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Another Word on Rosen and Weismann

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Another Word on Rosen and Weismann"

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With the Espionage Act charges against Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman being (rightly) dropped, there’s no something of a backlash taking place in which these are just two nice Jewish boys being railroaded by the FBI. I think dropping the case was the right thing to do. What they were accused of doing was, having been given some classified information by a government employee, passing that information on. This is contrary to customary practice in the United States wherein the person who leaks classified information can be held criminally culpable for having done so, but the recipients of such leaks are free to do as they please unless they’re actually spies controlled by a foreign government. The precedent that would have been established by a conviction would have had a dangerous chilling effect on the practice of journalism. It would have meant that the reporters who revealed the CIA’s secret “black sites” in Eastern Europe or the extent of the NSA’s secret, illegal surveillance program could have been sent to jail.

Thus, the Obama administration has done the right thing.

That said, Rosen and Weismann weren’t whistleblowers bringing public attention to secret misdeeds being carried out under the cloak of classification. They were AIPAC lobbyists trading in classified secrets as part of the influence-peddling game (it’s not entirely clear exactly what they and Larry Franklin from the DOD were up to). It would be bad to send them to jail for that. But it’s still not good behavior. An American citizen in possession of classified information he’s not supposed to have has some choices to make. And using that information for personal gain is not the right choice to make. What’s at issue here, at the end of the day, is giving journalists the latitude necessary to reveal wrongdoing. But creating the necessary level of latitude also creates enough latitude for people to do bad stuff. Rosen and Weisman seem to me to have fallen into that second category, and while I don’t think they should be prosecuted I haven’t seen any reason to think they should be rehabilitated.

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