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Context of '1986: Leaker Prosecuted for Espionage'

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During the 24-year Indonesian occupation of East Timor (see December 7, 1976), the UN passes a number of resolutions condemning the invasion and occupation. However, it is unable to enforce them without the support of the US, British, Australian and Portuguese governments, which repeatedly abstain from voting on the resolutions, while some of them continue to sell arms to Indonesia. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the US ambassador to the UN during the administration of Gerald Ford, will later admit in his memoirs: “The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook [with regard to East Timor]. The task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.” (John Pilger 1994; Scott 1998; Terrall 5/20/2002; Zunes 9/16/2002)

Samuel Loring Morison is prosecuted by the Justice Department for providing classified pictures of a Soviet nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Jane’s Defense magazine. Morison, a naval intelligence analyst specializing in Soviet amphibious and mine-laying vessels, works part time for Jane’s, and has been warned about potential conflicts of interest. Part of Morison’s motives for passing classified information to the magazine is his belief that the US citizenry, if they knew about the carrier, would demand to “increase the defense budget.” Even though the Justice Department itself acknowledges that Morison did nothing to threaten national security, it successfully prosecutes him under the 1917 Espionage Act. Morison will serve a two-year prison sentence.
Commentary - Former Nixon White House aide John Dean will write in 2004 that if the same standard used to prosecute Morison were to be more widely applied, “several presidents and secretaries of state could have been prosecuted for information in their memoirs.” Before Morison, no one had ever been prosecuted for publishing leaked information. In Dean’s view, Morison is prosecuted under a standard more appropriate to Britain’s Official Secrets Act, not any applicable US law, and is a victim of the worst kind of selective law enforcement. Thirty-four amicus curiae briefs will be filed on Morison’s behalf, from a host of newspapers, television news networks, and news media trade and professional associations.
Pardon - In 1998, Senator Daniel Moynihan (D-NY) will call Morison’s conviction an “anomaly,” the only one of its kind in 81 years, and ask President Clinton to pardon Morison. He will write, “What is remarkable is not the crime, but that [Morison] is the only one convicted of an activity which has become a routine aspect of government life: leaking information to the press in order to bring pressure to bear on a policy question.” Clinton will grant the pardon in 2001. (Daniel Patrick Moynihan 9/29/1998; Research Foundation of the University of Texas A&M 1/21/2003; Dean 2004, pp. 66-67, 221)

Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), recovering at home from emergency surgery, takes frequent phone calls from Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to discuss US preparations for war with Iraq. “The war drums were beating as he was going in and out of the hospital,” his daughter Maura will later recall. “But he took phone calls all the time from Cheney and Rumsfeld.” Moynihan is lionized by many neoconservatives, and had, in his time, worked closely with Bush administration neoconservatives such as Elliott Abrams and Abram Shulsky, but Moynihan is also a maverick who is not interested in toeing any ideological lines. He will later tell his daughter: “Don’t worry about the war, my dear. The war will last two weeks. It is the ten-year occupation you have to worry about.” (Unger 2007, pp. 291-292) Moynihan will die shortly after the surgery. (Clymer 3/27/2003)


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