Events of the last 15 years have delivered challenges and opportunities. The National Security Administration (NSA) has responded through the mass surveillance that prompted Edward Snowden’s actions and a conundrum for the press: When someone commits espionage should the press interpret and disseminate the national security information revealed?
Unlike previous eras, we are no longer fighting a state; terrorists are ubiquitous and when information is leaked it cannot be assumed that the damage has already been done. By publicizing Snowden’s revelations the press is assisting terrorists to understand our actions against them.
Snowden has committed espionage.
As measured by legal precedent, Snowden is guilty of espionage. The rules on espionage were established by the 1917 Espionage Act and are codified in Sections 793-798 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code.
A popular misconception is that Snowden is not guilty of espionage because he did not intend to harm the U.S. However, under legal precedent established in Gorin vs United States (1941), “intent to harm” is defined as reason to believe that the classified material leaked is relevant to national defense. Though broad, that precedent has been upheld. It would be incredibly difficult to argue that Snowden wasn’t guilty given those precedents and the fact that the information he leaked is very relevant to national defense.
This comment from Snowden to the Washington Post on June 12 is very revealing: “My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked …That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”
Meaning, he had information on domestic spying but found revealing just that to be inadequate.
Which amendment does spying on foreigners violate?
Section 794 of the U.S. code established the illegality of “attempts to receive or obtain from any person” any information and attempts to transfer that information to foreign government, political party or military entity. This is critical for the press, since reporting Snowden’s statements and leaks risks informing terrorists of our national security actions against them.
Kimberly Dozier, of the Associated Press, reported that two intelligence officials claim that “members of virtually every terrorist group… are attempting to change how they communicate, based on what they are reading in the media.”
This is making our intelligence services’ jobs harder and placing American lives in danger. That’s why the press in the U.S. is right to carefully screen what Snowden is leaking and refuse to disseminate some of the secrets he stole.
Read the opposing view written by Chris Handloser here.