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Federal judge orders reporter to disclose sources in China spy story

[JURIST] A federal judge in California subpoenaed a Washington Times reporter Saturday, ordering him to reveal the government sources he used for a 2006 story about a Chinese spy ring. Defense and national security reporter William Gertz [personal profile] cited unnamed US government sources in a May 2006 story [text], which reported that Justice Department officials had approved new charges and an indictment against Chi Mak [CI Centre materials; JURIST report], a Chinese-American engineer sentenced [JURIST report] in March for conspiring to smuggle sensitive naval intelligence data to China. Mak's attorneys objected to the story on the grounds that a federal rule [text] prohibits government officials from divulging grand jury proceedings to outsiders. US District Court Judge Cormac Carney ordered a criminal investigation into the leak early last year, acknowledging that the government was also investigating a possible infringement of a US Code prohibiting unlawful communication of classified information [text]. Earlier this year, Carney found that the federal rule had been violated, but since the sources could not be discovered, he subpoenaed Gertz to testify on June 13. AP has more. The Washington Times has local coverage.

In recent years, the media and the courts have been exploring the extent of reporters' rights to protect their sources. Former USA Today reporter Toni Locy [JURIST news archive] is currently appealing a contempt of court ruling [JURIST report] for refusing to disclose government sources who provided information about former US Army germ-warfare researcher Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, initially identified as a "person of interest" in the 2001 anthrax attacks [GWU backgrounder] investigations. Last fall, both houses of Congress approved the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 [S 2035 materials], which could become the first US federal reporter shield law [JURIST news archive]. Citing national security concerns, the Bush administration and the US Department of Justice have opposed the enactment of such a law [JURIST report] while proponents, including media outlets, argue the legislation is necessary to protect freedom of the press.

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