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State Dept. contractor to go to jail under Espionage Act for tipping off journalist

Published time: February 07, 2014 20:46
Reuters / Jim Young

Reuters / Jim Young

A former contractor for the United States government will plead guilty to leaking secret information to a Fox News reporter, his attorney said Friday, and will likely serve 13 months in prison as a result.

The lawyer for Stephen Kim, a 46-year-old former contract analyst for the US Department of State, told District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on Friday that their client is ready to plead guilty to one count of unauthorized disclosure of secret government information, Reuters reported that afternoon.

Prosecutors say Kim disclosed privileged information to Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2009 regarding a possible nuclear test being planned by North Korea in retaliation to sanctions from the west. The next year a grand jury conducted an investigation that ended with them agreeing Kim “knowingly and willfully” shared information “about the military capabilities and preparedness of a particular foreign nation.” As a result he was indicted and charged with making false statements as well as violating the Espionage Act of 1917.

According to a report published by Fox on Friday, a Department of Justice official said the "government's investigation and prosecution of this matter has concluded” upon news that Kim had agreed to enter a plea deal. A federal judge must still approve this plea, which would then cancel plans for a trial previously scheduled to begin this April.

Kirk Stark, the trustee of the Stephen Kim Legal Defense Trust, wrote previously on the support group’s website that, “Faced with the impossible choice between admitting to the government’s accusations or defending himself against a federal criminal action, Stephen pleaded not guilty and hunkered down for the fight of his life.” Weeks before a trial was expected to begin, however, Kim reportedly changed his plea early Friday.

Rosen of Fox News was never charged for any involvement in the State Dept. leak, but it was revealed in 2012 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had acquired his phone records and professional emails while conducting the probe into Mr. Kim, and at one point considered the journalist a possible criminal co-conspirator. Coupled with a similar investigation unearthed at that time about a Justice Department investigation into the Associated Press, President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder agreed last year to reform how the government handles probes involving professional reporters.

Kim is one of eight persons charged under the Espionage Act by the Obama administration for leaking privileged information, a position he holds alongside the likes of WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning and NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden, among others.

“The Justice Department shows no sign of rethinking its campaign to punish unauthorized disclosures to the news media, with five criminal casesso far under President Obama, compared with three under all previous presidents combined,” New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane wrote in 2011. Since then this number has only increase after the administration pursued Snowden, as well as Navy linguist and a former Central Intelligence Agency officer with Espionage Act charges.

Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison last August after being convicted by a military judge of espionage and other counts for her role in sharing classified Army documents with the transparency site WikiLeaks. Espionage Act charges against Drake, a former high-ranked official within the secretive intelligence agency, were later dropped after he agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor. Former CIA specialist John Kiriakou had less favorable results when he entered a plea deal in 2012. He is currently serving a 30-month sentence after pleading guilty to a single count of disclosing information that identified a covert agent. He had faced upwards of 45 years before the plea agreement was accepted.

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