WASHINGTON — Federal law enforcement officials, trying to uncover the sources of a New York Times reporter, James Risen, obtained extensive records about his phone calls, finances and travel history, according to a court brief filed late Thursday.
Prosecutors gathered “various telephone records showing calls made” by Mr. Risen, as well as “credit card and bank records and certain records of his airline travel” and three credit reports listing his financial accounts, the document said.
The brief was filed by lawyers for a former Central Intelligence Agency official, Jeffrey A. Sterling, who has been charged with leaking classified information to an unnamed reporter. The details of Mr. Sterling’s indictment, which was unsealed earlier this year, made clear that prosecutors believe he was a source for Mr. Risen’s 2006 book, “State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration.”
One of the book’s chapters details a C.I.A. program in 2000 that aimed to disrupt Iran’s nuclear research by giving it blueprints for a nuclear device containing a hidden design flaw. Mr. Risen portrayed the effort as botched, saying it probably helped Iran gain valuable expertise.
The indictment made clear that the government had obtained records of the men’s e-mail and phone contacts. But those could have been obtained by gaining access to Mr. Sterling’s accounts alone. The new brief, which was reported Thursday evening by Politico, showed that law enforcement officials have also extensively investigated Mr. Risen.
The brief did not say when the government obtained the records about Mr. Risen, and the Justice Department declined to discuss the matter. Its investigation into Mr. Sterling dates to the administration of George W. Bush, and Mr. Risen was twice subpoenaed — once under Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, and again under the current attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., Mr. Mukasey’s successor in the Obama administration.
Mr. Risen has refused to talk about his sources. The first subpoena lapsed when a grand jury expired, and a federal judge eventually quashed the second subpoena. It remained unclear whether prosecutors would try to subpoena him again for Mr. Sterling’s trial.
Under Justice Department rules, prosecutors may seek subpoenas of journalists for testimony or for their phone records only if the information sought is essential and cannot be obtained in another way.
In addition, the attorney general must personally sign off after balancing the public’s interest in the news against its interest in effective law enforcement. Those regulations do not cover other kinds of personal records for journalists, however.
It also remained unclear whether the phone records came from Mr. Risen’s account. Justice Department rules require notifying a reporter within 90 days if his or her phone records have been subpoenaed. Mr. Risen said that he had received no such notification, but that he believed that the Justice Department had been “harassing” him because of his reporting during the Bush administration.
“This seems to bolster the view that I was targeted by the government,” Mr. Risen said. “They basically tried to get everything about me. I’m not sure what else they could have gotten except my kids’ birth certificates.”
Lucy A. Dalglish, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, portrayed the scrutinizing of Mr. Risen as part of a crackdown on leaking that is making it increasingly difficult to report on security and intelligence matters. (The Obama administration, in its first two years, indicted more officials for leaking information to reporters than any previous one.)
“Is it creepy? You bet it is,” Ms. Daglish said. “But that’s how the feds investigate crimes. The problem is that Jim and other reporters are going to have a much more difficult time in the future having government whistleblowers talk to them, and that’s the reason they do this.”