If Julian Assange Should Be Prosecuted for Espionage, Why Not The New York Times?


By calling for the prosecution of Wikileaks impresario Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald notes, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) implicitly endorses the prosecution of the New York Times reporters and editors who published material from the classified Pentagon and State Department documents obtained by Assange's organization. The Espionage Act of 1917—which makes it a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to "receive," "deliver," "transmit," or "communicate" any "information relating to the national defense" that "the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation"—does not distinguish between employees of news organizations and everyone else. As I noted in a 2011 column, neither does the First Amendment, which protects "the freedom of the press," meaning everyone's freedom to use technologies of mass communication, not merely the freedom of professional journalists. So whether or not you agree with Assange's self-identification as a journalist, the same legal argument that makes it possible to charge him with violating the Espionage Act also makes it possible to charge Bill Keller, who was executive editor of the Times when it ran stories based on the Wikileaks documents, or David Sanger, who worked on those stories as the paper's chief Washington correspondent. Prosecuting Assange also raises the same constitutional issues as prosecuting Keller, Sanger, or any of the many other journalists who routinely use classified information in their reporting.

"I believe Mr Assange has knowingly obtained and disseminated classified information which could cause injury to the United States," Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told The Sydney Morning Herald. "He has caused serious harm to US national security, and he should be prosecuted accordingly." Greenwald, who calls Feinstein "the supreme Senate defender of state secrecy and the Surveillance State," observes:

There is no sense in which Feinstein's denunciation applies to WikiLeaks but not to The New York Times (and, for that matter, senior Obama [administration] officials). Indeed, unlike WikiLeaks, which has never done so, The New York Times has repeatedly published Top Secret information. That's why the prosecution that Feinstein demands for WikiLeaks would be the gravest threat to press freedom and basic transparency in decades. 

Note that you can be convicted under the Espionage Act even if you never intended to harm national security and even if you did not in fact do so. The prosecution need only argue that you had "reason to believe" the defense-related information you received or communicated "could be used" to hurt the U.S. or help another country—a definition that arguably covers a wide range of valuable reporting on subjects such as warrantless wiretaps, rendition and torture of suspected terrorists, and President Obama's program of summary executions via drone aircraft.

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  1. Are we sure we want to be invoking espionage acts passed during the Wilson administration? Can’t be a good sign.

  2. If laws applied equally then yes, obviously. But they don’t, and the Times has money and putting them on trial would bring lots of bad press.

    So quit being coy. Present your argument (which is a pretty good and easy argument to make) that they SHOULD prosecute the NYT, don’t bother asking something you and we already know the answer to.

    Alternately you could say that the law is ridiculous, or that our classification standards are woefully misused. I mean something that’s Top Secret would cause ‘serious damage’ to the US if released, and that obviously didn’t happen. So whatever was released shouldn’t have been TS.

    1. Yeah, St. Julian of Assange is always short of money and supporters. He’s been living in a ?15,000,000 mansion since the useful idiots of the UK gave him several hundred grand to have him released on bail. Well, it’s a tough life for some.

      1. That kind of money ain’t NYT kind of money.

        1. I’m saying that if the Great One needs money then rich idiots will be available to provide it. Don’t worry, your beloved savior will be safe.

          1. I don’t know where you got that, don’t care really. I think he’s a scumbag in any case. Mainly because he calls himself a libertarian, when clearly he’s a leftist state-loving cretin.

            But to say he’s prosecutable and the NYT is assinine. Although I guess it is ‘transparent’ in that it shows just how much our politicians are bought off.

            1. I believe I’ve told you where I’ve got it from. I’ve got it from what’s being going on since he was released on bail. He’s being living in a fifteen million pound mansion belonging to one of the schmucks that put up his bail money. These useful leftist idiots (and you’re right, they don’t care about free speech) will always be there to provide for someone like Assange, and he knows it. He should never have been a hacker, he should have been a cult leader.

              And as for being a state loving cretin it depends what state. He’d happilly destroy the US while sucking up to some thug like Rafael Correa who sues the media when they say things he doesn’t like. No contradiction there.

