Saturday, August 27, 2022

"Trump is in serious trouble…and so are the rest of us" - Heather Cox Richardson


The Department of Justice (DOJ) [yesterday] released the redacted affidavit that persuaded a judge to agree to issue a search warrant for FBI agents to look for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, the property owned by the Trump Organization in Florida. 

It was bad. 

The affidavit explained to the judge the history behind the FBI’s request. 

On February 9, 2022, the National Archives and Records Administration (what did I say about archivists?) told the DOJ that after seven months of negotiations, on January 18 it had received 15 boxes of material that former president Trump had held at Mar-a-Lago. 

Those boxes contained “highly classified documents,” including some at the very most secret level of our intelligence: those involving our spies and informants. 

In those initial 15 boxes, FBI personnel found 184 classified documents. Sixty-seven were labeled CONFIDENTIAL, 92 were SECRET, 25 were TOP SECRET. Some were marked SCS, FISA, ORCON, NOFORN, and SI, the very highest levels of security, involving human intelligence, foreign surveillance, intelligence that cannot be shared with foreign governments, and intelligence that is compartmented to make sure no one has full knowledge of what is in it. The former president had made notes on “several” of the documents.

On June 8, 2022, a DOJ lawyer wrote to Trump’s lawyer to reiterate that Mar-a-Lago was not authorized to store classified information, and warned that the documents were not being handled properly. The DOJ lawyer asked that the material be secured in a single room at Mar-a-Lago “in their current condition until further notice.” 

Trump’s lawyers told the DOJ that presidents have the absolute authority to declassify documents—this is not true, by the way—but did not assert he had done so. 

The FBI opened a criminal investigation “to, among other things,” figure out how the classified records were taken from the White House and ended up at Mar-a-Lago, and to determine if other classified records might have been improperly taken and stored, and to figure out who might have taken and mishandled them. 

They concluded that there was good reason to think that more classified records remained at Mar-a-Lago and that investigators would find evidence that Trump and his allies were obstructing the government’s effort to recover the material. 

The person who made the affidavit said they were a special agent with the FBI, “familiar with efforts used to unlawfully collect, retain, and disseminate sensitive government information, including classified N[ational] D[efense] I[nformation].” They swore that “there is probable cause to believe” that locations at Mar-a-Lago “contain evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed.” 

The affidavit confirmed that the Department of Justice is “conducting a criminal investigation concerning the improper removal and storage of classified information in unauthorized spaces, as well as the unlawful concealment or removal of government records,” and asked for the affidavit to be sealed because “the items and information to be seized are relevant to an ongoing investigation and the FBI has not yet identified all potential criminal confederates nor located all evidence related to its investigation.”

Sidestepping Trump’s insistence that he could declassify whatever he wished when president, the affidavit specifies that the documents could cause damage even if they are not classified, and it notes that retaining “information related to the national defense” is illegal. 

The information that Trump stole classified documents itself was eye-popping, and then that he refused to return them was astonishing. Now, the knowledge of the extent of it, and that it included information from our human sources, is stunning. 


We still don’t know what was in those more recently recovered boxes.

Trump is in serious trouble…and so are the rest of us. This stolen and mishandled classified intelligence compromises our security. The best-case scenario is that it was never seen by anyone who knew what they were looking at. Even that would mean that our allies have every reason to be leery about sharing information with us again. 

But that’s the best-case scenario. We have to wonder, who else now knows the secrets designed to keep Americans safe? Multiple news stories during Trump’s presidency noted that even then, Mar-a-Lago was notoriously insecure. And, unthinkable though it should be but sadly is not, what if secret documents have already been given or sold into the hands of foreign actors whose interests conflict with ours? 

I have been writing today about Trump’s first impeachment and the hearings where Marie Yovanovitch, Fiona Hill, and Alexander Vindman, immigrants all, who served our nation faithfully and fully, risked—and ultimately lost—their jobs to warn us that Trump was willing to compromise our national security for his own interests. 

“He has betrayed our national security, and he will do so again,” House impeachment manager Adam Schiff warned the Senate. “You can’t trust [Trump] to do the right thing. Not for one minute, not for one election, not for the sake of our country. You just can’t. He will not change and you know it.” Schiff begged them to say “enough.” 

But they would not, and they did not, and here we are.    

-Heather Cox Richardson

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Good Morning Everyone!


