James Risen is an investigative reporter for the New York Times, based in Washington. He was the winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting and was a member of the New York Times reporting team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. He was also the winner of the 2006 Goldsmith Prize for investigative reporting. He joined the New York Times in 1998, after previously working at the Los Angeles Times.
He is the author of four books. The first was Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War (Basic Books, 1998), the first comprehensive history of the anti-abortion movement in the United States. The second, The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the KGB (Random House, 2003), won the 2003 Cornelius Ryan Award from the Overseas Press Club as the year’s best non-fiction book on international affairs. In 2015, it was named one of the ten best spy books of all time by The Guardian. His third book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (Free Press, 2006), was a national bestseller. His fourth book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), was a New York Times bestseller, and was named one of the 100 most notable books of 2014 by the New York Times Book Review.
Risen was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007. In 2012, he received the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, from the National Press Club. In 2014, he received the Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award, from the New England First Amendment Coalition. He received the Elijah P. Lovejoy Award, from Colby College, in 2014, which also awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree. In 2014, he received the Newspaper Guild’s Herbert Block Freedom Award. In 2015, he received the Ridenhour Courage Prize. He received the Constitutional Champion Award, from The Constitution Project, in 2015. In 2015, he received the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award, from The Playboy Foundation. He was inducted into the Medill School of Journalism Hall of Achievement in 2015.
Risen is a graduate of Brown University, where he majored in history. He received a master’s degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Risen is married and has three children.
Risen waged a campaign for press freedom against the government that lasted nearly a decade. First, he was threatened, both publicly and privately, with prosecution under the Espionage Act by the Bush Administration for his stories in 2005 and 2006 that revealed the existence of the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program as well as the government’s surveillance of the Swift international banking system. The Justice Department and the FBI searched for years for his sources for those and other stories in the New York Times, as well as for his sources for his 2006 book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.
He was subsequently spied on and monitored by the government after he was targeted by two federal grand juries in separate criminal leak investigations. One grand jury was empaneled to hunt for his sources for his NSA stories in the New York Times, while another hunted for his sources for his book, State of War. Both the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration sought to identify and prosecute his sources. In 2008, he was subpoenaed by the Bush Justice Department, which demanded that he testify before a federal grand jury and identify his sources for State of War. He refused to testify, and successfully moved to quash the subpoena. The Obama Justice Department then subpoenaed Risen again to testify before a new grand jury, and again he resisted and successfully quashed the subpoena. In what may be a first for an American journalist, he defeated two separate administrations seeking to force him to testify to identify his sources before grand juries. The Obama Justice Department then subpoenaed him for a third time. This time, he was subpoenaed to testify at a criminal trial, and again he refused. He once again succeeded in having the subpoena quashed in 2011. The Obama Administration appealed that ruling to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that a reporter’s privilege of confidentiality does not exist in criminal cases. The court of appeals sided with the government, eviscerating the reporters’ privilege and severely damaging investigative journalism in America. Risen appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the First Amendment is meaningless if journalists can’t protect the confidentiality of their sources. In 2014, the Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal. But Risen again refused to testify at trial. Under mounting public criticism for their crackdown on journalists, the Obama Justice Department finally decided in 2015 not to jail Risen for refusing to reveal his sources. He had successfully held off the government.