After Stephen Jin-Woo Kim was sentenced to 13 months in prison for leaking classified information to a reporter, questions are being raised regarding the challenges of interpreting new laws prohibiting discussions with the media.
The attorney for Kim argued that since government officials inconsistently prosecute for sharing classified information periodically to the media, laws prohibiting leaks can be unfair, according to a transcript of the April 2 sentencing hearing.
Since senior government officials are not punished for similar leaks as those made by Kim, “our system is out of balance,” said attorney Abbe Lowell, as reported by Secrecy News. The “antiquated” Espionage Act used to prosecute leaks is “one very blunt tool,” he said.
Yet Lowell suggested that “there’s some good that can come from this case,” since it encouraged the Department of Justice to revise its policy regarding investigating and charging who work for the news media.
Last March, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper signed Intelligence Community Directive 119. It prohibits employees of the Intelligence community from discussing any classified or non-classified government intelligence matters with the media.
The directive says that “(Intelligence Community) employees … must obtain authorization for contacts with the media” regarding intelligence-related matters. Plus, they “must also report… unplanned or unintentional contact with the media on covered matters.”
The directive does not clearly define what is classified and unclassified intelligence information says Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists, in Politico.
“So under most circumstances, an intelligence community employee is at liberty to discuss unclassified ‘intelligence-related information’ with his or her next-door neighbor,” Aftergood writes. “But if the neighbor happened to be a member of the media, then the contact would be prohibited altogether without prior authorization.”