The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled yesterday that four reporters must answer questions about confidential sources on stories about former nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee. The journalists reported in 1999 that Lee, who had worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, was a suspect in the theft of nuclear secrets for China. Lee alleges he was the victim of illegal government leaks to the media and has filed a lawsuit saying his reputation was ruined by disclosures of the investigation. Information about the alleged leakers “goes to the heart” of the lawsuit Lee has filed under the Privacy Act, the court said. “If he cannot show the identities of the leakers, Lee’s ability to show the other elements of the Privacy Act claim, such as willfulness and intent, will be compromised.”
Said Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: “Journalists need to know that when they promise confidentiality now, they may be making the most serious decision in their life.” The reporters in the Lee case are H. Josef Hebert of the Associated Press, James Risen of the New York Times, Robert Drogin of the Los Angeles Times, and Pierre Thomas, formerly of CNN and now at ABC. They face fines of $500 a day.