US journalists targeted over government leaks

In its battle against government leaks, the administration of President Obama has launched what many say is a campaign against press freedom.

One journalist, who reported things the US government wanted to keep secret, has been given an ultimatum: give up your sources or go to jail.

James Risen is a Pulitzer Prize-winning national security correspondent for the New York Times. In his 2006 book, he wrote about the botched US intelligence operations to halt Iran's nuclear program. As he is still under prosecutors' scrutiny, Risen is now advised to avoid interviews on the subject.

“The issue has been litigated before, it went through the courts two years ago,” Eric Lichtblau, New York Times Justice Department correspondent, told RT. “And now the Justice Department, under a new administration, ironically seems to be going the same path.”

Eric Lichtblau, together with his colleague James Risen, has made a number of groundbreaking revelations, including the Bush administration's program of wiretapping without warrants.

He says confidentiality is vital to their work, as people often put their lives at risk to tell what is really going on behind the scenes.

“If, in fact, we have a system where journalists cover only what the government says are not secrets, well journalists lose their independence,” Lichtblau said.

There would probably be no discussions on Guantanamo abuses or the CIA's secret prisons if not for the leaks, but the clampdown is on.

Of course, there is a line between giving up national security secrets and telling the public what they need to know about their governments' work. But one or two other cases like Risen's, and free American investigative journalism may face a real drought in sources.

Obama's leak plugging has been welcomed most among advocates of secrecy in government affairs, but even they are surprised.

“It came to me as a surprise. The Obama administration came into office pledging maximum openness in the government. While they have take certain steps in that direction, they’ve also done some unexpected decisions regarding leaks,” Gabriel Schoenfeld, author of “Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law”, said.

While some journalists have to fight for their sources, others demand transparency at the White House.

“[There is] too much secrecy in the White house and government and I think the people have the right to know almost everything,” Helen Thomas, a White House correspondent with 50 years’ experience, said.

Meanwhile Obama, with a new law tucked under his arm, positions the US as the watchdog for the freedom of press in the world.

“What this Act does is it sends a strong message from the Unites States government and from the State Department that we are paying attention to how other governments operate when it comes to the press,” President Obama said back in May.

One thing is not clear – will the State Department pay attention to its own backyard as American journalists are being forced to break their word?