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Jailed for Speaking to the Press Part 2: Peter Maass on the Case of State Dept. Expert Stephen Kim

Web ExclusiveFebruary 20, 2015
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In Part 2 of our conversation with Peter Maass, an investigative reporter at The Intercept, he continues discussing the Obama administration’s prosecution of former North Korea expert Stephen Kim for violating the Espionage Act. Kim is one of nine such cases under the Obama administration — twice as many as all previous presidents combined. The former State Department contractor was accused of discussing classified documents on North Korea with Fox News reporter James Rosen. Last year, he was sentenced to 13 months in prison. But Kim always maintained his innocence. During the year before he went to prison, he shared his story with The Intercept.

Watch Part 1 of the interview here.

AMY GOODMAN: Here on Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. As we continue looking at the case of jailed State Department whistleblower Stephen Kim, we’re joined by Peter Maass, a senior writer at The Intercept. His new article just out today is titled “Destroyed by the Espionage Act: Stephen Kim Spoke to a Reporter. Now He’s in Jail. This is His Story.”

Peter Maass, welcome back to Democracy Now! You’ve been on this story for a while now. You actually accompanied Stephen Kim on his journey to jail, where he sits right now. So what did the government say in introducing Stephen Kim to James Rosen, someone who was inexperienced in talking to reporters?

PETER MAASS: Well, he was introduced, Stephen Kim, to James Rosen by John Herzberg, who was a press liaison in the State Deparment. And there weren’t, as far as I know, kind of like precise instructions: “This is what you talk about; this is what you don’t talk about; this is, you know, the attribution,” or whatever. But it was an introduction that was intended to begin a relationship where they would talk about policy. Rosen was a reporter for a major American network who wanted to know more, as all reporters do, which is good. And Stephen Kim was somebody who could inform. This was actually a very kind of exemplary act, you know? It is good for State Department press affairs officers to introduce experts to journalists, so they can talk, whether on the record or off the record, so that journalists themselves can be better informed, so that the American public could be better informed, so that maybe views that aren’t in the White House press room when the press secretary gets up to talk about the day’s news are actually filtered out and distributed to the populace. This is the kind of thing that should happen all the time. But because the government has, instead of encouraging this, charged and gotten a conviction against Stephen Kim on the Espionage Act, these sorts of encounters are going to become rarer and rarer, and we’re the poorer for it.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about, ultimately, Stephen Kim’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, famed lawyer who represented President Clinton around his impeachment, the different legal strategies he used?

PETER MAASS: Well, Lowell, who had actually been involved in a previous Espionage Act case, so knew the law and knew how the government operated in regards to these cases quite well, his first kind of goal really was to find out, well, who else might have talked to James Rosen of Fox News, or other people at Fox News, about this same report. And he found out that there were a number of other people who, A, had access to that report and who had been talking to reporters at Fox News. Major Garrett, another reporter from Fox News, had talked with somebody at the National Security Council that day about North Korea. Was somebody else talking to Fox News, who wasn’t being prosecuted because maybe that person was a senior official? That’s possible.

He also—what Abbe Lowell did was, you know, just basically kind of make the point that there’s a selectivity involved in this prosecution. Every day in Washington there are government officials who are talking to reporters about sensitive issues that may be classified. That’s half of what Bob Woodward does every day, is talk to government officials who tell him secrets. Some of them, Bob Woodward writes about. And because those are senior officials who are very powerful and can’t be indicted quite as easily—let’s say your name is David Petraeus—they don’t get indicted. In fact, they get rewarded. Their names show up in the newspaper, they end up on TV, all of that. If you’re a mid-level official and you talk to a government—and you talk to a journalist, and the government doesn’t like it, you have no protection. You don’t have all the networks and all the friends that, let’s say, a general has. And so you’re very vulnerable. And that’s what happened with Stephen Kim. He was vulnerable. He wasn’t powerful. He didn’t have kind of influential people in the corridors of power who would say, like, “Don’t touch this guy.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, David Petraeus, it’s known General Petraeus gave classified information to his girlfriend, who is his biographer.

PETER MAASS: This is one of the—

AMY GOODMAN: And you have senators who are standing up on the Senate floor, like Senator Feinstein, saying he’s a good guy.

PETER MAASS: Exactly. So General David Petraeus has been reported to have been actually recommended for prosecution by the Department of Justice, but there hasn’t been any prosecution yet, for leaking classified documents, plural, actual documents, plural documents, to Paula Broadwell, who was his authorized biographer, as well, at the time, as his lover. And General Petraeus, there has not been a case lodged against him yet. He has not been indicted. He may not, and probably not, be indicted.

There are other instances. For example, Leon Panetta, who was the director of the CIA, actually leaked the name of the team leader of the team that killed Osama bin Laden to the media. General James Cartwright has been reported as being the official who leaked information about Stuxnet, the virus that was targeted against the Iranian nuclear complex, leaked that information to The New York Times. He has not been indicted. And the reason that these people have not been indicted, as far as we know, is basically because they are very powerful, and they have friends in very high places who make sure that the Department of Justice doesn’t go after them.

AMY GOODMAN: So what happens to Stephen Kim now?

PETER MAASS: Stephen Kim waits in jail until he gets out, which will be sometime later this year. And, you know, while other government officials, many other government officials who have leaked far more sensitive things, who have leaked actual documents, numerous documents, are still at their jobs, are still talking on TV, and will become very successful entrepreneurs when they leave government service probably.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Maass, thanks so much for being with us, award-winning investigative journalist, author, senior writer at The Intercept, has just published a major report headlined “Destroyed by the Espionage Act: Stephen Kim Spoke to a Reporter. Now He’s in Jail. This is His Story.” We’ll link to the article and to the video that accompanies it. It was produced by the Oscar-nominated filmmaker Laura Poitras, Peter Maass and Steven Maing. The video is called The Surrender. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

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