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Loss For CIA-Leak Case Reporters

Two reporters facing jail for refusing to divulge their sources about the leak of an undercover CIA officer's name lost on Tuesday in federal court for the third time.

Also Tuesday, a panel of journalists said a new federal shield law must be enacted to defend reporters' right to protect their confidential sources.

The presentation Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Newspaper Association of America came as one of the panelists, New York Times Senior Writer Judith Miller, lost the key court battle over her refusal to testify about conversations she had had with government officials about the identity of an undercover CIA agent.

The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit declined to reconsider a three-judge panel's ruling compelling Time magazine's Matthew Cooper and The New York Times' Judith Miller to testify before a federal grand jury about their confidential sources, or go to jail for up to 18 months.

Miller and the other panelists, including Associated Press Chief Executive Tom Curley, New York Times Chairman and Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., and Salon.com Editor in Chief Joan Walsh, warned publishers of the myriad legal threats facing reporters.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have shield laws that give journalists the right to protect the confidentiality of their sources. But without a federal shield law, Miller and Time Magazine's Matthew Cooper face up to 18 months in prison for contempt of court after refusing to testify about conversations they had regarding Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent whose identity was disclosed by syndicated columnist Robert Novak.

Miller and Cooper's sole remaining appeal is before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"What's at stake here is the public's right to know," Miller said. "I can't work in the area of national security and intelligence, covering terrorism, unless people who are not authorized to speak to me feel that they can come to me and tell me things. ... It's at the heart of investigative reporting, it's at the heart of national security reporting, and it's at the heart of what we do as journalists."

Both publications will ask the appeals court to put off any sanctions while they pursue an appeal to the Supreme Court.

"We are disappointed with the court's decision and we will seek a stay in order to have sufficient time to seek U.S. Supreme Court review," Times spokesman Toby Usnik said.

Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, serving as a special prosecutor in the case, has said the refusal of Cooper and Miller to identify their sources has stalled his investigation into who revealed the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Disclosure of an undercover intelligence officer's identity can be a federal crime if prosecutors can show the leak was intentional and the person who released that information knew of the officer's secret status.

U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan held the reporters in contempt in October, rejecting their argument that the First Amendment shielded them from revealing their sources.

Neither Cooper nor Miller wrote the original story that identified Plame. Her name was first published in a 2003 column by Robert Novak, who cited two unidentified senior Bush administration officials as his sources. It is unclear whether Novak has cooperated with the investigation or whether the grand jury hearing evidence has returned any indictments.

The column appeared after Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, wrote a newspaper opinion piece criticizing the Bush administration's claim that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger. The CIA had asked Wilson to check out the uranium claim. Wilson has said he believes his wife's name was leaked as retaliation for his critical comments.

Cooper reported on the Plame controversy. Miller never published a story about the matter, although she gathered material about Plame.

Fitzgerald has said that his investigation is complete except for hearing from Cooper and Miller.