By Barry Sheppard
The FBI raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida resulted in the seizure of 11 sets of “classified” documents.
In the mass media this raid has superseded coverage of Trump’s crime of attempting a coup to overturn the 2020 election of Biden.
This is no cause for celebration, but the opposite.
The Department of Justice, which oversees the FBI, got the warrant for the raid to look into whether Trump violated the notorious and misnamed Espionage Act, which is 105 years old, and was passed in 1917 when the U.S. entered World War One.
John Kiriakou, a CIA counterterrorism officer, and former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a whistle blower who exposed the Bush administration’s torture program in the “war on terror”, was indicted for doing so under the Espionage Act by the Obama administration, and served 23 months in prison.
After the Mar-a-Lago raid Kiriakou wrote in Consortium News,
“Former President Donald Trump shouldn’t be charged with espionage for taking classified documents with him — some of them very highly classified — when he left the White House for semi-retirement at his Mar-a-Lago home.
“Nobody should be charged with espionage unless they are working for a foreign power and mean to harm the United States…. The Espionage Act … rarely used now to target spies and traitors. Instead, it is used as a cudgel to silence whistle blowers, journalists, and occasionally a stupid former president.”
He noted that the 1917 law had one provision, “Section 794, made it a crime punishable by life imprisonment or death to provide ‘national defense information to a foreign power. But another provision, Section 793, made it a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison to ’provide national defense information to any person not entitled to receive it.’
“The problems with the law were myriad. First nobody ever bothered to define what ‘national defense information’ was. The law didn’t mention ‘classified information’ because the classification system wouldn’t be invented for another 40 years.
“Second, there was no ‘affirmative defense’ written into the law. A defendant was forbidden from saying in court, ‘Yes, I gave national defense information to a reporter because I was revealing a crime’ or ‘I did it in the national interest’.
“And to make matters worse, the Sedition Act, which was passed a year later, amended the Espionage Act to criminalize many forms of speech, including ‘any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy.”
It was under this amended version that the Act was used against opponents of the war, after the Russian Revolution.
Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer spearheaded efforts to round up anarchists, communists, socialists and other political radicals and then deport them when possible, in what became known as the “Palmer Raids”.
As state and local governments purged radicals from public service and cracked down on left-wing labor organizing, Palmer undertook the most visible campaign against radical organizations, often immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. Between November 1919 and January 2020, Palmer’s agents deported nearly 250 people, including notable anarchist Emma Goldman, and arrested without warrants nearly 10,000 people in seventy cities.
It was under this campaign that the FBI was formed under J. Edgar Hoover, to carry out the raids. The FBI became the U.S. domestic version of the “secret police” — the political police.
The most famous of those prosecuted was Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs, the SP candidate for president in 1904, 1908 and 1912. Debs was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for opposing the war. In 1920 he again ran for president from prison, receiving nearly one million votes.
After the Red Scare was over, the Sedition Act was dropped, having done its work of vilifying “communism” in the public mind, and establishing the FBI, Debs was pardoned in 1921, having served three years.
Among many others convicted was a Jehovah’s Witness leader, Joseph Rutherford. The church opposes wars to this day.
A movie, called Spirit of ’76 about the first American Revolution, was seized because a scene showed British soldiers being cruel to the revolutionists, which the Justice Department said could undermine public support for the British in WWI.
The film’s producer was sentenced to 10 years, and was also released after serving three years.
The Act wasn’t used again until 1970, when Nixon charged Daniel Ellsberg with multiple counts for releasing Pentagon Papers to the media. Ellsberg had secretly copied these while working as a military analyst for the RAND corporation which was working for the military.
The New York Times printed the Papers in installments, which chronicled the U.S. involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Nixon tried to force the Times to stop publishing, but the courts at the time thwarted him.
Their publication came at the height of the anti-Vietnam-War movement and had a big impact as they showed how the government had consistently lied from the time of supporting France’s war against the Vietnamese through the ongoing U.S. war, as well as details of its dirty war.
