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FACTDROP: Congressional Research Service report on WikiLeaks, publishing classified info, Espionage Act, & the 1st Amd


Congressional Research Service report on WikiLeaks, publishing classified info, Espionage Act, & the 1st Amd

Πηγή: FAS
Sep. 8 2011


The online publication of classified defense documents and diplomatic cables by the organization WikiLeaks and subsequent reporting by The New York Times and other news media have focused attention on whether such publication violates U.S. criminal law. The suspected source of the material, Army Private Bradley Manning, has been charged with a number of offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), including aiding the enemy, while a grand jury in Virginia is deciding whether to indict any civilians in connection with the disclosure. A number of other cases involving charges under the Espionage Act demonstrate the Obama Administration’s relatively hard-line policy with respect to the prosecution of persons suspected of leaking classified information to the media.

This report identifies some criminal statutes that may apply, but notes that these have been used almost exclusively to prosecute individuals with access to classified information (and a corresponding obligation to protect it) who make it available to foreign agents, or to foreign agents who obtain classified information unlawfully while present in the United States. Leaks of classified information to the press have only rarely been punished as crimes, and we are aware of no case in which a publisher of information obtained through unauthorized disclosure by a government employee has been prosecuted for publishing it. There may be First Amendment implications that would make such a prosecution difficult, not to mention political ramifications
based on concerns about government censorship. To the extent that the investigation implicates any foreign nationals whose conduct occurred entirely overseas, any resulting prosecution may carry foreign policy implications related to the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction and whether suspected persons may be extradited to the United States under applicable treaty provisions.

This report discusses the statutory prohibitions that may be implicated, including the Espionage Act; the extraterritorial application of such statutes; and the First Amendment implications related to such prosecutions against domestic or foreign media organizations and associated individuals. 

The report provides a summary of recent legislation relevant to the issue (H.R. 703, S. 315, S. 355, H.R. 1823) as well as some previous efforts to criminalize the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

Post Wikileaks CR

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