from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2019, Issue No. 25
June 11, 2019

Secrecy News Blog:


The possibility of using subpoenas to compel testimony from reporters or others in leak investigations outside of a criminal prosecution is being floated by the Intelligence Community Inspector General.

But such authority would have to be granted legislatively, and so far there is no sign that Congress is considering doing so.

The government's interest in using administrative subpoenas was mentioned in the latest semi-annual report of the IC Inspector General:

* * *

Administrative investigations of leaks may occur before a criminal proceeding has been initiated, or after the Justice Department has declined criminal prosecution, as it often does. (In 2017-2018 there were over 200 referrals to the Justice Department of suspected criminal leaks, but only a relative handful of actual prosecutions ensued.)

As an alternative to criminal prosecution, administrative investigations can result in punishment of suspected leakers in the form of loss of security clearance, termination of employment, or monetary penalties.

In a criminal case, prosecutors can subpoena witnesses such as reporters and seek to compel their testimony. In the case of accused leaker Jeffrey Sterling, an appeals court concluded in a 2013 opinion that the government was within its rights to subpoena reporter James Risen. Although Risen did not ultimately testify in that case, the ruling authorizing a subpoena for a reporter in such circumstances remains in place after the US Supreme Court declined to review it.

But in internal administrative leak investigations, subpoena authority is not currently available (outside of espionage investigations involving a foreign power). It is this power which the IC Inspector General has now raised for discussion.


Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

FY2020 National Security Space Budget Request: An Overview, CRS In Focus, June 7, 2019:

U.S. Military Electronic Warfare Program Funding: Background and Issues for Congress, June 6, 2019:

The International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and Tariffs: Historical Background and Key Issues, CRS Insight, June 5, 2019:

Iran and Israel: Tension Over Syria, CRS In Focus, updated June 5, 2019:

North Korea: Legislative Basis for U.S. Economic Sanctions, updated June 6, 2019:

Human Rights in China, CRS In Focus, June 4, 2019:

Transatlantic Relations: U.S. Interests and Key Issues, May 31, 2019:

Enforcing Federal Privacy Law--Constitutional Limitations on Private Rights of Action, CRS Legal Sidebar, May 31, 2019:

Technological Convergence: Regulatory, Digital Privacy, and Data Security Issues, May 30, 2019:

Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress, June 7, 2019:

War Legacy Issues in Southeast Asia: Unexploded Ordnance (UXO), June 3, 2019:

The Front End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Current Issues, June 6, 2019:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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