Leakers May Be Worse Than Spies, Gov’t Says

10.03.19 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

One might presume that foreign spies do more damage to national security than those who leak classified information to the press. But the opposite could be true, government attorneys told a court this week, because the leaked information is circulated more widely.

“While spies typically pass classified national defense information to a specific foreign government, leakers, through the internet, distribute such information without authorization to the entire world,” the Justice Department attorneys wrote. “Such broad distribution of unauthorized disclosures may actually amplify the potential damage to the national security in that every country gains access to the compromised intelligence,” they argued.

They wrote in opposition to a motion filed by accused leaker Daniel Everette Hale, who had moved for dismissal on First Amendment grounds of the Indictment against him.

The argument that leakers may be worse than spies is not new. It was previously advanced by the government in 2011 in the prosecution of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, as reported at the time in Politico.

While Hale’s argument is obviously self-serving, the case for dismissal of the charges against him is nevertheless substantial, said the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The increased number of such prosecutions of sources who leak classified information to the press is adversely affecting the larger public interest, the organization argued in an amicus brief filed in support of the defendant.

“This case must be considered in the context of a dramatic uptick in the prosecution of journalistic sources since 2009, an increase in the severity of punishment, and a heightened danger of selective enforcement against lower-ranking disclosers,” their brief said.

“Not only are there far more cases today than 10 years ago, one can discern two trends in these cases: punishments that continue to increase in severity and the possibility of selective prosecutions against more vulnerable, lower-level disclosers.”

“Journalistic source prosecutions directly chill newsgathering by dissuading sources from coming forward with newsworthy information in the public interest.”

Collectively, these factors alter the context in which prior leak cases were adjudicated, the Reporters Committee argued. Current circumstances and the specifics of this case justify dismissal, the amicus brief said.