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First Amendment group to honor Timesman with Hamblett Award

Providence - James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who faces legal peril for refusing to disclose the source for his account of a failed CIA operation in Iran, will receive the 2014 Stephen Hamblett Award from the New England First Amendment Coalition.

An investigative reporter for The New York Times, Risen was told by a divided 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to identify his source and testify in the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who is charged with leaking classified information to Risen in violation of the Espionage Act. Risen, despite the threat of imprisonment, has refused.

The information allegedly provided by Sterling was used in a chapter of Risen's 2006 book, "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," which told of an unsuccessful scheme, dubbed "Operation Merlin," to sidetrack Iran's nuclear program.

The 2-1 decision by the Richmond, Va., appeals court reversed a 2011 ruling by a federal judge who agreed with Risen's contention that he was shielded by a limited "reporter's privilege" under the First Amendment.

In an editorial, The Times called the July 21 decision "egregious" and said it "has dealt a major set back to press freedoms."

Risen described the nub of his argument in an affidavit filed in the case.

Risen has been covering national security, intelligence and terrorism issues for the Times since 1998. He previously worked for the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press and the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. He received a master's degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 1978 and his undergraduate degree from Brown University in 1977.

He was part of The Times team that won a Pulitzer in 2002 for explanatory reporting for coverage of the Sept.11 attacks and terrorism. He shared the 2006 prize in national reporting with Times reporter Eric Lichtblau for revealing the domestic wiretapping program.

Risen is the fourth recipient of the Hamblett award, named for the late publisher and chief executive of The Providence Journal.

The awards luncheon will be held Feb. 7, 2014, in conjunction with the winter conference of the New England Newspaper and Press Association.

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