Did WikiLeaks Founder Violate the Espionage Act?

Tuesday, 03 Aug 2010 05:22 PM

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"Wiki" is a cute Hawaiian word for "quick" — borrowed by Ward Cunningham, creator of the first Internet wiki — from the name of a fast little interterminal shuttle at Honolulu International Airport.

But cute and innocent as the word may sound, when attached to damaging wartime leaks by WikiLeaks operator Julian Assange, its cuteness should not protect Mr. Assange from being prosecuted and possibly executed by the U.S. government for wartime espionage.

Title 18 U.S. Code, Section 794, Paragraph (b) reads: "Whoever, in time of war, with intent that the same shall be communicated to the enemy, collects, records, publishes, or communicates, or attempts to elicit any information with respect to the movement, numbers, description, condition, or disposition of any of the armed forces, ships, aircraft, or war materials of the United States, or with respect to the plans or conduct, or supposed plans or conduct of any naval or military operations, or with respect to any works or measures undertaken for or connected with, or intended for the fortification or defense of any place, or any other information relating to the public defense, which might be useful to the enemy, shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for any term of years or for life."

Our friends at The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel — who coordinated the publication of his leaks — might find the following Subsection (c) also to be a revealing read.

"If two or more persons conspire to violate this section, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each of the parties to such conspiracy shall be subject to the punishment provided for the offense which is the object of such conspiracy."

And, according to Friday's New York Times, "Justice Department lawyers are exploring whether Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks could be charged with inducing, or conspiring in violations of the Espionage Act."

Now, as regular readers of this column know, I have written a dozen columns, starting last August, opposing the Afghan war because I think our war-fighting strategy, resources, and senior civilian leadership (outside the Pentagon) will fail in their objectives and thus needlessly sacrifice the lives of far too many American troops.

But however wise one may think one's policy goals are, that is absolutely no justification (or even mitigation) for committing espionage to advance them.

And note, Mr. Assange — you ideological cold-blooded killer of Afghans working with our troops — unlike with the crime of treason, one does not need to be an American citizen to be convicted and executed for espionage against America.

How much damage did this heartless ideologue commit? I don't know. I admit I have read only about 30 of the approximately 90,000 leaked documents.

So I need to judge by the opinion of those who are better informed: in this case, Robert M. Gates, who is not only secretary of defense but former director of the CIA and one of our nation's leading career intelligence experts. He is also something else.

Gates practices the high English mandarin art of governmental understatement. He is famous for avoiding rhetorical flourishes. If it were given to him to announce to the nation the arrival of Attila the Hun at the gates of the capital ready to put man, woman, child, and beast to the sword — his understatement would make it sound like no more than a slight congestion in the evening rush-hour traffic.

So it is worth reviewing Mr. Gates' alarming words on the damage done by that blond beast Mr. Assange (no understatement for me, thank you). According to The New York Times, Mr. Gates says the following regarding the WikiLeaks documents.

1. They have "potentially dramatic and grievously harmful consequences" on the lives of Afghans who have helped the United States.

2. "The battlefield consequences of the release of these documents are potentially severe and dangerous for our troops, our allies and Afghan partners, and may well damage our relationships and reputation in that key part of the world. Intelligence sources and methods, as well as military tactics, techniques, and procedures, will become known to our adversaries."

3. "In the wake of this incident, it will be a real challenge to strike the right balance between security and providing our frontline troops the information they need."

Since those statements from last week, there already are reports that the Taliban are out hunting down our courageous Afghan allies.

If Mr. Assange had perpetrated this outrage against Russia, inevitably there would be a news report a few month later announcing the death of Mr. Assange and his loved ones (should he have any) because of an unlikely street accident. Thank goodness we live in nation of laws — not of executive actions.

But the rule of law will not last long if the law is not used to avenge grievous wrongs committed against our nation.

It is the high duty of our government not to let Mr. Assange walk free (assuming the evidence in court of his espionage is as convincing as the news accounts suggest).

Let the federal prosecutions proceed — wiki, wiki.

Tony Blankley is executive vice president of Edelman public relations in Washington. E-mail him at TonyBlankley@gmail.com.

© Creators Syndicate Inc.

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