The power of the antiwar movement, including among the U.S. troops in Vietnam by that time, who were increasingly in rebellion, made it politically impossible to convict Ellsberg, and the charges were dropped.
The Act wasn’t used again until the Obama administration used it against whistle blowers in government agencies. Eight people were charged under the Espionage Act.
Thomas Drake (NSA) was charged in 2010 for providing Siobhan Gorman, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, “with unclassified documents for a story detailing how the NSA wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on a spying program that infringed on Americans’ privacy,” according the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF).
Just before Drake’s trial was to begin in June 2011, “The New Yorker and 60 Minutes [on TV], highlighted the travesty of the case against Drake, and the subsequent public attention to the case led the Justice Department to drop all charges in exchange for Drake pleading guilty to a misdemeanor,” said the Foundation.
Also in 2010, “Shamai Leibowitz, working for the FBI, was accused of leaking information to blogger Richard Silverstein. He was charged under the Espionage Act, took a plea deal, and was sentenced to 20 months in prison. Leibowitz said that he provided Siverstein with evidence that the FBI ‘was committing illegal acts’ …” according to the FPF.
“Then, Chelsea Manning, an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq, was accused of giving classified files to Wikileaks in one of the most cited leaks in U.S. history. These included the infamous ‘Collateral Murder’ video, which showed a U.S. Apache Helicopter firing on Reuters journalists and civilians in Iraq, the Afghan War logs, the Iraq War logs, the State Department diplomatic cables and the Guantanamo Bay files.
“Manning was arrested in Iraq and charged with a number of offences, including violation of the Espionage Act and ‘aiding the enemy,’ a military regulation that carried the death penalty.
“In July 2013, a military judge acquitted Manning of the ‘aiding the enemy’ charge but convicted her on a number of other charges, including multiple charges under the Espionage Act. She was sentenced in August 2013 to 35 years in prison — by far the longest sentence ever given to a whistle blower or leaker. Shortly before leaving office, Obama commuted her sentence to seven years (including time served), and she was released from prison in May 2017.
“The cases kept coming. Stephen Kim, a State Department contractor, was accused of leaking information about North Korea’s nuclear program to Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2009. After fighting the case for years, Kim took a plea deal and was sentenced to 13 months in prison.
“Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent, was accused of leaking information about the CIA’s spectacularly botched attempts to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program to New York Times reporter James Risen in 2005. It was only in 2011, as the Obama administration ramped up its war on leakers, that Sterling was indicted under the Espionage Act. In 2015, Sterling was convicted … and sentenced to three and a half years in prison….
“Donald Sachtleben, a former FBI agent, was accused of confirming information about foiled terrorist plot in Yemen to Associated Press Reporters in 2012…. [He] pleaded guilty in 2013 to violating the Espionage Act” and was sentenced to 43 months in prison, and more time for unrelated child pornography charges.
The case revealed that the FBI had secretly seized AP reporters’ work phone and home phone records. News outlets and journalism groups condemned this, and the Obama administration promised reforms.
“Then, in a case that made International headlines, Edward Snowden, an NSA contractor, was accused in 2013 of providing journalists with electronic copies of tens of thousands of classified documents” about the NSA’s secret collection of all American’s and some foreign leaders telephone, internet and other communications.
The New York Times and the British Guardian ran extensive articles. The facts of Snowden’s case are well known, as is his eventual fleeing to Russia, where he was granted asylum.
The U.S. forced down a passenger aeroplane from Moscow that it falsely believed Snowden was on going to Central America, perhaps Cuba, for refuge.
Snowden remains in Russia, but has offered to return for trial in the U.S. if he could defend why he told the truth, but of course, that isn’t allowed under the Espionage Act.
When Trump was elected he continued what was started under Obama and upped the ante.
