WASHINGTON -- A former State Department arms expert Friday pleaded guilty in federal court to disclosing national defense information to a Fox News reporter.
Stephen Jin-Woo Kim admitted sharing information from a top-secret intelligence report on North Korea with Fox chief Washington correspondent James Rosen. Investigators in the case also targeted Mr. Rosen, calling him a possible "co-conspirator" to obtain a search warrant for his personal email.
The law enforcement tactics used in Mr. Kim's case -- and in another case involving the phone records of Associated Press journalists -- led the Justice Department to tighten its policies last summer for pursuing unauthorized disclosures of classified information to journalists.
Mr. Kim's attorneys and federal prosecutors had been engaged in lengthy courtroom battles over documents ahead of a trial that was to begin as soon as April. Mr. Kim's defense team had argued that his conversation with Mr. Rosen caused little damage to national security, and that his prosecution could end up causing more harm.
The plea agreement, which must be approved by a judge, calls for Mr. Kim to serve 13 months in prison, far less jail time than the maximum possible sentence of 10 years. Prosecutors have also agreed to drop a second charge of lying to federal agents.
"Stephen Kim admits that he wasn't a whistleblower. He admits that his actions could put America at risk," U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. said in a statement. "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."
Mr. Kim, 46, decided to plead guilty, his sister said, because of the "horrific toll" -- financially, emotionally and professionally -- the case has taken on him and his extended family. "It was the state versus a single individual, an uphill struggle to begin with. He took it on and did the best he could. Now, we decide to stop," Mr. Kim's sister, Yuri Lustenberger-Kim, said in a statement.
The Obama administration has pursued more leak investigations than all previous administrations combined, charging government officials and contractors under the 1917 Espionage Act. In September, a former FBI bomb technician pleaded guilty to leaking information to The Associated Press about the disruption of a terrorist plot by the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
The investigation into Mr. Kim began after Mr. Rosen reported in June 2009 that U.S. intelligence officials were warning that North Korea was likely to respond to a new round of United Nations sanctions with more nuclear tests. Mr. Rosen reported that the CIA warning was developed through sources inside North Korea.
The story was published online the same day that a classified report was made available to a small circle within the intelligence community -- including Mr. Kim, who at the time was a senior adviser with a security clearance. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Harvey said in court Friday that the news story gave the North Korean government insight into U.S. intelligence sources.
Investigators gathered information from Mr. Kim's office computer and phone records, and obtained a search warrant for Mr. Rosen's personal emails.
Edward MacMahon, an attorney who is representing a former CIA official in another leak case, said that when the government has evidence of communications, such as emails and phone records, it makes it much harder for a defendant to go to trial.
Standing at the lectern of the wood-paneled courtroom Friday, Mr. Kim publicly acknowledged for the first time that he had passed on classified information to Mr. Rosen in a brief meeting outside the State Department headquarters.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly pointedly asked Mr. Kim whether he had "orally disclosed to Mr. Rosen the information" from the intelligence report. "Yes," he answered.
Mr. Kim is scheduled to be sentenced April 2.