Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has called for WikiLeaks to be officially designated as a terrorist organization. This would, of course, allow the same designation for The New York Times and other organizations to be declared terrorists for publishing leaked stories on torture, secret prisons, or the Pentagon Papers.
King has asked for the Administration “determine whether WikiLeaks could be designated a foreign terrorist organization.” He noted “WikiLeaks appears to meet the legal criteria . . . WikiLeaks presents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.” King also demanded that Attorney General Eric Holder “criminally charge WikiLeaks activist Julian Assange under the Espionage Act” for conspiracy to disclose classified information.
I previously testified at a House Intelligence Committee hearing where members pushed for new laws to criminalize publishing classified material by journalists. King appears intent on restarting that effort. With Democrats like Claire McCaskill calling for prosecutions, we could be entering a very dangerous period for press freedom in our country. Democrats are still smarting over the leaking of embarrassing stories showing that their leadership knew about the torture program and other abuses during the Bush Administration. As noted by Sen. Rockefeller, many members long for the period when the public had less coverage and were not so critical of their conduct in office.
The Bush Administration showed that Congress failed miserably in its oversight of intelligence programs. It was the media (and whistleblowers) who told the public of crimes committed by our government and revealed violations of international and domestic laws. Members in Congress have an obvious interest in chilling such disclosures and asserting their own control of information going to the public.
According to the Senator Graham, any disclosures of national security material must be prosecuted as a threat to national security “at a time of war.” The use of espionage and terrorism laws in such cases would move us squarely in the same camp as such countries as China, which routinely use such prosecutions to punish people for embarrassing stories.
As the incoming Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, one cannot dismiss these statements are coming from the fringe of American politics despite King’s past controversial statements (here, here).