Justice Department Indicts Contractor in Alleged Leak

In the latest in a series of surprising prosecutions related to alleged sources for news reporters, the Justice Department late Friday announced a grand-jury indictment against Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, an employee of a government contractor, for allegedly leaking unspecified national defense secrets to an unidentified national news organization. The Associated Press reported that the organization that received the information is Fox News, and that the leaked information concerns North Korea.

The indictment and an accompanying press release were strikingly vague in details about the case. But a person familiar with the investigation, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, confirmed to Declassified that the news organization to which the defendant allegedly leaked information was a national television network. A similar but separate source acknowledged that Fox was the recipient. Earlier this year, Michael Isikoff reported for Declassified that the Justice Department had launched a full-scale investigation into an alleged leak to Fox News reporter James Rosen about an intelligence warning predicting a North Korean nuclear test that never occurred.

While details in the court papers are vague, there are indications that the leaked information may have related to the nuclear activities of a foreign power. The indictment says that in June 2009, Kim leaked information from an intelligence report carrying the very high classification "Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information" to a reporter who was not authorized to receive it. The Justice Department press release says the leaked secrets related to "intelligence sources and methods and intelligence concerning the military capabilities and preparedness of a particular foreign nation."

The indictment notes that at the time of the alleged leak, Kim, 43, was employed by an unnamed federal contractor. At the time, the feds say, Kim was working on assignment at the State Department. But the person familiar with the investigation who spoke to NEWSWEEK says that the contract on which Kim was working was between the private company that employed him and the Energy Department.

One of the Energy Department's principal national-security responsibilities is to run the U.S. installations that design and build nuclear weapons, and to analyze intelligence related to the nuclear capabilities of foreign governments. However, a person familiar with Energy Department activities, who also asked not to be named because of the ongoing investigation, says that Kim was not a contractor for that agency, although the person would not say whether Kim's private employer did work for the department.

One of Washington's most prominent criminal-defense lawyers, Abbe Lowell, who was involved as a Democratic investigator in House impeachment investigations of then-president Bill Clinton, issued a strongly worded statement late Friday on Kim's behalf. He described Kim as "a dedicated, hard-working, law-abiding and extraordinarily talented analyst who has given 10 years of valuable service to the U.S. government and has helped it better understand issues ranging from North Korea to Iran. He has briefed and been a vital resource for high-level officials in the Departments of State, Defense, and Energy, the National Security Council, the Defense Policy Board, the combatant commands, and the Office of the Vice President and has been consulted by national leaders such as Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and Stephen Hadley. "

Lowell lit into the Obama administration for going after leakers in this and other criminal investigations that have affected journalists at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times: "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. It is so disappointing that 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. There is no allegation that a document was given, that any money changed hands, that any foreign government was involved, or that there was any improper motive in the type of government/media exchanges that happen hundreds of times a day in Washington."

Lowell added, "This prosecution is intended to or will have a chilling effect on the work of policy analysis and the debate that is necessary for the formulation of a democratic foreign policy.  In its campaign to look and act tough, the prosecutors have acted without heed to the cost levied on worthy professional lives and has made it dangerous to even be seen talking to a journalist … Unlike what these unproven charges state here and what the government has to prove, Mr. Kim never would take any action for which he had any reason to believe would harm the interests of the United States."