WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday accused an analyst who worked at the State Department of leaking top secret information about North Korea to a reporter.
Steven Kim, who worked at State as an employee of a contractor, maintains his innocence.
He was named in a federal indictment unsealed Friday and charged with illegally disclosing national defense information, which carries a top penalty of 10 years in prison, and with making false statements to the FBI, which has a maximum five-year sentence.
It was the latest move in an aggressive campaign to crack down on leaks, even as the administration has supported proposed legislation that would shield reporters from having to identify their sources.
Recent disclosures to news media have revealed the potential for using CIA drones in the counterterrorist fight against al-Qaida in Yemen, the close relationship of the CIA station chief in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the CIA's practice of paying some members of the Afghan government for information.
On Friday, the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, sent a memo to members of the 16 intelligence agencies expressing his concern about leaks to the press, saying officials should be "seen but not heard." The internal memo didn't stay private, leaked to The Associated Press.
In the Kim case, the Justice Department said the analyst in June 2009 knowingly passed information about U.S. intelligence concerning a foreign country to a national news organization and in September of that year falsely denied to the FBI having had recent contacts with a reporter from that news organization. The material was classified top secret/sensitive because it concerned the military capability of the foreign country and related to U.S. intelligence sources and methods.
A person briefed on the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters not included in the filing, said the country was North Korea and the news organization was Fox News.
"The willful disclosure of classified information to those not entitled to it is a serious crime," said Assistant Attorney General David Kris in a written statement. "Today's indictment should serve as a warning to anyone who is entrusted with sensitive national security information and would consider compromising it."
Kim arrived at court accompanied by his lawyers. He appeared before Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in an hourlong closed-door hearing.
Afterward, Abbe D. Lowell, one of Kim's attorneys, said his client pleaded not guilty behind closed doors and was released. He posted a $100,000 secured appearance bond, had to surrender his passport, may engage in no foreign travel and must restrict all travel to within 25 miles unless prior notice is given to the government, the Justice Department said in a statement.
Kim's next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 13.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that Kim was on detail from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to the State Department "at the time of the alleged disclosure." He said Kim worked in the department's Bureau of Verification, Compliance and Implementation from mid-2008 to September 2009.
"If the allegations prove to be true, the Intelligence Community will conduct a comprehensive damage assessment after all legal proceedings are concluded," said Toner.
In a written statement, Lowell and co-defense counsel Ruth Wedgwood said Kim was pleading not guilty because the news report that led to the charges "contains completely unremarkable observations about what a country would do if it was sanctioned for its poor behavior. These kinds of observations were well known to anyone paying attention to public sources and ought not be the basis for making someone a federal felon."
"In its obsession to clamp down on perfectly appropriate conversations between government employees and the press, the Obama administration has forgotten that wise foreign policy must be founded on a two-way conversation between government and the public," Lowell and Wedgwood wrote. "The Justice Department has chosen to stretch the espionage laws to cover ordinary and normal conversations between government officials and the press and, in doing so, destroy the career of a loyal civil servant and brilliant foreign policy analyst."
The administration recently arrested an Army official for leaking classified documents to the website WikiLeaks, charged a former National Security Agency official with leaking information about NSA mismanagement to The Baltimore Sun, and renewed an investigation into who leaked classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen for one of his books.
Associated Press writers Kimberly Dozier and Pete Yost contributed to this report.