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Profile: Espionage Act
Espionage Act was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
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