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Judge stops accused spy’s attempt to question reporter about sources

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         VIRGINIA         Confidentiality/Privilege         Aug 8, 2002    

Judge stops accused spy’s attempt to question reporter about sources

  • A New York Times reporter’s story about a military plan to attack Iraq was not relevant to espionage charges against a former Air Force master sergeant, a federal judge ruled.

A federal judge today rejected an accused spy’s attempt to compel a reporter for The New York Times to testify about confidential sources.

Brian Regan, who is accused of espionage, did not show that Times reporter Eric Schmitt had relevant evidence about the charges against Regan, ruled U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in Alexandria, Va.

“(Regan’s) suspicions are insufficient for the court to sanction a fishing expedition,” Lee said in court.

Regan, a retired Air Force master sergeant, was arrested last year and charged with trying to sell classified information from American satellites to China, Libya and Iraq. Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Regan’s attorneys wanted Schmitt to testify about his sources for a July 5 story that described military plans for a possible attack on Iraq. The story relied on confidential sources.

Regan’s attorneys wanted to know whether the sources for Schmitt’s story were government officials. Their theory was that the U.S. government could not put Regan on trial for divulging military secrets to Iraq when the federal government might be doing the same thing by leaking its war plans for Iraq to the Times.

Regan’s attorneys said they would not ask Schmitt to name the sources. But they wanted to know whether a government official gave him the military document or authorized publication of it. They also wanted to know whether government officials have asked Schmitt to name the person who leaked the document.

Times attorney Floyd Abrams argued that Schmitt’s article had no connection to Regan’s case. Journalism is placed at risk if reporters can be hauled into court to testify about confidential sources in cases that have no connection to a news story, Abrams argued.

Schmitt also has a First Amendment privilege to protect his sources, Abrams argued.

Nina Ginsberg, an attorney for Regan, countered that journalists have no privilege to protect the commission of a crime. She suggested that Schmitt may have participated in a crime if he received classified information.

Abrams responded that it is not a crime for a public official to disclose classified information to a journalist, and a journalist does not commit a crime by publishing it. The judge did not address the issue.

(United States v. Regan; Media counsel: Floyd Abrams, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, New York City) MD

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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