“All persons who have authorized possession of classified information, and persons who have unauthorized possession, who come into possession in an unauthorized way of classified information, must abide by the law. They have no privilege to estimate that they can do more good with it.”
“So, that applies to academics, lawyers, journalists, professors, whatever. They are not privileged to disobey the laws, because we are a country that respects the rule of law.”
Thus spoke Judge T.S. Ellis, III, in a January 20, 2006 sentencing hearing (pdf) for former Defense Department official Lawrence A. Franklin, who was convicted of unauthorized disclosures of classified information. His remarks were first reported (in slightly truncated form) by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Judge Ellis’ statement was extraordinary because it appeared to endorse the new Bush Administration theory that not only leakers but also unauthorized recipients of classified information can be prosecuted for retaining or disclosing such information to others.
This reading of the law, which has never prevailed before, could now be used against academics, lawyers, newsletter writers, newsletter readers, whatever.
It is currently being tested in the prosecution of two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who are accused of mishandling classified information that was provided to them by Mr. Franklin. Neither of the two AIPAC employees held a security clearance.
A copy of the transcript of the January 20 sentencing hearing (pdf) at which Judge Ellis made his surprising remarks was obtained by Secrecy News.
See, relatedly, “Suppression of witness names underlines battle in AIPAC case” by Ron Kampeas and Matthew E. Berger, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 15, 2006.