My Granddaughter


Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers by John W. Dean and Bob Altemeyer (A Book Review by Matt Sharpe)


Research initiated in the immediate post-war years in the US on ‘the authoritarian personality’ has undergone a revival in the era of Putin, Trump and other right-wing authoritarians. The presuppositions and explanatory power of the idea that sections of populations have deep psychological predispositions to being seduced by faux salvific strong men are both contestable.

Dean and Altemeyer’s Authoritarian Nightmare draws on updated theoretical modelling of the authoritarian personality, including Altemeyer’s own studies, from the previous five decades. The book firstly examines why Mr. Trump is who he is, on the basis of what is now known about his pre-Presidential life (chapters 2-6). Secondly, in chapter 7-11, Dean and Altemeyer tackle why his ‘base’ continues to adhere to Trump, despite his craven amorality and –as the authors soundly predicted in 2020– his evident willingness to overthrow constitutional government if it opposed his will.

For many readers, it will be the second part of Authoritarian Nightmare which is more novel and informative. There are by now many accounts from people who have dealt with Mr. Trump about his childhood, his pathological dishonesty, his bankruptcies in the 1980s and the early 2000s, his paternal and bank bailouts, his tantrums, lasting disinterest in anything beyond his own ego, and his patented misogyny.

Much left liberal criticism of Trump has remained at the moralizing level, ringing its hands at his coarse sexism, racism, and dog-whistling to the very worst parts of the American community and collective psyche. Yet, it was clear as early as 2016, and certainly after ‘Access Hollywood’ (185), that Trump’s monumental flaws do not matter one bit to the 41-45% of Americans who make up Trump’s base (those Steve Bannon affectionately calls the ‘hammerheads’ (181)). If anything, these flaws seem to further endear the man, solidify his supporters’ identifications with him, and attest to them his gruff authenticity as a nonpolitician sent by God to Washington to restore the greatness of white America.

Why are Mr Trump’s followers so loyal to the man, and so blind to his flaws and cons, in ways that seem at times to have even amazed the Donald himself? And what if anything can be done to break this spell, before Trump or a more efficient successor succeeds in making America into an openly authoritarian state? These are the pressing questions Dean and Altemeyer’s 2020 book addresses. The authors promise readers that (xiv):

We know how [Trump’s base] are created, where they are concentrated, how they think, why they are so easily led, why they are so aggressive, and even a lot that they do not know about themselves. Social scientists have been fascinated for decades by the authoritarian followers who, as Erich Fromm put it and as Dostoyevsky portrayed in ‘The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor’ in The Brothers Karamazov, want to escape from freedom.

Authoritarian Nightmare’s central claim, based on extensive social scientific research, 2016 election exit polling, and a dedicated 2018 survey of 1000 subjects from across the US, is that many contemporary Americans classify psychologically as ‘authoritarian followers’ (RWAs, ‘right wing authoritarians’) (214-30). A smaller, but seemingly growing number are ‘social dominators’ (SDOs) (104-124). A smaller number again (thankfully, as we’ll see) are ‘double highs,’ bringing together the worst attributes of RWAs and SDOs into one ethnocentric, angry, fearful, and ruthless combination (219-29).

It is these personality types who predominantly populate Trump’s base. It is they who have resonated with him ever since he uttered the sentence about Mexicans as ‘criminals’ and ‘rapists’ (117-19). And it is they who will likely continue to support him, disregarding all evidence attesting to his amorality, dishonesty, incompetence for office, and indifference to democracy.

For readers new to this field, the dramatis personae are as follows. ‘RWAs’ (chapter 6 & 8) deepest framing attitude towards the world is fear. For them, the world is a dangerous place, in which safety can be found by cleaving to integrated groups, closed to others. These groups, to remain strong, should be presided over by powerful leaders, capable of doing what it takes to keep the in-group safe.

As their high scores in ‘the Right-wing personality scale’ developed by the authors (with Patrick Murray) for the 2018 National Survey (214-30) attest, these folk crave ‘a high degree of submission to the perceived established, legitimate authorities in society’ (124). They exhibit ‘a high level of conventionalism, insisting that others follow the norms endorsed by their authorities’ (124).

The darker flipside of this folksy wish for social order is that they are capable ‘high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities,’ should leaders sanction violence towards minorities or outgroups (p. 124). RWAs are also deeply anxious about critical thinking and questioning of authority (159-67). They resonate especially warmly with such hyper-conservative propositions as ‘there is nothing lower than a person who betrays his group or stirs up disagreement within it’ (167).

