Criminal Prohibitions on the Publication of Classified Defense Information [September 8, 2011] [open pdf - 382KB]
"The online publication of classified defense documents and diplomatic cables by the organization WikiLeaks and subsequent reporting by 'The New York Times' and other news media have focused attention on whether such publication violates U.S. criminal law. The suspected source of the material, Army Private Bradley Manning, has been charged with a number of offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), including aiding the enemy, while a grand jury in Virginia is deciding whether to indict any civilians in connection with the disclosure. A number of other cases involving charges under the Espionage Act demonstrate the Obama Administration's relatively hard-line policy with respect to the prosecution of persons suspected of leaking classified information to the media. […] There may be First Amendment implications that would make such a prosecution difficult, not to mention political ramifications based on concerns about government censorship. To the extent that the investigation implicates any foreign nationals whose conduct occurred entirely overseas, any resulting prosecution may carry foreign policy implications related to the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction and whether suspected persons may be extradited to the United States under applicable treaty provisions. This report discusses the statutory prohibitions that may be implicated, including the Espionage Act; the extraterritorial application of such statutes; and the First Amendment implications related to such prosecutions against domestic or foreign media organizations and associated individuals. The report provides a summary of recent legislation relevant to the issue (H.R. 703, S. 315, S. 355, H.R. 1823) as well as some previous efforts to criminalize the unauthorized disclosure of classified information."
CRS Report for Congress, R41404