Spies ‘R’ Us
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The Justice Department announced the indictment of two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), along with former Defense Department official Larry Franklin, for "conspiracy to communicate national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it."

A copy of the August 4 indictment original is here:


In a news release, U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty declared firmly that "When it comes to classified information, there is a clear line in the law. Today's charges are about crossing that line."

But the law governing unauthorized disclosures of classified information is not "a clear line." It is a blurry and discontinuous line. Laws on disclosures of classified national defense information do not apply to disclosures of classified non-defense intelligence or diplomatic information. Laws on classified nuclear weapons information differ from both.

That is what motivated Congress in 2000 to enact an anti-leak statute that would have categorically outlawed all such unauthorized disclosures. The move was vetoed by President Clinton, at the urging of press organizations and open government advocates who saw it as an emerging Official Secrets Act.

" Those entrusted with safeguarding our nation's secrets must remain faithful to that trust," Mr. McNulty continued.

Then he added piously: "Those not authorized to receive classified information must resist the temptation to acquire it, no matter what their motivation may be."

But as a practical matter, receipt of formally classified information is part of the daily business of national security reporting, and occasionally of government watchdogging. Even Mr. McNulty did not propose to indict the reporters to whom the former AIPAC officials allegedly communicated their information.

In other words, Mr. McNulty's public statement is not a reliable guide to law or policy on national security classification.

A copy of the August 4 Justice Department news release with Mr. McNulty's remarks is here:


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