Magazine article The Nation

Intelligence: The Gag Is On

Magazine article The Nation

Intelligence: The Gag Is On

Article excerpt

Last October, Samuel Morison, a civilian employee of the U.S. Naval Intelligence Support Center, was arrested for providing American satellite photographs of a Soviet aircraft carrier under construction to Jane's Defence Weekly, a London magazine. With the Navy's knowledge, Morison had been moonlighting as U.S. editor of Jane's Fighting Ships, a sister publication of the weekly.

The Reagan Administration seized on the case as an opportunity to deter civil servants from leaking classified information to the press. Morison is charged under the 1917 Espionage Act; the only previous government employee prosecuted under that law was Daniel Ellsberg, in the Pentagon papers affair. (The charges were dismissed because of government misconduct.) Although Morison's trial is not scheduled to begin until October 8, the Justice Department may have already achieved one dangerous precedent.

The government demanded that in return for access to relevant classified material under discovery procedures, the defense counsel must obtain a security clearance. That means undergoing a full background investigation, signing releases to permit access to their F.B.I. files and providing detailed personal information. Morison's defense counsel refused, citing the 1980 Classified Information Procedures Act, which governs the disclosure of classified information in pretrial discovery proceedings.

In response, the government obtained an order from Federal District Court Judge Joseph H. Young requiring Morison's defense counsel to sign a document pledging that he would not disclose "any classified national security information or documents . …

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