Reporters Committee moves to unseal court records connected to three high-profile leak prosecutions

Press Release | January 24, 2017

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press on Monday filed applications to unseal search warrant and electronic surveillance records related to the closed criminal investigations of three former government employees, all of whom pled guilty to charges arising out of allegations that they had provided classified information to journalists. 

The Reporters Committee filed an application in federal district court in D.C. seeking sealed court records concerning the investigation of retired U.S. Marine Corps general and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, James E. Cartwright.  The investigation reportedly centered on communications Cartwright had with two journalists about use of the Stuxnet virus in a cyberattack against Iran, and the Obama Administration’s drone policies.  In October 2016, Cartwright pled guilty to a single count of making a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement and representation to federal investigators.  He was awaiting sentencing on January 17, 2017 when he was pardoned by President Obama.

The Reporters Committee also filed a separate application in federal district court in Maryland seeking sealed court records concerning the investigation of former NSA employee Thomas Andrews Drake.  In June 2011, Drake pled guilty to a single charge related to his alleged communications with a journalist reportedly from the Baltimore Sun concerning waste and mismanagement at the NSA.

The third application was filed in the federal district court for the Eastern District of Virginia and seeks sealed court records concerning the investigation of John C. Kiriakou, a former CIA intelligence officer.  Kiriakou pled guilty in 2012 to a charge related to his alleged communications with at least two journalists about a specific CIA and counterterrorism program.  Kiriakou was sentenced to thirty months’ imprisonment and three years of supervised release.

All three applications seek access to all court records concerning search warrants, including search warrants under the Stored Communications Act, orders issued under section 2703(d) of the Stored Communications Act, and authorizations to use pen registers or trap and trace devices in connection with the government’s investigations into the alleged leaks.

“It is critically important for the press and the public to understand what tools the government has at its disposal to obtain journalist-source communications, and how those tools are used,” said RCFP Litigation Director Katie Townsend. “Unsealing these court records will tell us how certain electronic surveillance tools were used in specific leak investigations, and the level of judicial oversight their use received.”

Each of these investigations and subsequent prosecutions received widespread media attention and prompted vigorous debate over the government’s pursuit of individuals suspected of leaking information to members of the news media.

“There was an uptick in leak prosecutions under the Obama Administration and now, as we face new challenges ahead, it is especially important that the public and the press have a full understanding of how those investigations were pursued,” said RCFP Executive Director Bruce Brown. “The Reporters Committee will continue to be at the forefront of efforts to protect reporter-source communications under the Trump Administration.”