Is the Air Force planning to prosecute service members’ families for reading WikiLeaks?

Will Rahn Senior Editor
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Are you a spy? If you have a family member in the Air Force and have seen any of the material released by WikiLeaks, USAF lawyers are saying you may be in violation of the Espionage Act.

Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News has published a document from the legal office of Air Force Material Command warning service members that if they access WikiLeaks from a personal computer they will be subject to prosecution under the Espionage Act. In addition, the document says that family members of Air Force personnel who access WikiLeaks are subject to prosecution.

According to Salon’s Justin Elliott, this is an “almost comically extreme interpretation of the law.” Elliott notes that because the document does not define the term “family member” you may be in trouble even if you only have distant cousins serving in the Air Force.

“The Espionage Act makes it illegal to disclose national defense information to someone not authorized to receive it,” Elliott writes. “Some people have argued that WikiLeaks could be prosecuted under a section of the law that makes it illegal to retain such information if the government demands it back — though under this theory, many journalists have presumably broken the same law.”

Some pundits and lawmakers have suggested that the people behind WikiLeaks should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman went so far as suggesting the New York Times might be prosecuted under the World War I era provision for its hand in the leaks. But, as Elliott notes, “no credible legal analyst has advanced the argument that simply by reading the cables released by WikiLeaks, a person is breaking the law.”

“That seems to be what the Air Force is now saying,” he continues.