An old anti-spy law is back in the headlines after the FBI searched former President Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago residence for classified documents they believe they took from the White House.
The FBI cited violations of the Espionage Act as the catalyst for its seizure of documents and reported discovering documents marked “top secret/SCI”. Among them was a pardon granted to famous Trump associate Roger Stone.
After unsealed documents revealed the FBI’s findings and search warrant, Trump claimed he declassified all documents before leaving office.
The FBI has released documents that reveal the Justice Department is investigating Trump for violating the Espionage Act, obstructing justice and criminal handling of government records.
But what is the Espionage Act and why was it created?
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What is the Espionage Act?
The Espionage Act of 1917, enacted just after the start of the First World War, prohibits obtaining information, capturing photographs or copying descriptions of any information relating to national defense, with the aim that these information be used against the United States or for the benefit of any foreign nation.
Is the Espionage Act still in effect?
Many important elements of the Espionage Act of 1917 remain in force and can be used in court. In its modern version, the law has been used to prosecute spies and people who leak classified information.
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Why was the Espionage Act created?
The Espionage Act was passed to bolster the war effort. Enforced by President Woodrow Wilson’s Attorney General, the law prohibited the sharing of any information that could interfere with the war or benefit foreign adversaries. It was a protection against espionage.
At the time, those found guilty could be fined up to $10,000 and serve up to 20 years in prison, according to The History Channel.
Is espionage a state crime?
Most espionage crimes are investigated by the CIA or FBI, making them matters of federal jurisdiction and resulting in federal charges.
What is the Sedition Act of 1918?
Passed as an amendment to the Espionage Act of 1917, the Sedition Act made it liable to prosecution for false statements that interfered with the war effort, insulted or abused the government, flag, constitution or of the United States Army; and interfere with the production of war materials, according to The History Channel. It was also a crime under this law to advocate, teach, or defend the old behavior.
The Sedition Act was repealed by Congress in 1920 on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment.
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What is espionage?
This is both a philosophical and a legal question. In its strict definition, espionage is the practice of spying – usually to obtain confidential information of a military or political nature.
Cornell Law School describes espionage as “the crime of secretly spying on or surveilling any person, business, government, etc. for the purpose of gathering secret information or detecting wrongdoing, and transferring that information to another organization or to another State”.
What is an example of espionage?
A famous example is that of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the couple convicted in a plot to share atomic intelligence secrets with the Soviet Union.
They were executed at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York City in June 1953. The couple are particularly famous for being the first citizens convicted and executed for espionage in peacetime, reports The History Channel.
What is CUI Basic?
CUI stands for Controlled Unclassified Information and refers to a subset of CUI in which the authorizing law, regulation or government policy does not set specific guidelines for processing or dissemination, according to the National Archives.
What are declassified documents?
Declassified essentially means removing the previously prescribed “top secret” label.
Classified documents refer to the type of material that government agencies have deemed so sensitive to national security that access must be controlled and restricted, wrote Jeffrey Fields, associate professor of international relations practice at USC, in a article for The Conversation.
There is an elaborate procedure for declassifying documents, Fields wrote, although the president has the power to declassify anything at any time under the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act.
DECLASSIFIED:Trump claims the Mar-a-Lago documents have been “declassified”. Why experts reject this argument.