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Former State Department contractor Stephen Kim has been sentenced to 13 months in prison after pleading guilty to disclosing classified information to Fox News.
The guilty plea is the latest victory for the Justice Department in a series of prosecutions involving federal officials accused of leaking classified information to the news media.
“Stephen Kim admits that he wasn’t a whistleblower,” Ron Machen, the U.S. attorney in Washington, said in a statement after the plea in federal court. “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. As this prosecution demonstrates, we will not waver in our commitment to pursuing and holding accountable government officials who blatantly disregard their obligations to protect our nation’s most highly guarded secrets.”
But Kim's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said in a statement to NBC News that his client "did not reveal any intelligence 'sources' or 'methods," seeking to distinguish the case from that of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden: "He did not provide any documents or electronic data to anyone," Lowell said.
The Justice Department investigation into Kim erupted into a public controversy last spring when it was disclosed that an FBI search warrant -- approved by Attorney General Eric Holder -- identified a Fox News reporter as a possible "co-conspirator" in violations of the Espionage Act.
Holder later approved new Justice Department guidelines that put restrictions on leak investigations involving members of the news media.
Kim, who had been a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory employee, was indicted in 2009 on charges that he leaked Rosen details from a top secret intelligence report about how North Korea would respond to an expected United Nations resolution about the country’s nuclear program. After his indictment, former Bush administration official John Bolton, a noted hard-liner on North Korea, said Kim’s disclosures were not especially “sensitive” and could have been gleaned from reading the South Korean press at the time.