  3. Maybe I haven’t been paying attention to the news lately, but isn’t he wanted for rape, not espionage?

    Also I love the way a man living in a free country is currently seeking “Asylum” in an unfree country. Think you might have the concept back to front there St. Julian. Did a good job sizing up Ecuador’s freedom of speech hating leader on your radio show though didn’t you? Looks like you picked your fellow cretin well.

    1. Sweden wants him for rape, the US wants him for espionage.

      1. That’s news to me. Seems more like whiny victim politics.

        1. I guess. I mean you can’t expect to do that to the US government and not expect something to happen…unless you have paid your dues, or belong to an organization that has.

          1. Or if doing something would be too politically dangerous. That guy has built up such a cult of personality around himself that he can literally get away with rape.

            This is a daft token political statement, not an extradition order. Chances are he won’t even be extradited to Sweden. When people come up with a daft conspiracy theory that Sweden is more in league with the US than than the UK is just to protect you from facing rape charges, you know you’ve managed to control the minds of the world.

            1. So you don’t find it the least bit hilarious that all these governments are flailing away impotently while he lives a life of luxury?

              I mean I detest the guy, but that part is quite enjoyable.

              1. If he was only targeting governments maybe, although I don’t share your irrational hatred of government so it depends which ones, but the problem is that Wikileaks goes after private targets just as often.

                I first heard of that site after a story that the press covered for a whole week of them leaking a list of the names and home addresses of people from a highly unpopular political party. If Anonymous does that it’s called doxing, not whistleblowing and it’s not thought of as too noble an action. If that’s St. Assange’s idea of “openness and transparency” then I’ll take a closed and opaque (read: private) society any day of the week.

    2. Also I love the way a man living in a free country is currently seeking “Asylum” in an unfree country.

      That he feels compelled to do so might cause you to question whether he really is living in a free country or not. I propose that he (and we) are living in “free” countries, not free countries. (Admittedly, we are living in ones closer to free than most others, but that’s a little bit like winning a race of cripples.)

      1. You feel that Ecuador is freer than the UK? We’re not perfect but I think your love of St. Julian has truly taken your common sense from you if you believe that. What other country would allow somebody to leak massive amounts of government information and then let the private elite house him in a mansion while they portray him as a saint and a victim while another free country wants on rape charges? OK, quite a few, but not Ecuador.

        1. What gives you the idea I think that Ecuador is freer than the U.S. If you read what I wrote there is nothing to give you that idea:

          Admittedly, we are living in ones closer to free than most others, but that’s a little bit like winning a race of cripples.

          I have no particular love for “St. Julian” (as you insist on calling him, not me), but should the U.S. be after him? If the U.S. were free, would our merciful overlords be so keen on hiding the evidence of their misdeeds from us? I think Assange is undoubtedly an egomaniacal slime ball, but even an egomaniacal slime ball can get some things right, and turning over the rocks under which the lowlifes of our government hide needs to be done. Or are you in favor of allowing them to declare anything a state secret to keep it hidden?

          Were we truly a free society (not a “free” society) governed by the consistent rule of law, would he be prosecuted? If we were truly free, Wikileaks would not need to exist and there would be nothing for him to find by raking in the muck. Instead we live in a society where some are more equal than others and hide their actions behind walls of secrecy.

          1. That it is even an issue where Assange (or any other whistle blower, for that matter) is looking for some sort of asylum to avoid prosecution by the government whose secrets he exposes shows that we are not free, despite our pretensions to the contrary.

            That he is housed by someone in an expensive mansion and feted by those who oppose the government is a red herring. If he lived in penury and went to jail (which is the goal of the U.S. government), would that make it better for you? I don’t care where he lives. Now if he really is guilty of rape, I’m happy for the Swedes to do what they want with him, but it seems he is more scared of the U.S. than of Sweden and feels (rightly or wrongly) that the Swedish charges are a false flag operation designed to get him into U.S. hands. If you do not believe that the U.S. would at least be capable of doing something like that (and I have no opinion on whether it actually is), you have a very touching and naive faith in our merciful overlords.

