Risen, James 1955(?)–

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Risen, James 1955(?)–


Born c. 1955; married; children: three sons. Education: Brown University, B.A., 1977; Northwestern University, M.A., 1978.


Home— Washington, DC.


Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, former reporter;New York Times, New York, NY, security reporter based in Washington, DC, 1998—.


Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, and Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting (both with Eric Lichtblau), both 2006, for coverage of the George W. Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program.


(With Judy L. Thomas)Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1998.

(With Milt Bearden)The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA's Final Showdown with the KGB, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.

State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, Free Press (New York, NY), 2006.


James Risen is a reporter who went from covering economics for the Los Angeles Times to focusing on national security issues and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). "The CIA is not like covering other beats," Risen noted in an interview for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television show Frontline. "You don't get a press credential. They almost never have press conferences. They don't put out a lot of press announcements or press statements or press releases. And they only occasionally have congressional hearings about it. It's … a job that requires you to go out and find jobs, rather than on a normal beat, [where] there's a lot of news and public events that you have to cover."

Although Risen is also the author or coauthor of books that delve into the CIA, his first book, written with Judy L. Thomas, focuses on one of American society's most contentious debates. Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War examines how the opposition to the abortion movement has evolved over several decades. Risen and Thomas provide an overall history of the abortion issue and then delve into the 1970s with a look at how the Catholic Church was the main player in the opposition movement. They go on to trace the movement from peaceful protests to a political issue involving Evangelical Protestants, exploring how the issue progressed to involve violent protests that ultimately led to murders. The authors interview several major figures who have played a role in the Evangelical-based movement, including Jerry Falwell and Paul Hill. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the authors "penetrate deep inside the antiabortion subculture in this detailed journalistic chronicle." Writing in the Women's Review of Books, Celia Morris called Wrath of Angels "a remarkable achievement, demonstrating how Roe mobilized a wholly new element in American politics."

Risen collaborated with Milt Bearden to write The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA's Final Showdown with the KGB. Based on numerous interviews with current or former CIA and KGB operatives, the book details the long battle that the two agencies waged to gain intelligence about the United States and the former Soviet Union. Risen's coauthor headed the CIA's Soviet and Eastern European Division the year the Berlin Wall came down and was with the agency during the Year of the Spy when, in 1985, the CIA's Aldrich Ames and the FBI's Robert Hanssen began spying for the Soviet Union. "Although no individual's account of even that single aspect of the great struggle is likely to be truly comprehensive, there is plenty of gratifying detail here for espionage enthusiasts," wrote Alan Judd in the Spectator.

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Walter Isaacson commended Risen's 2006 book,State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, "for being not only colorful and fascinating, but also one of the ways that facts and historical narratives emerge in an information-age democracy." Risen, who won the Pulitzer Prize with fellow reporter Eric Lichtblau for their reportage on domestic spying within the United States, provides an overview of U.S. intelligence operations following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Much of the book delves into the U.S. domestic spying program that includes monitoring the phone calls and e-mails of Americans that the White House established without congressional oversight.

Political Affairs Magazine Web site contributor Gerald Horne noted that "in this book James Risen expands upon these explosive charges and reveals that there is a split between the White House and the security agencies—principally the Central Intelligence Agency." Horne added that "dissident intelligence agents are the major source for this best-selling book that is burnished with nary a footnote." This last comment by Horne has been echoed by various reviewers who noted that much of the book is based on informa-tion from anonymous sources whose veracity and political motives cannot be fully ascertained by the reader. "Yet though this is a ‘faith-based’ account to an extent," Horne commented, "it bears the ring of authenticity in that it at times simply adds detail to what we already know."

Although Risen writes extensively about the program for spying on Americans, he also covers numerous other topics associated with American intelligence, the terrorist attacks, and their aftermath. "Risen's book provides fresh details about how agency officials ignored warnings from their sources in Iraq about WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and the potency of the insurgency after the U.S. invasion," wrote Romesh Ratnesar in Time magazine. The author also delves into other mistakes the intelligence community made concerning the terrorist attacks and other important national security issues. For example, Risen describes the lackluster investigation into bank accounts associated with ATM cards found on Abu Zubaydah after the highest ranking al-Qaeda terrorist operative in America was captured in March of 2002. He also relates the story of how the CIA mistakenly destroyed the agency's network of agents in Tehran when they blew the cover of several agents.