The study of RWAs predated research into the subgroup of authoritarians the authors call ‘social dominance oriented’ individuals (SDOs). And whilst the two cohorts share similarly intolerant attitudes to Others, their psychologies are different. If for RWAs the predominant affect towards others is fear, for SDOs it is contempt, scorn, or hatred for others whom they perceive to be beneath them in power and worth (104-23). SDOs’ profile seems close to that of clinical sociopaths or others on the narcissistic spectrum.

They support inequality between groups. They tend to believe that their groups are (or should be) more powerful than others. Social dominators also apply their belief in natural inequality to the personal level. They tend to be ‘determined to gain power over people,’ every chance they get (108).

For such people—and Donald J. Trump without question maxes out the scale here—power is the only good. Every social interaction is one more contest to see who is top dog. Hierarchy is everywhere. ‘Strength’ and ‘weakness’ are the only realities. People are either ‘winners’ (them) or ‘losers’ who rationalise their inability to ‘win’ by spouting egalitarian claptrap. SDOs are hence those individuals who score in the top 25% of the ‘Power mad scale,’ where subjects are asked to register responses (from ‘strongly disagree’ through to ‘strongly agree’) to such edifying propositions as ‘[i]t’s a mistake to interfere with the ‘law of the jungle’; ‘[s]ome people were meant to dominate others’; ‘[w]inning is not the first thing; it’s the only thing’; ‘[i]t’s a dog-eat-dog world where you have to be ruthless at times.’  They will ‘strongly agree’ that it is good if other people fear them (290-92).

SDOs put themselves forward to lead, even if they are not qualified for office. They project their aggression onto rivals and outgroups. SDOs respond to challenge(r)s by escalation, force, and fraud. When a cohort featuring a small number of ‘double high’ RWAs with SDO traits played the famous ‘Global Game Change Experiments’ (197-203), this cohort nominated themselves to rule the different nations (or govern from behind the throne). Their arts of the deal quickly led the imaginary world, in one case, into thermonuclear war, and in a second case, to an arms race, imperialistic war-making, environmental depredation, the death of 1.6 billion people, and imminent apocalypse (202-3).

One criticism of the authoritarian personality research, as an explanation of why millions of people passionately identify with men like Trump, is that it seems to confirm what we hardly needed controlled social scientific experiments to verify. Who, excepting Trump supporters themselves (169-172), doubted that his base are especially insular, fearful, prejudiced, and credulous, ever ready to assume the conspiratorial worst about anything ‘liberal,’ and the best of their Leader and his allies? Who doubted that many people attracted to the Donald saw in him the glorious incarnation of the kind of apex predatorial ‘winner’ they wished to be, who was unafraid to tell it how it is? (117, 121).

The vital question which Dean and Altemeyer’s book does not address, anywhere near as robustly as we might wish, is: where do these authoritarians and social dominators come from? If RWAs and SDOs are natural psychological types, they would presumptively recur in every population in comparable proportions. So, where were they and who were they voting for in the US before 2016? Or, if their number has grown—to the around 40% who, it seems, will live and die MAGA supporters, even if he ends up imprisoned for sedition—what factors explain this growth?

Psychological attributes are not produced in populations in sociopolitical, or socioeconomic vacuums. So, if America has become more fearful, resentful, and angry since (say) the 1970s, we would need other forms of explanation than Dean and Altemeyer’s approach allows.

With that said, the newer research into RWAs which Authoritarian Nightmare clearly exhibits does add considerable insight concerning the question of why the MAGA base shows itself so impervious to reasoned criticism of their hero, and so determined to stand by him despite two impeachments, January 6, and the fraudulence of his claims that he won the 2020 election. Some of the most interesting material in Authoritarian Nightmare comes when Dean and Altemeyer outline results concerning the ways high RWAs think, given their overwhelming, fearful commitment to order and in-group belonging, at nearly all costs.

