In a very interesting case, U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer recently held a Washington Post reporter in contempt of court for not revealing the source of a leak in the investigation of Wen Ho Lee. [Click here for the court’s opinion.] The case involves a civil suit by Lee against a number of federal agencies for violating the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a. Lee was a scientist employed by the Department of Energy and was being investigated by the FBI for espionage for China. Ultimately, the espionage case collapsed and Lee pled guilty to one count of mishandling computer files.
During the investigation, Washington Post journalist Walter Pincus published a few articles about the Lee investigation, identifying him by name and discussing extensive details of the investigation, including “his and his wife’s employment histories, their financial transactions, details about their trips to Hong Kong and China, details concerning the Government investigation and interrogation, and purported results from polygraph tests.” Pincus indicated that anonymous government sources supplied him with the information.
Lee has sued the government for violating the Privacy Act, which prohibits government agencies (including the FBI) from disclosing records about an individual. Lee sought from Pincus who his sources were. Pincus raised the journalist privilege, claiming he should be sheilded from being forced to disclose.