While Obama had considered charging Wikileaks under the Act, Trump did so. His Secretary of State Mike Pompeau declared Wikileaks was not a news organization but a foreign intelligence agency. He issued an arrest warrant for Wikileaks founder Julius Assange, who is being held in a British prison, and sought to have him extradited to the U.S.
In June 2012, Assange, under disguise, walked into the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and asked for asylum. He had been charged in Sweden with sexual assault. He maintained that if he returned to Sweden, he would be extradited to the U.S. and charged under the Espionage Act.
Ecuador was at the time under a left wing administration, and granted him asylum. Seven years later, in 2019, a right wing pro-U.S. government took power in Ecuador and expelled him to British authorities who imprisoned him, where he has been fighting extradition to the U.S. since.
Biden has continued Trump’s policy.
While he was president, Trump used the Espionage Act (now being used against him) many times.
Among those charged and convicted were National Security Advisor Reality Winner, who “leaked” in 2017 to The Intercept an NSA document about Russian cyber-attacks in support of Trump’s 2016 election campaign. The NSA never informed election officials.
During her trial, she made a plea deal and was sentenced to five years and three months in prison, and three years of supervised release.
In June 2021, she was released early from prison.
In early 2017, The Intercept published a series of revelations based on confidential FBI guidelines from an internal FBI whistle-blower, including details about controversial tactics for investigating minorities and spying on journalists.
In 2018, Trump’s Justice Department charged and convicted Terry Albury at the time an FBI special agent, under the Espionage Act, as that leaker. He was the only Black FBI agent in the Minneapolis field office. “He often observed or experienced racism and discrimination within the Bureau” according to court documents.
After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to four years in prison and three years of supervised release. He was given early release in November, 2020.
Micah Lee, writing in the Intercept in August, said: “In early 2017, Wikileaks began publishing a series of documents and hacking tools detailing the CIA’s offensive cyber capabilities, collectively known as Vault 7 — the single largest leak of classified information in CIA history….The CIA even considered kidnapping or assassinating Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, over this release of documents and hacking tools….
“In 2018, the disgruntled CIA software developer Joshua Schulte, who worked on programming the hacking tools that Wikileaks published, was charged under the Espionage Act for leaking the Vault 7 documents to Wikileaks. Last month, Schulte was convicted in a trial by jury on nine Espionage Act counts. He hasn’t been sentenced yet, but he faces up to 80 years in prison. He also faces additional charges related to sexual assault and child pornography.
“In 2015, The Intercept published a series of stories that provided the most detail ever made public about the U.S. government’s unaccountable program for targeting and killing people around the world, including U.S. citizens, with drones. The disclosures were based on leaked classified documents.
“In 2014, FBI agents raided the home of whistle-blower Daniel Hale, a former NSA drone operator and later an outspoken anti-war activist, who they suspected of being the source. President Barack Obama’s Justice Department, though, declined to file any charges.
“The Trump administration, on the other hand, was more than happy to prosecute the case. In 2019, Trump’s Justice Department charged Hale under the Espionage Act. After pleading guilty [in March 2021] to one of the charges, he was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison [in July 2021], under the Biden administration].
“In 2018, CNBC published eight articles containing classified information about China’s weapons systems, including that China had installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile system in the South China Sea.
“In 2019, Henry Kyle Frese, a counterterrorism analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, was charged under the Espionage Act for leaking documents about China’s weapons systems to the CNBC reporter, who he was dating, and her colleague at NBC News. Frese pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years and six months.”
Rand Paul, a libertarian Republican congressperson, tweeted in August that the Espionage Act should be repealed.
He is the only one in either the Senate or House who takes that stance in defense of elementary democracy. Both Democrats and Republicans have supported this travesty since 1917, and administrations in both ruling class parties have used it to cover up their crimes.
A word should be said about “classified material”, which covers millions of documents, including attacks on socialists, communists and activists in the progressive movements. All “classified” material relates to defending capitalist class rule domestically and U.S. imperialism internationally.
The same should be said of the words “national security”.