            1. He’s living in the UK, not the US. And the day the president can quiet the press by suing them is the day I’ll agree with you. Seriously I don’t know why being a libertarian means you automatically have to hate the US and overlook all other evils in the world. Have you bothered to look into the issue of freedom of speech in Ecuador?

              1. That’s a nice straw man you built there.

                1. That’s a nice evasion there.

                  1. Shorter DH: derp

              2. Being a libertarian means you do not hide behind the “national security” or “common good” excuse.

                1. I take back when I said both common good and national security. At least I would if I had said either of them. Try harder.

                  Maybe you might want to address the point that you keep evading: Assange goes after private targets as frequently as government targets.

            2. Bollocks. There is one extradition order he is trying to avoid: a rape charge from Sweden. Are you saying the Swedes are more likely to turn him over to the US than we are (if you haven’t figured it out yet, I live in the UK.)

              Last time I checked the UK was America’s puppy, Sweden was praised as quite the opposite. I would think he would feel safer there! He’s clearly trying to evade that rape charge.

              This is the silly conspiracy theory I was talking about: the belief that Sweden is somehow in cahoots with the US and that the rape charges were made up so he could end up in America via Sweden. If the US wants him then just put up an extradition order for charges of espionage. That hasn’t happened and won’t happened because it’s too politically dangerous. Whichever president puts up that order can kiss the next election goodbye. That’s how strong Assange’s cult of personalty is.

              1. DH, does your butt hurt? Cause it seems from all your prattling on that your butt hurts.

                Whether Assange is a fucking douchebag (he is) who’s wanted in Sweden for rape (he is) has nothing to do with Feinstein being a duplicitous, power-hungry cunt. And all your projecting of what everyone else thinks about Equador and Assange and their “hate” for the US is just schoolboyish nonsense.

                Your name describes you well. Put some fucking lotion on your goddamn ass, ya fucking yammering chapped-ass butt-pirate fuckstick, and go back to bed.

                1. Wow, are you going for the strawmen to end all strawmen there? I just don’t know what went wrong with my argument.

                  1. So – your butt DOES hurt

                    1. You’re so pathetic. Are you like this in real life, or just over the internet?

          2. The problem is as of 2012 there is no evidence that the US is after him. There is one extradition order from Sweden and that’s for rape. When you jump on a silly one off statement from a politician like this (not the first by the way, hollow threats have been thrown at him before) it seems like you’re looking for a reason to feel sorry for him, to portray him as some kind of victim of the “evil overlords.”

            And let me point out for the second time that Wikileaks tries to destroy banks as often as it tries to get government informants killed.

            1. Okay, that amount of clueless in one post just redlined my spoofmeter.

              Well played, sir. Now show yourself.

              And great handle. Derpy Hooves!! I nearly shat my pantalones when I first saw it.

              1. I like the fact that nobody can answer my points, they can only throw insults. Yeah the big bad overlords of America are going after the poor, beleaguered and persecuted Assange.

                And you do know where my handle came from right? If not Google is your friend.

                1. But not yours obviously:

                  Exhibit A

                  The US government has opened a grand jury hearing into the passing of hundreds of thousands of state secrets to WikiLeaks ? the start of the process of deciding whether to prosecute the website and its founder, Julian Assange, for espionage.

                  The first session of the grand jury is understood to have begun in Alexandria, Virginia, with the forced testimony of a man from Boston, Massachusetts. The unidentified man was subpoenad to appear before the panel.


                  Exhibit B


                  Exhibit C

                  Dianne Feinstein is US fuckin Senator calling for espionage charges.

                  Exhibit D

                  Federal authorities are investigating whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange violated criminal laws in the group’s release of government documents, including possible charges under the Espionage Act, sources familiar with the inquiry said Monday. from a WashPost article.

                  1. An extradition order and a fuckin senator fuckin saying something are not one and the same. You should know that politicians fuckin say things all the time, how often are they true to their words? Will things be different this time just because you want to feel sorry for Assange?

                    1. Ugh. We need better trolls.

                    2. Yawn, the modern version of Godwin’s law. More overused on this site than any other in fact. Honestly, calling somebody a troll doesn’t automatically make you right and more than calling them a Nazi does.

                    3. *any more than calling them a Nazi does.

