My post about the NYT was wrong – the US doesn’t criminalize all release of classified information. But the NYT should not relax – a DC judge is in the process of fixing that.
First a declaration of interest: I’ve signed the Brit Official Secrets Act, and don’t disclose classified information, no matter how old, to anyone – not even to Mrs G (she’s signed it too, so it works both ways).
This case concerns a government employee who released classified information on Iranian influence in Iraq to two lobbyists, who (allegedly) in turn released it to Israeli diplomats.
The government employee filed a guilty plea and was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.
Now the government is trying the two lobbyists, who claim First Amendment protection, since they did not steal the information, just passed it on. They rely on this:
Legal analysts often distinguish the American legal system’s approach toward breaches of classified information from the tack taken in Britain, where the country’s Official Secrets Act can be used to prosecute and silence journalists and ordinary citizens who come into possession of sensitive information. In America, there have been repeated, but unsuccessful, efforts to pass a similar statute that would criminalize all leaks of classified information regardless of the harm caused or the intent or identity of the leaker.
In 2000, President Clinton vetoed legislation that would have made the release of any classified information a crime.
Unfortunately for the two lobbyists, the judge in this case is taking a more old-fashioned view:
At (the government employee’s) sentencing last month, the judge expressed no qualms about punishing journalists or others who wind up with classified information and pass it on. “Persons who have unauthorized possession, who come into unauthorized possession of classified information, must abide by the law,” (he) said in remarks first reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “That applies to academics, lawyers, journalists, professors, whatever.”
This is bad news for the NSA leakers – warning the murderers of 3,000 Americans that they’re being bugged should mean much longer sentences than the 12 years for leaking to Israel – an ally – information that the US should have given for free.
And bad news for the journalists on the NYT who aided and abetted the traitors.
When they’re all behind bars, Congress might consider something like the Official Secrets Act.
An OSA was arguably not needed when the US was fairly isolated from its enemies, but now many live there. So not being able automatically to go after fellow travelers will cost it dear. Conversely, with an OSA, everybody knows exactly where they stand – publicizing secret information is a crime. Period.