They are more prone than other cohorts to compartmentalization of conflicting ideas, which enables them to ignore contradictions in their beliefs (including backing a ‘law and order’ president who has shown his desire to discard constitutional limits again and again) (129-132). They apply double standards, based on their instinctive, Schmittian division of all the world into friends and enemies—so Clinton was ‘crooked,’ whilst Trump is the most honest of brokers, etc. (132-134). They have difficulty assessing evidence, and readily accept faulty logic and hearsay, if it supports their pre-established beliefs (think, ‘birther gate’ etc.) (137-39). They are inflexibly dogmatic, since their beliefs are formed on the basis of accepting the authority of in-group leaders’ ideas (‘since-you-say-so’) (147-49). They readily believe that everybody ‘really’ believes as they do, unless they are lying, as in ‘fake news’ (161). They lack self-awareness (169-70), and perceive their views as ‘moderate,’ even when test results show that their warm responses to propositions like ‘[o]ur country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us’ are extreme, relative to other cohorts (126, 164-66)).

As such, the commitment of RWAs to preserving the civil liberties (of others, as against of those like them) is paper thin (150-154). The 1982 ‘Posse’ experiments on high RWAs suggest that, if their leaders told them to persecute some outgroup (whether ‘communists,’ ‘homosexuals,’ or even ‘right-wing authoritarians’), they can readily be brought to turn on friends and neighbours whom they suspected of belonging to this group, hunt down and arrest these ‘reds,’ use violence and support the use of violence against the outgroup, up to and including executions (153).

Given this doxastic profile (that is, concerning how they form their beliefs), Dean and Altemeyer’s research underscores how impotent all moral criticisms of Mr. Trump (or other authoritarian leaders) are likely to be, in turning supporters away from him. This research also suggests that the traditional mechanisms for holding authoritarian leaders like Trump accountable, through fact-based reportage and independent inquiries, are barely likely to touch the sides of the base’s love for the strongman.

For what is now motivating the authoritarian followers, as against the SDOs, is fear and anxiety that the world is a dangerous place. This makes their propensity to submit to someone like Trump –even when they proclaim themselves ‘born again’ (176-93), and even though Trump has been acing the seven deadly sins of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride since earliest youth (177)– a non-negotiable thing. It can only be budged, at least in some of these folk or their possible successors, by lasting sociopolitical and wider changes which would cease to make the world seem to them such an insecure, uncertain, heartless, dog-eat-dog place.

However, as we commented above, the pursuit such changes, which would implicate political economics and collective organization and mobilization, is beyond the scope of Dean and Altemeyer’s book, which remains very much at the level of what Marxist theory calls the superstructure. The research on the authoritarian personality, so rich in insights concerning the psychosocial symptoms of later neoliberalism in its period of permanent crisis, points to the need to understand and politically redress the causes of such malaises.

Matt Sharpe is the author of articles on critical theory, neoliberalism and the authors of the anti-liberal Right, from Martin Heidegger to Leo Strauss.


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

These Popular Foods May Add to Dementia Risk (Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation)


People who regularly eat a lot of highly processed foods and drinks like cheeseburgers, chips, fried chicken, sausage, pizza, biscuits and sugary sodas are at increased risk of developing dementia, according to a new report. 

The study found that for every 10 percent increase in daily intake of highly processed foods, the risk of dementia increased by 25 percent. Substituting whole or minimally processed foods for highly processed foods, the study found, led to a lower dementia risk.

The findings add to growing evidence that what we eat can affect our brain health. Eating highly processed fast foods and other junk foods, numerous studies suggest, increases the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia overall. 

Eating a protein-rich, high fiber diet containing lean meats, seafood (not fried), whole fruits and vegetables, and heart-healthy fats like olive oil, on the other hand, may lower dementia risk.

The current study looked at ultra-processed foods, which account for more than half of the calories that Americans consume. They include most fast foods, sodas and packaged goods and are typically high in added sugars, refined carbohydrates, salt and fats, as well as synthetic flavoring agents and preservatives. 

Examples of highly processed foods include many popular brands of packaged breads and crackers, soft drinks, breakfast cereals, sweetened yogurts, snack bars, ice cream, ketchup, mayonnaise and canned baked beans. “Low-fat” chips and snacks may be lower in oils but are typically still highly processed.

“Ultra-processed foods are meant to be convenient and tasty, but they diminish the quality of a person’s diet,” said study author Huiping Li, of Tianjin Medical University in China. “These foods may also contain food additives or molecules from packaging or produced during heating, all of which have been shown in other studies to have negative effects on thinking and memory skills. 

Our research not only found that ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of dementia, it found replacing them with healthy options may decrease dementia risk.”

