Charles S. Clark | February 27, 2017 | 0 Comments

When Does a Leak to the Media Violate the Law?

President Trump has warned that leaks are "criminal" acts. President Trump has warned that leaks are "criminal" acts. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

With would-be agency whistleblowers on edge and President Trump warning that news leaks are criminal acts, the Congressional Research Service on Feb. 22 sent Congress one of its “legal sidebars” reviewing past approaches to distinguishing between illegal and legal contact with the media.

The gist: numerous federal employees have been prosecuted for leaking classified material, but members of the news media less often.

CRS reviewed cases in which the Obama administration and predecessors prosecuted national security leakers. Among the names mentioned were CIA agents John Kiriakou and Jeffrey Sterling, National Security Agency analyst Thomas Drake, former Army soldier Chelsea Manning, still-at-large NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Naval intelligence employee Samuel Morison and famed Vietnam-era RAND Corp. analyst Daniel Ellsberg.

“The criminal laws at issue vary somewhat according to the circumstances in a given case,” CRS wrote in the memo released by Steven Aftergood, who directs the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.

Officers, employees and contractors may “be subject to disciplinary action for leaks regardless of the nature of the information,” CRS said. “However, they may claim some relief from disciplinary action under the whistleblower protection provisions. Few, if any, journalists have been prosecuted to date, but they may end up in jail for refusing to divulge their sources to a grand jury investigating a leak.”

The memo then detailed the statutory definitions of leak-related crimes, with penalties, citing Section 793 of the Espionage Act. Specifically:

“As long as the disclosure does not involve classified information or is not otherwise a crime,” CRS concluded, “federal employees are entitled to relief from any disciplinary action taken in retaliation for leaks to the press, which they reasonably believe evidence “(i) a violation of law, rule, or regulations, (ii) gross mismanagement, a gross [sic] of funds, [or] an abuse of authority, [ or (iii)] a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.” 

» Get the best federal news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

Comments
JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.