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Confidentiality waivers to be issued in anthrax suit

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Confidentiality/Privilege    

Confidentiality waivers to be issued in anthrax suit

  • As many as 100 federal agents will be asked to waive confidentiality agreements with reporters in bioterrorism lawsuit.

Dec. 6, 2004 — U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton in Washington, D.C., has ordered federal prosecutors, FBI agents and other federal employees involved in the investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks to sign broad waivers of any confidentiality agreements they have with reporters, Newsweek reported. As many as 100 federal employees could be asked to sign the waivers in an effort to determine who leaked information from the investigation about former Army researcher Dr. Steven J. Hatfill.

Hatfill is suing U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and other government officials under the Privacy Act for publicly naming him a “person of interest” and leaking information about him in the investigation into the anthrax attacks that killed five people and sickened 17. Although he has not been charged, Hatfill lost his job as a government contractor and has been unable to find employment since being identified in the investigation.

Hatfill’s suit has been hampered because the Department of Justice claims that submitting to inquiries during the discovery phase of the trial would compromise the ongoing investigation into the attacks.

Media experts criticize the waivers, which were also used in the investigation into who leaked the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak.

“It’s very disturbing that this is starting to become used as a way to out the relationship between reporters and sources,” prominent media attorney Floyd Abrams told Newsweek . “On the face of it, [the waivers] are coercive. How could they be anything but?”

Department of Justice Attorney Elizabeth Shapiro questioned the effectiveness of such waivers when Walton approved them in October. She also told the Associated Press: “There is a risk of compulsion if we don’t advise them that this is voluntary.”

Last week a federal judge dismissed Hatfill’s libel lawsuit against The New York Times and reporter Nicholas Kristof for their reporting on Hatfill’s involvement with the investigation.

(Hatfill v. Ashcroft) GP

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