I've been mulling over some of the reactions to the Wikileaks revelations and the following from Rep. Peter King got me wondering just what legal options are really out there regarding operator Julian Assange and others associated with Wikileaks:
“This is worse even than a physical attack on Americans, it’s worse than a military attack,” King said.
King has written letters to both U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking for swift action to be taken against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.
King wants Holder to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act and has also called on Clinton to determine whether WikiLeaks could be designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
I don't know about that "worse even than a physical attack" stuff. That may eventually be correct, but I think a more measured response is in order for now. I also think we should not start slinging the term "terrorist" around related to this. I highly doubt that even our staunchest allies are really going to buy that and I think it carries a high risk of knocking us off the moral high ground we can currently use to pressure other nations when it comes to real terrorists.
What about the espionage stuff though? I'm no expert on the Espionage Act, but it seems to me that if the government wanted to charge Assange and anyone else associated with Wikileaks over this they probably have the statutory authority to do so. Should they? I don't think the answer is so open and shut.
I was not a fan of Assange before this last round of leaks and I'm not now. I think he is a morally bankrupt posuer who desperately deserves a good ass kicking. That said though, from what I've read he and the others associated with Wikileaks did not steal any of the information involved in this and previous revelations, it appears that it was given to them by a US soldier who has been charged. So if they just forwarded and published what had already been given to them, should they be prosecuted?
I think we need to take a deep breath and think about it before we plunge into an area as legally murky as that. Clearly the soldier who allegedly forwarded the info to Wikileaks can and must be prosecuted. If he's convicted by the military then I think the feds should definitely try him for treason. However, I don't think it is quite so clear when it comes to a publisher of this info. If we prosecute Assange, why would we not also prosecute the publishers of The New York Times, or The Guardian, or Der Spiegel, or who knows how many media outlets? Would we really want to go down that road?
Be careful with your answer if you are a blogger or someone who thinks that the press shouldn't have special protections regarding speech that are unavailable to the rest of us. Heck, be careful if you do think the press should have special protections. This area is a minefield that easily could have ramifications in other areas, such as political speech for one, that have nothing to do with government secrets. Walking into it is guaranteed to bring at least one Supreme Court ruling that will be deeply divisive no matter what.
Before we head down that path I first suggest a few deep breaths and at least some thought about what could go wrong. And I think that advice applies to pretty much all of us.