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Thread: The Espionage Act And WikiLeaks - Would it End Journalism As We Know It?

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    The Espionage Act And WikiLeaks - Would it End Journalism As We Know It?

    Adam Serwer Archive | The American Prospect

    If WikiLeaks is prosecuted under the Espionage Act as it currently exists, then no journalistic institution or entity is safe. The idea that anytime that a journalist obtains a document that has "information related to the national defense" that could be used "to the injury of the United States" they could be subject to prosecution would destroy national-security journalism as it currently exists. Also frightening is the reality that government officials looking to skew public debates one way or another regularly leak information to the press, so the government would really only be prosecuting people for publishing leaked information they didn't want leaked.

    I think there's this idea that because the New York Times and the Washington Post are treasured journalistic institutions the government wouldn't dare engage in the kind of coercion it has leveled so effectively against Assange, and that even if he were prosecuted under an archaic unconstitutional law like the Espionage Act, he's a scary foreigner and there's no way that Americans would be treated the same way. But it really wasn't that long ago that Republicans like Bill Kristol and Rep. Peter King were talking about the NYT in the same kind of language they're using to describe Assange.

    Sen. Joe Lieberman also called for Assange to be prosecuted, but he let slip that he thought other journalistic outlets could be held similarly "accountable," stating, "To me the New York Times has committed at least an act of, at best, bad citizenship, but whether they have committed a crime is a matter of discussion for the Justice Department." Lieberman recently introduced the SHIELD Act along with Sen. Scott Brown, which would amend the Espionage Act to make it easier to prosecute Assange.
    Is Julian Assange a nasty foreign person with crappy sexual ethics? Probably.

    Would prosecuting him compromise the ability of the press to hold government accountable to the people? Almost certainly.

    That's a far larger and more detrimental outcome than anything that Assange is capable of causing by leaking our information.

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    Re: The Espionage Act And WikiLeaks - Would it End Journalism As We Know It?

    Quote Originally Posted by Catz Part Deux View Post
    Adam Serwer Archive | The American Prospect

    Is Julian Assange a nasty foreign person with crappy sexual ethics? Probably.

    Would prosecuting him compromise the ability of the press to hold government accountable to the people? Almost certainly.

    That's a far larger and more detrimental outcome than anything that Assange is capable of causing by leaking our information.
    This is one of those times where we're damned if we do and damned if we don't. I doubt anyone has much sympathy for Assange -- and most would like to see him prosecuted for something. On the other hand, what about freedom of speech?

    Surely we have the right to protect our state secrets. Surely we do. That's on the one hand.

    On the other hand, how does our Fourth Estate go about letting the people know about real abuse, real dirty tricks? If the government can easily make a case of espionage against a news outlet (or anyone, for that matter), we will lose the safety net that a free press provides. It's kind of chilling, when one thinks about it.

    So. What's the answer?

    What if the information this guy put up named all of our foreign operatives? Gave their home addresses? Posted their pictures? What if it posted strategic military information re Afghanistan and Iraq? Cutting edge military technology?

    It's a very difficult puzzle. When one has to "write a law" surrounding these things, it becomes very difficult. Sort of like pornography. It's hard to define, but we all pretty much know it when we see it. Not a great example, but the only one I could think of. And the same problem applies, doesn't it? Your idea of pornography is different than mine. The government's idea of "this crosses the line" is different from mine, too.

    One of the answers simply has to be holding SIPRNet officials responsible for this debacle. We hear nothing about the stupid management that allowed this lowly military guy to copy secret stuff on a thumb drive and walk out the door. Somebody(ies) ought to go to jail....and it shouldn't just be what's 'is name.
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    Re: The Espionage Act And WikiLeaks - Would it End Journalism As We Know It?

