The Spectacle Blog

Leak Prosecutions?

By on 5.23.06 | 11:48AM

The New York Times, the Washington Post and law professor Jonathan Turley are suffering a severe case of nerves about Attorney General Gonzales's statement that the law may require prosecution of reporters who publish government secrets.  Today's WaPo editorial refers, again, to the wrong part of the law in the growing hysteria about the libs idea that the Bush administration is trying to violate the First Amendment and do something the law has never allowed.  (Hat tip to the PowerLine guys for a reminder on what's really the law).

The law that governs the James Risen - NSA terrorist surveillance leak situation is 18 US Code Section 798, which deals with the unauthorized disclosure or use of information regarding signals intelligence.  It says, in part:

(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes,

    transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person,

    or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or

    interest of the United States or for the benefit of any foreign

    government to the detriment of the United States any classified

    information -

        (1) concerning the nature, preparation, or use of any code,

      cipher, or cryptographic system of the United States or any

      foreign government; or

        (2) concerning the design, construction, use, maintenance, or

      repair of any device, apparatus, or appliance used or prepared or

      planned for use by the United States or any foreign government

      for cryptographic or communication intelligence purposes; or

        (3) concerning the communication intelligence activities of the

      United States or any foreign government; or

        (4) obtained by the processes of communication intelligence

      from the communications of any foreign government, knowing the

      same to have been obtained by such processes -

      Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten

    years, or both.

 

So if a reporter receives, like Risen did, top-secret information about the creation, use and probable success of a system like the NSA one and writes a story about it that reveals the system to the detriment of the US, as he did, he can be put in jail for ten years.  Which he apparently should, as should the person who leaked it to him.  This is no stretch of the law or some imposition of a British-like “official secrets act.”  It’s what any nation would do to protect its most valued secrets.  Sounds like the WaPo and NYT are sweating not because they think what’s coming is beyond the law, but because they know it's not. 

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