"Risen tells some amazing stories," reported Matthew Rothschild in the Progressive. Writing in the International Journal of Kurdish Studies, Hamid Hussain commented: "In addition to exposing intelligence operations, Risen throws much needed light on the decision-making process at the highest levels of government. Unfortunately, such revelations instill neither confidence nor comfort."



America's Intelligence Wire, January 1, 2006, "Interview with Alberto Gonzales; Interview with James Risen—Part 1"; January 1, 2006, "Interview with Alberto Gonzales; Interview with James Risen—Part 2"; January 6, 2006, "Update 1-N.Y. Times' James Risen Is Media's Man of the Moment"; January 6, 2006, "Update 2-N.Y. Times' James Risen Is Media's Man of the Moment."

Booklist, January 1, 1998, Mary Carroll, review of Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War, p. 750.

Current Biography, August 2007, Dan Firrincili, "James Risen, Journalist and Writer," p. 42.

First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, November, 1998, Dave Andrusko, review of Wrath of Angels, p. 32.

Foreign Affairs, May-June, 2006, Lawrence D. Freedman, review of State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, p. 156.

Guardian(London, England), January 5, 2006, "George Bush Insists That Iran Must Not Be Allowed to Developed Nuclear Weapons. So Why, Six Years Ago, Did the CIA Give the Iranians Blueprints to Build a Bomb?," excerpt from State of War.

International Affairs, November, 2006, David Ryan, review of State of War, p. 1197.

International Journal of Kurdish Studies, January, 2006, Hamid Hussain, review of State of War, p. 235.

Library Journal, February 1, 1998, Barbara M. Bibel, review of Wrath of Angels, p. 104.

National Catholic Reporter, January 16, 1998, Pamela Schaeffer, review of Wrath of Angels, p. 5.

New York Review of Books, February 23, 2006, Thomas Powers, "The Biggest Secret," review of State of War, p. 9.

New York Times, March 16, 2006, Michael Janofsky, "2 Times Reporters Win Prize for Articles on Spying," p. 20.

New York Times Book Review, February 5, 2006, Walter Isaacson, "Spies and Spymasters," review of State of War, p. 11.

Nieman Reports, spring, 1998, Jan Collins, review of Wrath of Angels, p. 85.

Nursing Times, August 4, 1999, Adam Legge, review of Wrath of Angels, p. 42.

Political Studies, June, 2000, Gillian Youngs, review of Wrath of Angels, p. 618.

Progressive, April, 2006, Matthew Rothschild, "Secrets and Lies," review of State of War, p. 41.

Publishers Weekly, December 8, 1997, review of Wrath of Angels, p. 63.

Reference & Research Book News, November, 1998, review of Wrath of Angels, p. 120.

Spectator, May 31, 2003, Alan Judd, review of The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA's Final Showdown with the KGB, p. 39.

Time, January 9, 2006, Romesh Ratnesar, "The Book behind the Bombshell," p. 30.

Times Literary Supplement, August 7, 1998, Jean Bethke Elshtain, review of Wrath of Angels, p. 27.

Washington Post Book World, January 15, 2006, Daniel Ryman, "Bush at War: The CIA after 9/11," review of State of War, p. 3.

Weekly Standard, January 4, 2006, Thomas Joscelyn, "Source Code; James Risen's CIA Sources Have Led Him Astray Before."

Women's Review of Books, June, 1998, Celia Morris, review of Wrath of Angels, p. 9.


CNN.com,http://www.cnn.com/ (January 16, 2006), "CNN Larry King Live: Interview with Alberto Gonzales; Interview with James Risen."

Frontline,http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/ (March 28, 2006), interview with James Risen.

MSNBC Web site,http://www.msnbc.msn.com/ (January 3, 2006), Andrea Mitchell, "Reporter Defends Release of NSA Spy Program."

NNDB,http://www.nndb.com/ (November 4, 2007), biographical information on James Risen.

Political Affairs Magazine,http://www.politicalaffairs.net/ (November 4, 2007), Gerald Horne, review of State of War.

Pulitzer Prize Web site,http://www.pulitzer.org/ (November 4, 2007), announcement of James Risen winning the Pulitzer Prize.

Slate,http://www.slate.com/ (January 9, 2006), Daniel Benjamin, "Underestimating Intelligence: Why It's Not Fair to Give the CIA a Failing Grade," review of State of War.

University of Delaware, World Affairs Council of Wilmington Web site,http://www.udel.edu/global/ (November 4, 2007), brief profile of James Risen.