Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

House may treat some reporters as spies

July 13, 2012 by NCC Staff


A House subcommittee is considering a change to the nation’s Espionage Law to treat reporters as spies if they publish leaked national security information.

The act, which might not happen until next year, would surely raise issues with First Amendment activists.

The House Judiciary subcommittee is considering changes to the Espionage Act of 1917 after recent leaks of national security information.

The leaks included reports on counter intelligence activity against Iran and persons named on terrorism kill lists who were victims of drone attacks.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., is the subcommittee chair and he says the revisions could start early next year.

Sensenbrenner and other Republicans claim the leaks are coming from within the administration of President Barack Obama, and they have been made to journalists with the intention of bolstering Obama’s presidential election campaign.

Some committee members are also urging the criminal prosecution of reporters who willing publish leaked information.

"Why not send a subpoena to the reporter?" said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. "Put them in front of a grand jury. You either answer a question or you’re going to be held in contempt and go to jail, which is what I thought all reporters aspire to anyway."

"The notion that the First Amendment has no limitations whatsoever is balderdash," he added.

On Thursday, Fox News said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., might move forward to subpoena witnesses to the intelligence leaks from within the Obama administration.

Convictions under the Espionage Act as result in as much as 30 years in prison, and in some cases, the death penalty.


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