For the study, published in Neurology, researchers looked at 72,083 men and women who were part of the UK Biobank, a large medical database of people living in Britain. Participants were 55 or older at the study’s start, and none had Alzheimer’s disease or other forms dementia. 

Participants also completed detailed questionnaires about what they ate and drank in a typical day, with a focus on their intake of ultra-processed foods.

The researchers tracked them for an average of 10 years, and during that time, 518 were diagnosed with dementia, including 287 with Alzheimer’s disease. The study found that those who ate the most highly processed foods — accounting for more than a quarter of their daily diets, or an average of 814 grams a day — were at highest risk of developing dementia. 

Those who ate the least amount of highly processed foods — less than 10 percent of their daily food intake, or about 225 grams a day — had the lowest risk. The researchers calculated that substituting 10 percent of ultra-processed foods with healthier alternatives like fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, nuts or milk was associated with a 19 percent lower risk of dementia.

“Our results also show increasing unprocessed or minimally processed foods by only 50 grams a day, which is equivalent to half an apple, a serving of corn, or a bowl of bran cereal, and simultaneously decreasing ultra-processed foods by 50 grams a day, equivalent to a chocolate bar or a serving of fish sticks, is associated with 3 percent decreased risk of dementia,” said Li. “It’s encouraging to know that small and manageable changes in diet may make a difference in a person’s risk of dementia.”

By, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University. 

Huiping Li, Shu Li, Hongxi Yang, Yuan Zhang, et al: “Association of Ultraprocessed Food Consumption With Risk of Dementia: A Prospective Cohort.” Neurology, July 27, 2022


Saturday, August 20, 2022

You Need to Download Apple's 15.6.1 Updates. Here's How (CNET)


Apple released back-to-back updates for iOS and Safari this week, both numbered 15.6.1. The iOS update was released on Wednesday and the Safari update was released Thursday, and both address security vulnerabilities. Apple wrote that it's aware these vulnerabilities may have been exploited so people should update their iOS and Safari as soon as they can.
The iOS update is recommended for all users, according to Apple. It addresses two vulnerabilities iPhone and iPad users might encounter. One vulnerability could have allowed an application to execute arbitrary code with kernel privileges, and the second vulnerability was in WebKit, the engine that powers Safari and other third-party browsers on iOS. The WebKit vulnerability may lead to malicious content arbitrarily executing code, as well.
Here's how to download the iOS 15.6.1 update:
1. Open Settings.
2. Tap General.
3. Tap Software Update.
4. You will be prompted to download and install 15.6.1. If you have already 15.6.1 downloaded, your phone should say it is up to date. 
If you see an error message while you're trying to download the update, don't worry. Since the update is new and recommended for everyone, others are probably trying to download it at the same time. Keep retrying to download and install, and soon the update will go through.

The Safari update also addresses a vulnerability in WebKit, but in some older operating systems. This update is meant to address a vulnerability that could lead to an arbitrary code execution on MacOS Big Sur and MacOS Catalina
Here's how to download the Safari 15.6.1 update:
1. Click the Apple logo in the top left corner of your screen.
2. Click System Preferences.
3. Click Software Update.
4. Click Update Now. If you already have 15.6.1 downloaded, you shouldn't have any updates available.
If you have your Mac set to automatically download and install updates, the update should install on its own in a day or two. Since this update resolves an issue that is being actively exploited though, you shouldn't wait. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

You don’t have to be a spy to violate the Espionage Act – and other crucial facts about the law Trump may have broken


The federal court-authorized search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate has brought renewed attention to the obscure but infamous law known as the Espionage Act of 1917. A section of the law was listed as one of three potential violations under Justice Department investigation.

The Espionage Act has historically been employed most often by law-and-order conservatives. But the biggest uptick in its use occurred during the Obama administration, which used it as the hammer of choice for national security leakers and whistleblowers. Regardless of whom it is used to prosecute, it unfailingly prompts consternation and outrage.

We are both attorneys who specialize in and teach national security law. While navigating the sound and fury over the Trump search, here are a few things to note about the Espionage Act.

Espionage Act seldom pertains to espionage

When you hear “espionage,” you may think spies and international intrigue. One portion of the act – 18 U.S.C. section 794 – does relate to spying for foreign governments, for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment.

