Another development in the Obama administration’s unprecedented efforts to criminalize the leaking of information to the press: Politico‘s Josh Gerstein (5/24/10) reports that a former FBI contractor was given a 20-month sentence for giving five classified documents to a blog. The former contractor, Shamai Leibowitz, said he wanted to expose activity he believed was illegal. “This was a one-time mistake that happened to me when I worked at the FBI and saw things that I considered a violation of the law,” he told the court as he received his sentence as part of a plea bargain.
Were, in fact, illegal activities going on at the FBI whose disclosure might benefit the public? It’s not clear–including to the judge handing down the sentence, who did not review the classified documents. “I don’t know what was divulged, other than some documents,” U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr. declared, but he said “it had to be” a “very, very serious offense” because the Justice Department was initially seeking a 46-to-57-month sentence.
Judging the severity of a crime based on the degree of outrage of the prosecutor places an unwarranted trust in government authorities. Likewise, the assumption that everything the government declares to be a secret is properly so classified and therefore none of the public’s business is a lot to take on faith. Before sending an investigative reporter’s source to prison, surely it’s worth spending a few moments to determine what exactly they’re being sent to prison for.