(This is from my latest "Secrecy News" newsletter - Pete)
The prosecution of two former officials of the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for allegedly mishandling classified
information is attracting growing attention as the momentous
character of the case and its implications for American civil
liberties become clear. (AIPAC itself is not a defendant and is not
accused of wrongdoing.)
"When we say that this is an unprecedented case, we're not saying it
hyperbolically the way people use 'unprecedented'," said defense
attorney Abbe Lowell, according to the newly disclosed transcript
of an April 21 court hearing. "We literally mean it's unprecedented.
There is not a case like it."
Never before has the Espionage Act of 1917 been used to prosecute
uncleared, non-governmental persons who are engaged in protected
First Amendment activities (not espionage) for receiving and
transmitting national defense information.
If these defendants are guilty of a crime, then so are many other
advocates, reporters, congressional staff and so forth.
"I think Mr. Lowell is absolutely right," Judge T.S. Ellis, III said
at the April 21 hearing. "It is an unprecedented, it's a novel case."
Prosecuting attorney Kevin DiGregory argued that the defendants had
conspired to improperly gather and disseminate classified
information and therefore "they stand in the shoes of a thief."
But the court rejected that assertion.
"You're not going to attempt to prove, and it isn't alleged in the
indictment, that these defendants in some way conspired to steal
[the information]," said Judge Ellis. "I don't think you gain much
from an analogy that doesn't fit."
"I find this a very, very hard problem," he said. "I'm exquisitely
sensitive to the [defendants'] motion to dismiss that I'm continuing
to consider," he said.
Assuming the case is not dismissed, the trial will begin August 7.
A copy of the transcript of the April 21 hearing on the matter was
obtained by Secrecy News and is available here: http://www.fas.org/sgp/jud/rosen042106.html
The AIPAC case may be a prelude to the establishment of an American
version of the British Official Secrets Act, wrote civil libertarian
Nat Hentoff. See "Chilling Free Speech" by Nat Hentoff, Washington
Times, May 8: http://washingtontimes.com/op-ed/20060507-094116-3382r.htm
The case could "change the nature of how news is gathered in
Washington and how lobbyists and academics interact with the
government," wrote author David Wise. See "Read the News, Go to
Jail," by David Wise, Los Angeles Times, April 30: http://tinyurl.com/lgl8o
Both articles were entered into the Congressional Record yesterday by
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA). See "The Big Chill in Washington, DC,"
May 9: http://www.fas.org/sgp/congress/2006/bigchill.html