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House may prosecute journalists for reporting leaked information

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Leaks of this nature expose details of crucial security operations, including the people involved in them, lawyer Kenneth L. Wainstein testified. He said they also informed the nation’s adversaries of U.S. methods, compromised the well-being of government personnel and U.S. alliances, and undermined the integrity of government services.

Nathan Sales, a law assistant professor at George Mason University, also stressed the importance of protecting national-security information.

“If it leaks, we can’t wiretap Osama bin Laden,” he said. “If it leaks, sources get caught, incriminated and killed.”

As the committee considers revising legislation that would prosecute leakers, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., also urged criminal prosecutions of reporters.

“Why not send a subpoena to the reporter?” Gowdy said. “Put them in front of a grand jury. You either answer a question or you’re going to be held in contempt and go to jail, which is what I thought all reporters aspire to anyway.”

Other committee members said the First Amendment protected the media’s right to publish such information. They also talked about the media’s watchdog role, helping to hold the government accountable for illegal actions.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the chairman of the subcommittee, said whistleblower laws enabled holding the government accountable without going to the media, however. Such laws allow citizens to go directly to the federal government about instances of government wrongdoing.

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