WASHINGTON — A former government official pleaded guilty Friday to leaking secret information about North Korea to a Fox News reporter, a case that triggered a controversy last spring over the Justice Department’s targeting of journalists who expose classified materials.
Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a State Department intelligence adviser who specialized in weapons of mass destruction, agreed to a sentence of 13 months in prison for disclosing a June 2009 intelligence report about North Korea to Fox’s James Rosen.
Rosen used the information in a story disclosing that the CIA had learned from sources in North Korea that the country would conduct new nuclear tests in response to United Nations sanctions. The Obama administration condemned the story and said it put CIA sources in danger.
To track down the leaker, the FBI provided an affidavit in support of a search warrant for Rosen’s email records, labeling him a “co-conspirator” in a potential crime that could result in up to 10 years in prison. The suggestion that Rosen had committed a crime sparked a furor because journalists are seldom prosecuted for disclosing government secrets in the course of their work.
At the same time, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. faced criticism that the Justice Department had obtained telephone records of more than 20 Associated Press phone lines in an investigation into the AP’s disclosures of a secret indictment of an alleged al-Qaida operative and the arrest of terrorism suspects in Norway.
Holder disavowed any interest in prosecuting Rosen. Last July he issued new guidelines limiting the circumstances in which reporters’ records could be obtained.
A Justice Department official who was not authorized to speak publicly said that there would be no further charges in the Rosen matter. “The government’s investigation and prosecution of this matter is concluded,” the official said.
“Today Stephen Kim admitted to violating his oath to protect our country by disclosing highly classified intelligence about North Korea’s military capabilities,” U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said in a statement. “Stephen Kim admits that he wasn’t a whistle-blower. He admits that his actions could put America at risk. Within hours of the dissemination of a top secret intelligence report about North Korea, he exposed its secrets, which were then broadcast to the world.”
Fox News had not commented as of Friday afternoon.
The FBI affidavit, first disclosed by The Washington Post, showed that the FBI was able to retrace Rosen’s and Kim’s movements on the day of the disclosure using electronic security badges.
Kim, employed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area, had been assigned to the State Department to work on verification issues. After allegedly lying to the FBI about his contacts with Rosen, Kim told agents he was hoping Rosen could help get him a job in a think tank, according to the affidavit.