WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A foreign policy analyst who worked at the State Department has been charged with leaking a top-secret intelligence report to a news reporter last year, the Justice Department said on Friday.
Stephen Kim, who had briefed former Vice President Dick Cheney and other top U.S. officials, was indicted for violating an espionage law barring disclosure of national defense information and lying to the FBI about his contacts with the reporter.
The Justice Department did not identify the reporter and described the journalist’s employer as a “national news organization.”
Prosecutors said the incident happened in 2009 but gave little detail about the classified intelligence report except that it concerned the “military capabilities and preparedness of a particular foreign nation.”
Kim, 43, an employee of a federal contractor on detail to the State Department, has written previously about U.S.-Korean relations.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released pending trial. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison on the espionage count and five years for lying.
“Stephen Kim was on detail from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to the Department of State at the time of the alleged disclosure,” said a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Kim was at the State Department’s Bureau of Verification, Compliance and Implementation from mid-2008 to September 2009, the official added, providing no further details.
The case is the latest in a series by the Obama administration aimed at cracking down on leaks of classified information.
Earlier this year, a former high-ranking official at the National Security Agency was charged with illegally possessing classified information that he allegedly gave to a reporter at the Baltimore Sun newspaper.
Kim’s lawyers Abbe Lowell and Ruth Wedgwood described him as “a dedicated, hard-working, law-abiding and extraordinarily talented analyst who has given 10 years of valuable service to the U.S. government and has helped it better understand issues ranging from North Korea to Iran.”
They said the news report at the center of the charges contained “completely unremarkable observations about what a country would do if it was sanctioned for its poor behavior.”
Lowell and Wedgwood criticized the Justice Department for bringing the case, calling it a “campaign to look and act tough.”
“In its obsession to clamp down on perfectly appropriate conversations between government employees and the press, the Obama administration has forgotten that wise foreign policy must be founded on a two-way conversation between government and the public,” they said.
Reporting by James Vicini, Jeremy Pelofsky and Arshad Mohammed, Editing by John O'Callaghan