Bill Gertz Explains Importance of Confidential Sources

07.23.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

In advance of his obligatory appearance in a California court on July 24 regarding possible violations of grand jury secrecy, Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz filed a sworn declaration (pdf) describing the importance of confidential government sources and their role in his work “related to the growing threat from the People’s Republic of China.”

“Confidential sources provide information necessary to the reporter’s function of keeping the public informed of events of national interest,” he explained. “Without the information provided by confidential sources, these events — or important aspects of these events — would remain shielded from public and congressional scrutiny and oversight.”

“In my experience U.S. government employees are willing to provide sensitive government information only to those reporters and journalists whom they trust,” Mr. Gertz wrote. “A reporter who is forced to disclose the identity of a U.S. government employee who had confidentially provided information for a news story would irreparably damage his and others’ ability to cover similar stories in the future.”

“From a broader perspective, if compelled disclosure of the identities of confidential sources becomes commonplace, it would have a very damaging chilling effect on potential sources throughout government at all levels, in the business community, and across a wide spectrum of public and private organizations whose operations and activities affect the American public,” the Gertz declaration said.

But Tai Mak, one of the defendants in the criminal case reported in the 2006 story by Mr. Gertz that led to his pending subpoena, said the court should aggressively pursue its investigation of the apparent violation of grand jury secrecy.

Tai Mak, who has pleaded guilty to export control violations, urged the court not to quash the subpoena against Mr. Gertz.

“The improper leak of Grand Jury material puts extremely important constitutional and other substantial rights at stake,” the Tai Mak brief (pdf) stated. “It is necessary and appropriate that the parties, the Court, and the public, be apprised of all the facts and circumstances that are relevant to the protection of those rights.”