The Executive Branch’s Vendetta against James Risen

Sorry for the silence today — I’ve been traveling. Meanwhile, this piece — talking about how insane the government’s pursuit of James Risen has been — was published over at the Nation.

We focused particularly in the number of top officials implicated in stories Risen published.

 But under strong pressure from White House officials—including some later implicated in the legally suspect program—Times editors delayed the story’s publication for over a year, until December 2005. The coverage won Risen and Lichtblau a Pulitzer Prize for “carefully sourced stories on secret domestic eavesdropping that stirred a national debate.” It was the kind of debate that the people running the US surveillance state had been desperate to avoid.

The belated publication of those stories came just before Risen brought out a book that contained reporting on the wiretap program and several other sinister initiatives under categories like “counterterrorism” and “counterproliferation.” On January 13, 2006, the week after Risen’s book State of War reached the stores, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told a news conference that an investigation into the Times wiretap stories was under way and that “it’s too early to make decisions regarding whether or not reporters should go to jail.” Though not apparent at the time, facts later emerged to show that Gonzales was implicated in the illegal wiretapping that Risen exposed. (As White House counsel, Gonzales had authorized continued operation of the program after the Justice Department refused to do so.)


Some high-ranking individuals have been mainstays in the continuation of policies that Risen exposed in his book. John Brennan—President Obama’s former counterterrorism czar and now CIA director—has been at notable cross-purposes with both Risen and Sterling for more than a decade. Brennan was a senior CIA official when the agency rolled out its torture program under Bush, which came under intense public scrutiny after the use of waterboarding was revealed in a May 13, 2004, front-page Times story with Risen as the lead reporter. And Brennan played a key role in the illegal wiretap program, overseeing the production of what personnel in the program called the “scary memos” intended to justify the domestic spying exposed by Risen.

13 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    They’re certainly afraid of him, far more than would be justified by what’s been published. I wonder what skeleton they think he found that should never be revealed?

  2. bloopie2 says:

    Once again proving that, when push comes to shove, these government officials care more about themselves than they do about the country they are supposedly working for. All the way up to the top – Obama included. Bastards every one.

  3. ArizonaBumblebeeper says:

    Recent revelations in the memoirs of Leon Panetta have buttressed what I always suspected: that the decision to go after the press and whistleblowers comes directly from the current occupant in the Oval Office. If you are looking for the man who has a vendetta against James Risen and the press, you need not look beyond Barack Obama. And this attitude infects everything this president does. Just yesterday there was a report in the Washington Post that the White House engaged in a cover-up operation to protect the President from fallout over an incident in Colombia involving the Secret Service and one or more prostitutes. What really galls and angers me is the way these posturing slimeballs in Washington act so sanctimoniously when condemning the actions of an Edward Snowden or a Glenn Greenwald while simultaneously giving cover to war criminals and common criminals in their midst. Sadly, I have to report that in 2008 we were conned into believing we were electing another John F. Kennedy when we really were electing another LBJ.

    • orionATL says:

      wrong – lbj was a very effective president. obama has repeatedly demonstrated his complete political incompetence, not to mention distaste for washington politics. he’s a academic piddler who should’a never got in the kitchen.

  4. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    I guess we’ll never know what happened with the Intercept, huh, EW? Oh well. Your great work is appreciated, and I’m happy to see you getting read at/paid by other outlets while continuing to mega-post on your blog. Continued success to you…

      • Bitter Angry Drunk says:

        I remember at the time EW saying she’d say more eventually. Obviously she doesn’t owe me an explanation. Was just mildly curious.

        • Bitter Angry Drunk says:

          OK I went back and read her announcement. EW said at some point she’d talk about what she learned about her journalism. Would be interested in that.

          I’ll shut up now.

  5. please says:

    Fantastic piece. It absolutely digs down and peels back the layers to reveal just how much the Risen story is important and more complex beyond the very superficial reporting so far. Don’t know much about the nation, but excellent work. I hope more people see it, especially critics of Snowden for not following “official” channels. It should be clear by now – it’s a trap! The point isn’t any longer to do it right, whistleblowing isn’t accepted.

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