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REPORTERS TOLD TO NAME SOURCES IN PRIVACY SUIT.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has ordered reporters for four news organizations to disclose who in the government might have given derogatory information to them about Wen Ho Lee, a former nuclear weapons scientist one the chief suspect in an espionage case.

Reports in 1999 name Taiwan-born Lee, who worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, as chief suspect in an investigation of whether U.S. secrets had helped mainland China design nuclear warheads.

Lee was charged with 59 counts of felony espionage but ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of copying classified documents onto computer tapes without authorization, and the government admitted having bungled the case by focusing on him.

Lee sued the Energy Department and the FBI, alleging violations of the Privacy Act limiting disclosure of personal information by government agencies. He alleged the disclosures were intended to cover the government's embarrassment about security lapses and caused harm to his reputation, emotional distress and financial loss.

Plaintiffs' attorneys Heather Hersh Gilhooly and Brian Sun sought to compel testimony by reporters from The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press and Cable News Network, but lawyers for the news organizations resisted.

In a letter to the companies, Judge Jackson said Supreme Court opinions have held reporters lack an absolute right to withhold information about their sources and they must yield to lawsuits brought in federal court when - as in this case - plaintiffs have shown the information is central to their claim and they have exhausted other means of getting it.

Depositions of 20 current and former government officials provided no useful information but "a pattern of denials, vague or evasive answers, and stonewalling," he said.

"At the moment, only the journalists can testify as to whether defendants were the sources for the various news stories," he wrote.

Lawyers for the media companies said they were reviewing the letter and considering their options.
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Publication:Liability & Insurance Week
Date:Oct 20, 2003
Words:316
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