WASHINGTON (AP) — A State Department expert on North Korea pleaded guilty Friday to passing classified information to a journalist, and has agreed to a 13-month sentence in a deal with prosecutors, pending a judge's approval.
Stephen Kim, who pleaded guilty to making an unauthorized disclosure of national defense information, faced a maximum of 10 years in prison had he been convicted of that charge. Prosecutors agreed to drop a second count, making false statements. If he had been convicted of both crimes at trial, Kim would have faced 15 years in prison, his lawyer said. Kim could be released in less than a year for good behavior.
The case stems from a June 2009 story by Fox News journalist James Rosen. He reported that U.S. intelligence officials warned the president and senior U.S. officials that North Korea would respond to a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning nuclear tests with another nuclear test.
Justice Department officials said Kim's plea concludes the investigation and the prosecution of the case, which was scheduled to go to trial in April. Kim is scheduled to be sentenced on April 2.
Kim, 46, who was born in Seoul, worked as a senior adviser for intelligence to the assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation.
The material at issue in the Kim case came from an intelligence report that had been communicated to officials in the intelligence community, including Kim, on the morning that Rosen's story appeared, according to an FBI affidavit for a search warrant in the probe.
Under questioning from U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Kim admitted that he "orally" disclosed the report to Rosen on North Korea's military capabilities and preparedness, and that Kim was not authorized to disclose the report to Rosen or any other member of the media. Kim also agreed that he was not claiming he made the leak to expose waste, fraud or abuse.
Kim answered the judge's questions in a soft but deep voice. The only time he veered from his script was when he described his legal team as "the best."
"How do you plead?" Kollar-Kotelly asked.
"I plead guilty," Kim answered. He then sat down at the defense table and took a sip of water. After the hearing, an emotional Kim hugged a supporter in a courthouse elevator.
In a statement, Kim's sister, Yuri Lustenberger-Kim, said that over the past four years, the government's prosecution "has taken a horrific toll on my brother and our entire family."
"Our parents survived the atrocities, hunger and poverty of World War II on the Korean Peninsula and then the Korean War," said Lustenberger-Kim, described as a family spokeswoman. "Our parents lost their parents and family members and entire life's belongings as refugees during the Korean War. We struggled with the illnesses of our parents and children but nothing as wrenching as today's decision."