  4. That’s why the prosecution that Feinstein demands for WikiLeaks would be the gravest threat to press freedom and basic transparency in decades.

    That’s probably part of the reason she’s calling for it. If they can set some sort of precedent by which the press can be made to fear publishing stories that cast an unfavorable light on the government, thus making it even more of a compliant little lapdog thna it already is, then this is a win for her.

    1. What Karl said.

    2. Maybe the NYT should move to Ecuador along with Assange? They’ll automatically be shut up anytime they say anything against the government there.

      1. Hurr durr hurrrrrrr!

        1. Best rebuttal yet. Seriously.

        2. Where does that phrase come from? I read it a lot here. Is it supposed to sound like heavy breathing?

          1. It means “I don’t have a valid point, but I have to say something.”

    3. I don’t think so, she’s not that smart, and they already know that the press can’t get any more compliant and still stay in business.
      I think it’s absolute personal offense that her friends private documents were made public.

      1. I think she and her ilk are plenty smart, even if you want to call their brand of smart “clever” or “crafty.” And in addition to the fact that even the most compliant of news outlets don’t tow the lion with 100% reliability, you also have news outlets that are somewhat hostile to her and her party. She would love to have a way to scare them all into reporting exactly what they’re supposed to. Having a press that’s scared to deviate form the official line is the next best thing to a state-run press, a la Pravda.

  5. In the end the New York Times has friend in high places, Assange does not. As for the “national defense” argument, that is pure bullshit, all he exposed was the embarrasing details the politicians say when not in front of voters.

    1. A fair amount of it is embarrassing details that foreign politicians say when not in front of their public. There also does seem to be credible accusations that sources’ names were left unprotected.

      Despite all that, Espionage Act prosecutions are dangerous.

  6. Julian Assange seems like an asshole and a twit. That still doesn’t mean that Espionage Act prosecutions should be revived. I remain convinced that they’re a bad idea.

    I also remain convinced that one reason they were brought back was the furor on the Blue Team side (which I believe included Greenwald) to get at Scooter Libby for confirming Valarie Plame’s information that was leaked by Richard Armitage. Remember that journalists like Judith Miller went to jail over that situation for not wanting to reveal sources.

    At the time, none of my Blue Team buddies wanted to listen to my warnings that this was setting a very bad precedent, compared to official Washington’s previous neglect of leak cases, the old response of a shrug and a “what can you do?”

    1. The rules are different when they apply to the other side.

    2. Every time I hear someone on here tonging Greenwald, I am always reminded of how he was perfectly happy to railroad Libby. Greenwald is a vicious partisan hack in civil libertarian clothing. He is a master of the art of criticizing his team just enough to conceal what a partisan he is but not enough and in ways that don’t make any difference.

  7. It would be funny as hell to see the New York Times prosecuted under a Democratic Administration.

    1. It would be funnier to see Assange prosecuted under a Democratic administration, and then see the NYT prosecuted for the same thing (regarding the same information) under a Republican administration, and watch the Democrats spinning around trying to explain why it’s critical for society that some animals be more equal than others.

  8. Julian Assange is a foreigner with no allegiance or obligation to the US. What’s the New York Times’ excuse?

  9. for some reason, I feel no heartburn over the NYT taking a hit. It routinely publishes things that are supposed to be secret, usually in the service of some political agenda. During the Bush years, it was to put a thumb in the eye of the terror war; more recently, it is to burnish Obama’s credentials as a terror warrior.

    The Times is no more credible than the peaceniks. Where have they all gone by the way?

  10. Please. All the Assange haters are hilarious. It’s like watching a little kid who wants to fight you because you said something mean about his dad.

  11. While I am no Assange or NYT fan, I hope neither will be prosecuted for espionage. Just imagine the shit our government could get away with if our espionage laws were much more strict, preventing or discouraging whistle-blowing. Exhibit A. Exhibit B.

  12. 1917 sucks.

  13. As Assange isn’t even a US citizen or resident, it’s nonsensical to even think of trying him for espionage in the US. He committed no crimes on US soil.

    Still a douchebag, though.

  14. Very good question indeed!

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