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House may prosecute journalists for reporting leaked information

After recent New York Times stories containing information that some considered a threat to national security the House is considering revising the Espionage Act, and allowing journalists to be prosecuted for disclosing sensitive information.

By Annika McGinnisMcClatchy Newspapers / July 11, 2012

Staff members and workers at the US Capitol, line up as they return to the building following an evacuation in May. The House of Representatives may try to enact legislation that would allow journalists to be prosecuted for revealing national security information.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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Washington

In response to New York Times stories that relied on leaks of sensitive national-security information, a House of Representatives panel on Wednesday discussed legislation that could allow journalists to be prosecuted for disclosing such information.

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Army Col. Ken Allard testified to a House Judiciary subcommittee that the extent of national security leaks is “unprecedented” in American history. Recent examples include the Times’ investigations of President Barack Obama’s terrorist “kill list” and American cyberattacks on Iran.

According to Allard, such investigations threaten national security and serve only to promote the news media’s self-interest. He charged that such investigations were carefully planned to help Obama’s re-election chances and to advance the media’s own agenda. An example, he said, was New York Times reporter David Sanger’s new book, “Confront and Conceal,” which details American cyberattacks on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Allard testified that Sanger was “systematically penetrating the Obama White House as effectively as any foreign agent,” which he said exposed vital secrets to Iran and put the U.S. in danger of retaliation.

“Far from advancing our rights as citizens — as a free press should — Mr. Sanger deliberately placed his country at significant risk for his own profit,” Allard charged.

Leaks of this nature expose details of crucial security operations, including the people involved in them, lawyer Kenneth L. Wainstein testified. He said they also informed the nation’s adversaries of U.S. methods, compromised the well-being of government personnel and U.S. alliances, and undermined the integrity of government services.

Nathan Sales, a law assistant professor at George Mason University, also stressed the importance of protecting national-security information.

“If it leaks, we can’t wiretap Osama bin Laden,” he said. “If it leaks, sources get caught, incriminated and killed.”

As the committee considers revising legislation that would prosecute leakers, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., also urged criminal prosecutions of reporters.

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