    There has to be a reasonable middle ground here. Not everything released actually hurt. But I will say this, our leaders have to know the world has changed. They can't be flippant in emails, and most documents are far too accessibale today to someone who wants them. If wikileaks could get these, so could someone else, and that means the threat is there no matter what journalist do. Some responsibility has to be with those who cared for these documents and were unable to prevent them from being obtained.

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    Re: The Espionage Act And WikiLeaks - Would it End Journalism As We Know It?

    Quote Originally Posted by Catz Part Deux View Post
    Not even sure that the espionage act can be used, since the "act" was done first off all by someone else and not Assange, and that Assange placed his site on international servers and not in the US. How can it be espionage if the person being charged was not even in the US when the act was supposedly done?

    Since when is "spying" on the US in say Sweden illegal in the US? That would mean that every country on the planet and millions of police and security agents would be liable under the espionage act....talk about cutting off the US with the treat of being arrested because you happen to work for another countries government.. "you looked at our embassy in Copenhagen when you were on vacation, hence you must be a spy... off to Gitmo with you"...Yes it is exactly that what we are talking about.

    Is Julian Assange a nasty foreign person
    Based on what? That he published embarrassing material on the US state department and/or the US? It happens all the time and often by American's.. so why should he be "nasty"? Personal experience?

    with crappy sexual ethics?
    So has most of the teenage population in the US considering the teenage pregnancy rate. Hell, half of the Republican congress have questionable sexual ethics.. from the Republican Congressman hunting Congress pages to the US senator looking for sex in airport toilets, to the governor who had a mistress in Argentina.

    Would prosecuting him compromise the ability of the press to hold government accountable to the people? Almost certainly.
    That was compromised long ago. October 7th, 1996 was a key date... look it up, but it started before that.. Gone are the days of investigative journalism that keeps government and politicians in check. The best we can hope for is The National Enquirer now days and that is sad.

    Also the US media and companies gets bullied often by politicians and corporations into silence or into following a certain line. It happened during the second Iraq war, where the US media on mass ate the Bush administration's talking points without any critical eye. Those few that did raise questions were ridiculed and called un-patriotic and marginalised.. It happened during this case, when Amazon got bullied by a US senator to take wikileaks off its servers..

    When TV stations start to actively promote political movements or politicians.. then you have lost all hope for any fairness or truthfulness in the media organisation.

    That's a far larger and more detrimental outcome than anything that Assange is capable of causing by leaking our information.
    It would be the final nail in the coffin so to say.. When media personalities are calling for the assassination of a foreign citizen and are not kicked off the air or/and arrested for inciting to violence, then you have a serious problem... especially when it is happening in such a lopsided way... are you right wing.. no problemo... are you left wing.. then you are un-patritoic and terrorist.
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    Re: The Espionage Act And WikiLeaks - Would it End Journalism As We Know It?

    The major distinction I would draw between Assange and a government whistleblower is that the whistleblower leaks information to expose wrongdoing, which is completely legitimate in my view. Assange leaks state secrets just for the hell of it...I mean, is the world really a better place because everyone knows that US diplomats in Turkey don't like Tayyip Erdogan? That's just embarrassing to everyone involved and doesn't do anything to advance any specific policy. I don't see how society benefits from most of this stuff; there was very little in the way of actual wrongdoing that was exposed. If the worst thing that Assange has on the State Department in 300,000 documents is that US spies tried to steal Ban Ki-Moon's credit cards, I think the US government actually comes across looking great.

    Maybe the distinction between whistleblowing and random leaking needs to be codified into law, if it isn't already. Perhaps the Espionage Act could be modified to protect people who publicize secret information who are motivated by a desire to expose wrongdoing or potential wrongdoing, while still prosecuting douchebags like Assange who do it for personal fame/glory/vendettas.
    Last edited by Kandahar; 12-08-10 at 04:56 PM.
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    Re: The Espionage Act And WikiLeaks - Would it End Journalism As We Know It?

