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Former US contractor admits N Korea nuclear leak

A former US government contractor pleaded guilty to leaking "highly classified intelligence" about North Korea's nuclear program and will serve 13 months in prison, officials said.

WASHINGTON: A former US government contractor pleaded guilty on Friday to leaking "highly classified intelligence" about North Korea's nuclear program and will serve 13 months in prison, officials said.

Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a former Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory employee who was assigned to the State Department, agreed to the plea, which must be approved by a judge, according to the US Justice Department.

Kim was charged with leaking information to Fox News reporter James Rosen in a case that sparked concern about a war on news media, because Rosen was named as a "co-conspirator" in the case.

The leak revealed the US assessment of military capabilities and preparedness of North Korea. It became the subject of a Fox News dispatch within hours of the 2009 release.

"Today Stephen Kim admitted to violating his oath to protect our country by disclosing highly classified intelligence about North Korea's military capabilities," said US Attorney Ronald Machen in a statement.

"Stephen Kim admits that he wasn't a whistleblower. He admits that his actions could put America at risk," Machen added.

Kim is to be sentenced on April 2 by District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on one count of making an unauthorized disclosure of national defence information. Under the agreement, he would get one year of supervised release after his prison term.

Defence attorney Abbe Lowell said in a statement that Kim "did what so many government officials do every day in Washington, DC: he talked to a reporter.

"Regrettably, the topic and some of the information that he discussed with a reporter was also contained in a classified report."

The attorney said Kim was a victim of "over-classification" of information by the government, adding that "a great deal of harmless information is 'classified,' even when it is widely available to the public."

"Faced with the draconian penalties of the Espionage Act, the tremendous resources that the federal government devoted to his case," which included a half-dozen prosecutors and a dozen FBI agents, "and the prospect of a lengthy trial in today's highly-charged climate of mass disclosures, Stephen decided to take responsibility for his actions and move forward with his life," the lawyer said.

Trevor Timm at the Freedom of the Press Foundation said the case highlighted an unfair use of the Espionage Act to crack down on news leaks.

By using the law, Timm said, "it doesn't matter if the information leaked by Kim was properly classified, or if it should have been classified at all. Kim could not argue the information he gave to Rosen may have been innocuous."

"The ruling also gives the government carte blanche power to classify whatever it wants - including waste, abuse, and crimes - and keep it secret under the threat of prosecution of anyone who could potentially reveal it," Timm said in a blog post on Friday.

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