Shocked that Feds spied on Fox’s Rosen? Remember the other Rosen (and Weissman)

There’s much fury today at the revelation that the feds, in pursuing an alleged government leaker, spied on the email of the journalist he was supposedly informing, Fox’s James Rosen.

The fury is decidedly non-partisan. For a sample of outrage at how the Obama administration’s Department of Justice targeted a journalist at (conservative) Fox News, read Ryan Lizza’s coverage at the (liberal) New Yorker. Here’s the account in the Washington Post, which broke the story.

Lizza, in a tweet, is especially exercised that the search warrant for Rosen’s email suggests that journalists may be chargeable under the Espionage Act.

Those who followed the government’s 2005-2009 prosecution of two former AIPAC staffers, Keith Weissman and Steve Rosen, should not be surprised. 18 USC 793, cited by the FBI agent seeking James Rosen’s email, was the same law cited in the prosecution of Steve Rosen and Weissman.

If you think reading one’s emails is intrusive, check out paragraph 9, page 8, under “Overt Acts” in the Rosen-Weissman indictment. It’s clear that the feds were listening in not only on AIPAC staffers’ conversations with diplomats (the result, perhaps, of legitimate monitoring of diplomats’ contacts), and not only on U.S. government officials’ dealings with AIPAC (in pursuit of leaks), but on conversations AIPAC officials had among themselves.

Before we all descend into a free-for-all over which president vacuumed up which rights, let’s consider perhaps that this thirst to criminalize the gathering of information seems to be institutional to various sectors of the federal government. The FBI appears to have been, for years, in dire need of a couple of correctives on the rights of a robust and free press.

The Rosen-Weissman prosecution ultimately fell apart. But in the process it ripped two men away from jobs they loved and changed their lives in ways difficult to imagine for anyone never subject to the government’s glare.

This weekend, I attended a memorial service for Weissman’s wife, Deborah Heilizer, who died last month from pancreatic cancer. Each spouse was the other’s hero: Weissman for withstanding pressure to cut a deal, and Heilizer for standing by him. Weissman’s (and Steve Rosen’s) decision to stand firm was vindicated by the collapse of the government’s case in 2009.

But the sharp contours of the experience were still exacting a toll, even four years after it ended. Weissman and others could barely refer to it, calling it “that time.”

(That said, fun fact: The alleged leaker in this case, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, and Steve Rosen, share the same First Amendment lawyer, Abbe Lowell.)

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