Judge OKs broader use of spy laws

Richard B. Schmitt - Los Angeles Times - Aug. 11, 2006

WASHINGTON - In a ruling with potentially broad implications, a federal judge on Thursday said that the Bush administration can use espionage laws to prosecute private citizens who gain access to national defense information.

"It's a momentous ruling with radical implications," said Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.

The ruling is a significant victory for the Bush administration, which has been trying to clamp down on media disclosures of anti-terror programs since the Sept. 11 attacks.

At the same time, legal experts said, it could chill the ability of a broad segment of the public - including lobbyists, academics and journalists - to learn about the inner workings of government and expose misconduct or controversial programs of public interest.

The ruling, by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria, Va., clears the way for the trial of two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying organization.

Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman were indicted last year by a federal grand jury and accused of conspiring to obtain information about Iran and other Middle East nations from Lawrence A. Franklin, then a Pentagon analyst. Franklin pleaded guilty to passing government secrets and in January was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison.

  • See Also: The Franklin/AIPAC Spy Case Page