    Quote Originally Posted by MaggieD View Post
    One of the answers simply has to be holding SIPRNet officials responsible for this debacle. We hear nothing about the stupid management that allowed this lowly military guy to copy secret stuff on a thumb drive and walk out the door. Somebody(ies) ought to go to jail....and it shouldn't just be what's 'is name.
    That is the actual and ONLY answer. There would have been nothing for Assange to publish if the information had been handled properly.

    There is also adopting a pragmatic response of being grateful that at least we learned about these holes through the release of classified, and not top secret, material.

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    Re: The Espionage Act And WikiLeaks - Would it End Journalism As We Know It?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kandahar View Post
    The major distinction I would draw between Assange and a government whistleblower is that the whistleblower leaks information to expose wrongdoing, which is completely legitimate in my view. Assange leaks state secrets just for the hell of it...I mean, is the world really a better place because everyone knows that US diplomats in Turkey don't like Tayyip Erdogan? I don't see how society benefits from most of this stuff; there was very little in the way of actual wrongdoing that was exposed. If the worst thing that Assange has on the State Department in 300,000 documents is that US spies tried to steal Ban Ki-Moon's credit cards, I think the US government actually comes across looking great.
    Or we could consider being much stricter about protecting information that is actually top secret, and declassifying much of what is currently classified. See, I think the primary response that should come from this is an INTERNAL response of using this situation to understand how we can improve our current status of collection of intelligence, and not as an EXTERNAL, heavy handed response directed at Assange.

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    Re: The Espionage Act And WikiLeaks - Would it End Journalism As We Know It?

    Quote Originally Posted by Catz Part Deux View Post
    Or we could consider being much stricter about protecting information that is actually top secret, and declassifying much of what is currently classified. See, I think the primary response that should come from this is an INTERNAL response of using this situation to understand how we can improve our current status of collection of intelligence, and not as an EXTERNAL, heavy handed response directed at Assange.
    No reason we can't do both. Assange is different from both the New York Times or a shady go-between who receives leaked documents. For (what I think is) the first time in history, this is a guy who has created a popular method of transmitting state secrets with a promise to publish them. So it's not just the CURRENT leak that's the problem, it's the fact that this kind of thing will CONTINUE to happen as long as Wikileaks is allowed to operate. Assange has neither the anonymity of a shady character who receives government secrets in a dimly lit parking garage, nor the responsibility of mainstream media outlets like the New York Times.

    Obviously the US is going to need to revise its secrecy classifications in light of this breach of security. But it also should not allow a popular website to publicly encourage and facilitate the publication of state secrets.
    Last edited by Kandahar; 12-08-10 at 05:09 PM.
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    Re: The Espionage Act And WikiLeaks - Would it End Journalism As We Know It?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kandahar View Post
    No reason we can't do both. Assange is different from both the New York Times or a shady go-between who receives leaked documents. For (what I think is) the first time in history, this is a guy who has created a popular method of transmitting state secrets with a promise to publish them. So it's not just the CURRENT leak that's the problem, it's the fact that this kind of thing will CONTINUE to happen as long as Wikileaks is allowed to operate. Assange has neither the anonymity of a shady character who receives government secrets in a dimly lit parking garage, nor the responsibility of mainstream media outlets like the New York Times.

    Obviously the US is going to need to revise its secrecy classifications in light of this breach of security. But it also should not allow a popular website to publicly encourage and facilitate the publication of state secrets.
    You don't consider that there is a place/need for this?

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    Re: The Espionage Act And WikiLeaks - Would it End Journalism As We Know It?

    Quote Originally Posted by Catz Part Deux View Post
    You don't consider that there is a place/need for this?
    Sure, there's a need for publishing SOME secrets: in order to expose wrongdoing or potential wrongdoing. But that isn't what Assange has done, he's just dumped the documents into the public and let the chips fall where they may. That isn't appropriate, and if we need to rewrite the Espionage Act to draw that distinction more clearly, we should.
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