The Department of Justice (DOJ) is poised to rabidly investigate and prosecute anyone leaking classified information, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In an odd statement, the Attorney General said that the DOJ is open for business, however, it was never closed. Really, most of what he said was nothing really new. DOJ has always gone after leakers, at least for the past few decades. The way he delivered the information was concerning though, specifically for the media.
Sessions speaking was supposed to be regarding leaks to the media, and he began by condemning the amount of leaks that is trying to prevent the government from protecting the U.S. He explained that no one has a right to fight battles, revealing government information through the media. In a round about way, the briefing was about the media.
But, then again, it was not about media leaks. After focusing his remarks on sensitive intel leaks to the media, the rest of his time, the Attorney General spoke about unauthorized distribution of classified information tied to national security. While he included the media, he also spoke about disclosing information to foreign adversaries. That was the last time the media was brought up until the very end of his speech. He spent the rest of the time talking about unauthorized disclosures, stating that four people have been charged with distributing classified intel or hiding contacts with intelligence officers from foreign nations.
Reality Winner was arrested for allegedly leaking classified intelligence to The Intercept. Kevin Mallory is facing charges of allegedly providing classified intel to China. Candace Claiborne hid her contacts with Chinese agents. Harold Martin, over 20 years at the National Security Agency, took home classified information. Only one of the four had a media connection.
The problem is, Jeff Sessions started talking about leaks to the media, but then deviated from that by talking about only one person connected to the media, and three that were not, all who had been arrested. But the way he presented it made it sound like the four people, who he did not name in the speech, were all leaking to the media, when only one had. He created a false implication, and if the four people he was talking about were intact Mallory, Winner, Claiborne, and Martin, he could be sued. The law calls this libel by omission.
The other issue is calling two things that are not similar the same thing is false equivalence. Spy and leaker are two different things, depending on the destination. Leaking to a foreign agent is spying, but leaking to the news media is not, and should not be considered spying. However, the current administration has drawn incorrect conclusions between the two, so that when the public hears the term leaker, they think spy, which is incorrect. But with Trumps attacks on the media, the public then views them as an adversary, which they are not. While leaking to the media could be a bad thing for the administration, and could have national security implications, typical leakers feel that the intel they leak is something the American public should know about. Loss of job and potential jail time is likely for a leaker under most circumstances. However, delivering intel, or spying for a foreign nation could directly hurt the people of the U.S. and is treason. The difference between to two is similar to apples and oranges.
This is a simple view of what Jeff Sessions was relaying in his speech, minus the fact that the two crimes are vastly different, and should be treated differently. What is scary is the thought that the Attorney General and the DOJ could be looking at media as foreign spies is disturbing and not right. Sessions is apparently trying to pull the wool over the publics eyes, making the public believe that leakers and spies are the same, and the media is as bad as a foreign adversary.
By Cletus Dillwood
Photo Courtesy Department of Justice