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Former CIA Director compared prosecuting leakers under the Espionage Act to “driving tacks with a sledge hammer”

Former CIA Director compared prosecuting leakers under the Espionage Act to “driving tacks with a sledge hammer”

Declassified report called journalists “patriotic,” argued for more appropriate responses to leaks.

Just months before the government’s first successful use of the Espionage Act against someone for leaking to the media, a declassified report written by then-CIA Director William Casey argued that just such an act would be irresponsible.

In the formerly SECRET paper, the Director stated that using the Espionage Act against media leakers was like “driving tacks with a sledge hammer” – grossly excessive. Months later, the government did just that, setting a precedent which is still used today. Two years later, Reagan’s war against leakers had pushed Casey into the even more aggressive position of threatening not just leakers with prosecution – but the Washington Post, the Washington Times, the New York Times, Time and Newsweek as well.

Far from minimizing the potential harm of national security leaks, Casey emphasized the damage that they could do. However, none of the five examples provided by Casey in his report resulted in any actual harm. Two examples “could have” resulted in adversary adjusting their techniques, though the language implies that hadn’t happened. A third and fourth example resulted in potential damage which forced the Agency to cut off contact with a human source lest that danger be amplified. While endangering human sources is never a good thing and disrupting HUMINT operations was unlikely to have been the intention, the report again indicates that no actual harm came to anyone. A fifth example placed someone in danger of being discovered, again a possibility which hadn’t come to pass, though it “could possibly have an adverse effect on U.S. relations” with an unknown group.

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