That aspect of the law is best exemplified by the convictions of Jonathan Pollard in 1987, for spying for and providing top-secret classified information to Israel; former Central Intelligence Agency officer Aldrich Ames in 1994, for being a double agent for the Russian KGB; and, in 2002, former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who was caught selling U.S. secrets to the Soviet Union and Russia over a span of more than 20 years. All three received life sentences.

But spy cases are rare. More typically, as in the Trump investigation, the act applies to the unauthorized gathering, possessing or transmitting of certain sensitive government information.

Transmitting can mean moving materials from an authorized to an unauthorized location – many types of sensitive government information must be maintained in secure facilities. It can also apply to refusing a government demand for its return. All of these prohibited activities fall under the separate and more commonly applied section of the act – 18 U.S.C. section 793.

A violation does not require an intention to aid a foreign power

Willful unauthorized possession of information that, if obtained by a foreign government, might harm U.S. interests is generally enough to trigger a possible sentence of 10 years.

Current claims by Trump supporters of the seemingly innocuous nature of the conduct at issue – simply possessing sensitive government documents – miss the point. The driver of the Department of Justice’s concern under Section 793 is the sensitive content and the connection to national defense information, known as “NDI.”

One of the most famous Espionage Act cases, known as “Wikileaks,” in which Julian Assange was indicted for obtaining and publishing secret military and diplomatic documents in 2010, is not about leaks to help foreign governments. It concerned the unauthorized soliciting, obtaining, possessing and publishing of sensitive information that might be of help to a foreign nation if disclosed.

Two recent senior Democratic administration officials – Sandy Berger, national security adviser during the Clinton administration, and David Petraeus, CIA director under during the Obama administration – each pleaded guilty to misdemeanors under the threat of Espionage Act prosecution.

Berger took home a classified document – in his sock – at the end of his tenure. Petraeus shared classified information with an unauthorized person for reasons having nothing to do with a foreign government.

The act is not just about classified information

Some of the documents the FBI sought and found in the Trump search were designated “top secret” or “top secret-sensitive compartmented information.” Both classifications tip far to the serious end of the sensitivity spectrum. Top secret-sensitive compartmented information is reserved for information that would truly be damaging to the U.S. if it fell into foreign hands.

One theory floated by Trump defenders is that by simply handling the materials as president, Trump could have effectively declassified them. It actually doesn’t work that way – presidential declassification requires an override of Executive Order 13526, must be in writing, and must have occurred while Trump was still president – not after. If they had been declassified, they should have been marked as such.

And even assuming the documents were declassified, which does not appear to be the case, Trump is still in the criminal soup. The Espionage Act applies to all national defense information, or NDI, of which classified materials are only a portion. This kind of information includes a vast array of sensitive information including military, energy, scientific, technological, infrastructure and national disaster risks. By law and regulation, NDI materials may not be publicly released and must be handled as sensitive.

The public can’t judge a case based on classified information

Cases involving classified information or NDI are nearly impossible to referee from the cheap seats. None of us will get to see the documents at issue, nor should we. Why? Because they are classified.

Even if we did, we would not be able to make an informed judgment of their significance because what they relate to is likely itself classified – we’d be making judgments in a void. And even if a judge in an Espionage Act case had access to all the information needed to evaluate the nature and risks of the materials, it wouldn’t matter. The fact that documents are classified or otherwise regulated as sensitive defense information is all that matters.

Historically, Espionage Act cases have been occasionally political and almost always politicized. Enacted at the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War I in 1917, the act was largely designed to make interference with the draft illegal and prevent Americans from supporting the enemy.

But it was immediately used to target immigrants, labor organizers and left-leaning radicals. It was a tool of Cold War anti-communist politicians like Sen. Joe McCarthy in the 1940s and 1950s. The case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed for passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, is the most prominent prosecution of that era.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the act was used against peace activists, including Pentagon Paper whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Since Sept. 11, 2001, officials have used the act against whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. Because of this history, the act is often assailed for chilling First Amendment political speech and activities.

The Espionage Act is serious and politically loaded business. Its breadth, the potential grave national security risks involved and the lengthy potential prison term have long sparked political conflict. These cases are controversial and complicated in ways that counsel patience and caution before reaching conclusions.

-The Conversation

Joseph Ferguson, Co-Director, National Security and Civil Rights Program, Loyola University Chicago

Thomas A. Durkin, Distinguished Practitioner in Residence, Loyola University Chicago