You're a Spy
If the Bush administration's interpretation of espionage law is upheld, then everyone is breaking the law, all the time.
An espionage trial about to begin in Alexandria, Va., could threaten the whole enterprise of investigative journalism.
The case is The United States of America v. Lawrence Anthony Franklin, Steven J. Rosen, Keith Weissman, and the five-count charge—filed under federal espionage statutes—concerns the "communication of national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it."
According to the indictment, Franklin, who at the time of the alleged crime was a Pentagon official, spoke about classified information with Rosen and Weissman, who were policy analysts for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Franklin's offense, though hardly unusual in Washington (and rarely prosecuted), is at least straightforward: Talking to Rosen and Weissman about classified material violated the contractual and legal obligations of his security clearance.
The charges against Rosen and Weissman, though, are peculiar. Neither works for the U.S. government. Neither has a security clearance. (Rosen, a former official, used to have one, but it expired 20 years ago; the prosecutors claim that its terms are still in effect.) If Rosen and Weissman were accused of being Israeli spies, or if either they or AIPAC were labeled foreign agents, that would be one thing. But the indictment makes no such accusation.
The section of the indictment titled "Ways and Means of the Conspiracy" finds that Rosen and Weissman
would cultivate relations with Franklin and others and would use their contacts within the U.S. government and elsewhere to gather sensitive information, including classified information, relating to national defense, for subsequent unlawful communication, delivery and transmission to persons not entitled to receive it.
Take a close look at those final words. They're charged with giving classified information not to foreign governments or spies but rather "to persons not entitled to receive it."
This is what journalists do routinely every day. They receive information from insiders, write it up in a story, send it to editors, who publish it in newspapers, magazines, wire services, or on Web sites, all of which are seen by readers who have not been officially authorized to view that classified material.
Rosen and Weissman are indicted as having joined in a "conspiracy" with Franklin—not because they bribed, coerced, or even solicited Franklin for the information (there's no charge that they did that, anyway) but rather because they merely received it.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of Keith Weissman by Matthew Cavanaugh/EPA/Landov.