Politico is reporting that federal investigators spied on New York Times reporter James Risen during a search for a government leaker.
The government was trying to uncover the identity of the person who leaked information about the CIA's covert efforts against Iran. A court filing revealed that federal investigators got access to three of Risen's private credit reports, looked at his personal bank records and monitored his phone calls and his traveling.
The government's interest stems from Risen's exposure of a program called "Operation Merlin" in his 2006 book, "State of War." According to Risen, during the Clinton administration, the CIA attempted to use a Russian defector to pass along faulty nuclear intelligence to the Iranian regime in an effort to thwart their nuclear ambitions. (The plan fell through when the Russian scientist wound up pointing out the flaws in the blueprints he was giving the Iranians.)
The CIA insisted that the reporting was not true, and the government set about trying to find who told Risen about the program. In 2010, the U.S. indicted Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, a former CIA officer, and charged him with leaking details about Operation Merlin to Risen.
The government also subpoenaed Risen in 2010, though the subpoena was struck down by a judge.
Sterling's lawyers revealed in a court filing that the government turned over "various telephone records showing calls made by the author James Risen. It has provided three credit reports--Equifax, TransUnion and Experian--for Mr. Risen. It has produced Mr. Risen's credit card and bank records and certain records of his airline travel."
Experts told Politico that it is likely that both current Attorney General Eric Holder and former Bush administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey would have had to sign off on any subpoenas or spying activity on journalists. Risen also spoke to the website, saying he felt like a "target of spying."
"We've argued that I was a victim of harassment by the government. This seems to bolster that," Risen said. "Maybe I should ask them what my credit score is."
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