Could it be the key moment in AIPAC case? (UPDATED)


Shmuel Rosner, blogging at the Jerusalem Post, points us to the Secrecy News blog, which believes last week’s ruling in the AIPAC case is likely to lead to an acquittal for Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman:

A federal court this week ruled that J. William Leonard, the former director of the Information Security Oversight Office, may testify for the defense in the long-running prosecution of two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) who are charged with illicitly receiving and transmitting classified information that prosecutors say is protected from disclosure. …

The ruling’s consequences for the AIPAC case are likely to be momentous, because government secrecy policy has become a central focus of the proceeding and because Mr. Leonard is the strongest witness on that subject on either side. …

The dispute over whether or not the classified information that was obtained by defendants Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman qualifies for protection under the Espionage Act will be “a major battleground at trial,” Judge Ellis observed, and it will be addressed at trial “largely through the testimony of competing experts.”

While the prosecutors naturally have their own classification experts, including former CIA Information Review Officer William McNair, none of those experts have Mr. Leonard’s breadth of experience and none of them reported to the President of the United States on classification matters as he did.

Judge Ellis wrote with perhaps a hint of admiration that the defense “understandably characteriz[es] Leonard’s experience and expertise as ‘unsurpassed’.”

As noted in the new opinion, Mr. Leonard will testify for the defense on the “pervasive practice of over-classification of information,” “the practice of high level officials of disclosing classified information to unauthorized persons (e.g. journalists and lobbyists),” whether the classified information in this case qualifies for protection under the Espionage Act, and “whether… the defendants reasonably could have believed that their conduct was lawful.”

In other words, the prosecution probably just lost this case.

Rosner does add, though, that Secrecy News have long backed Rosen and Weissman in a case which, going back to the initial FBI raid on AIPAC headquarters, has now been going on for four and a half years.

UPDATE: Walter Pincus of the Washington Post agrees with Secrecy News:

If it is ultimately upheld, a memorandum opinion written by a federal judge in Virginia and released last week may limit the overclassification of information on national security grounds and prevent future prosecutions for leaking such information.

The opinion could also spell the end to a four-year effort by the Justice Department to convict two former pro-Israeli lobbyists for allegedly violating the Espionage Act by passing classified government information to journalists and an Israeli Embassy official.

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