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US Attorney General threatens prosecution for leaking sensitive government information

[JURIST] At a Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] briefing [press release, video] on Friday Attorney General Jeff Sessions [official profile] condemned the "staggering number of leaks" of "sensitive government information" and threatened to investigate and prosecute anyone who carries out such leaks in the future. Specifically, Sessions stated [press release] that the DOJ "will not hesitate to bring lawful and appropriate criminal charges against those who abuse the nation's trust." In making this statement, Sessions made a reference to "reports in the media about conversations the President had with foreign leaders" on Thursday without disclosing the subject matter or the nature of said conversations. Stating that the "culture of leaking must stop," Sessions announced a series of measures being taken in conjunction with the National Insider Threat Task Force [official website] to prevent further leaks. Among these measures were 1) new directions to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the new FBI Director Christopher Wray [press release] to "oversee all classified leak investigations and actively monitor the progress of each and every case;" 2) prioritization of cases involving unauthorized disclosures; 3) increasing the resources devoted to "leak cases;" 4) creation of a counterintelligence unit to manage said cases; and 5) directing the DOJ to review policies that impact leak investigations. Sessions concluded: "We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited. They cannot place lives at risk with impunity. We must balance their role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in our intelligence community, the armed forces, and all law abiding Americans."

Government information leaks have become an impending problem in the past several years and nations have struggled to curtail such leaks. In June, a panel consisting of three judges from the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] affirmed [JURIST report] all but one conviction of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who was convicted [JURIST report] in 2015 for disclosing classified information to a journalist. The information was about national defense strategy in Iran. That decision is the latest in a long line of prosecutions for the prevention of national security leaks in the US. In August 2015 a former military contractor was sentenced [JURIST report] for stealing classified files. Earlier the same year, General David Petraeus was sentenced [CNN report] to serve two years on probation and pay a $100,000 fine for leaking classified information to his biographer and lover Paula Broadwell. In August 2013 Army Pfc. Chelsea Manning was sentenced [JURIST report] to 35 years in prison for her disclosure of classified information to the anti-secrecy organization Wikileaks, and she has since been released. In June 2013 Edward Snowden, a former government employee and contractor, was charged [JURIST report] with disclosing to newspaper reporters information about US intelligence activities that he obtained during the course of his work, raising significant First Amendment concerns [JURIST op-ed] over the Espionage Act.

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