsuccessful civil suit against the CIA, alleging unlawful infringement of his right to publish his memoirs. Sterling then had several telephone and email conversations with The New York Times reporter James Risen (defendant). Several years later, Risen published a book that included classified CIA information about the Iran nuclear-weapons program. Sterling was indicted on six counts of unauthorized retention and communication of national-defense information in violation of the Espionage Act, 18 U.S.C. § 793(d)-(e). The government subpoenaed Risen to provide testimony about the identity of the sources used in the book. Risen moved to quash the subpoena, arguing that he was protected from compelled testimony by the First Amendment or, in the alternative, pursuant to a federal common-law reporter’s privilege. The district court granted the motion, and the government appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Traxler, C.J.)

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