Friday, May 01, 2009

Charges in AIPAC case dropped

While the situation itself is interesting, I'm actually more interested in the charge that was used. Via Yourish:
The case stank to high heaven from the get-go, and now the charges have been dropped.

The Justice Department has informed two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that it will be dropping charges against them for mishandling classified information.

What exactly were they charged with? Well, nothing.

The indictment indicates the FBI asked for and received a special warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor the AIPAC lobbyists. While they were charged under the 1917 Espionage Act, the counts against them specifically did not allege they were agents of a foreign power.

These were bogus charges to begin with, and the suspicion is that there is someone in the FBI who has a serious problem with Jews. The two AIPAC reps were charged under a WWI-era law that no one really uses anymore:

Despite the suggestive tenor of the indictment, prosecutors have not accused either man of spying. Rather, the government has charged them under an old and vaguely worded law that prohibits people in possession of such information from disclosing it further.

The reach of this law, which dates from the World War I era, has never been clear. By its terms, it would seem to require every person to protect the government’s secrets — a principle hardly in keeping with the American system of robust public debate. While it is reasonable for the government to demand that its employees and contractors protect the information it entrusts to them, it’s not okay to criminalize discussions among people who do not work, directly or indirectly, for the government. Traditionally, the government has treaded carefully with this law, using it sparingly even against government employees.

And this is how the law was used:

Prosecutors also would make it a crime for private citizens to receive improper leaks — though their brief denies it. In one count, the government charges the AIPAC officials with conspiring with their source, former Pentagon official Lawrence A. Franklin, to have him disclose information to them — and then to disclose it further. In a separate count, Mr. Rosen is charged with aiding and abetting Mr. Franklin’s leak to him by providing a fax number to which to send the material. If this is a crime, then journalists and congressional staffers could be as vulnerable as people who wrongly provide information to a foreign power.

All seriousness, if the law allowed for this, one could easily arrest the NYTimes editorial board for their disclosure of information last year, or other journalists for numerous other things. My personal opinion is that while journalists should be more careful about what they disclose in general by being more responsible (and less about 'breaking stories' or scoring political shots), this would be horrible - and the government typically agrees by not enforcing this law. But for the government to suddenly enforce it here smacks of either anti-Semitism or anti-Israel sentiment.