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News media coalition seeks to intervene in espionage trial

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A coalition of media groups asked for permission to intervene in the AIPAC espionage case today, citing an apparent secret…

A coalition of media groups asked for permission to intervene in the AIPAC espionage case today, citing an apparent secret request by the U.S. government to hold a substantial portion of the criminal trial of two lobbyists in secret.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 12 other groups, including ABC, Inc., The Associated Press, Dow Jones & Co., Reuters, Time, Inc., and the Washington Post, asked to enter the case for the limited purpose of challenging the government’s apparent request to close the upcoming trial in this matter, and any other pending or future motion seeking to restrict public access to the trial proceedings or record.

Two lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Stephen Rosen and Keith Weissman, were indicted in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria under the World War I-era Espionage Act. They were private individuals who were, according to the indictment, given confidential information from a Pentagon official and sought to publicize it, both by disclosing it to reporters and discussing it with Israeli embassy officials.

“Much of this case has been conducted in secret, as is the case with most espionage prosecutions,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “Based on a docket entry that appeared yesterday, however, it looks as if the government plans to ask the court to make this case even more secret than usual.”

Based on the public docket entries, it appears that the court has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to address procedures under the Classified Intelligence Procedures Act (CIPA), which courts invoke when classified information is expected to be used at trial. On February 16, the government filed a motion under CIPA, the contents of which are sealed from public view. Apparently in response to that filing, defendants on Friday filed an “Under Seal and In Camera Motion to Strike the Government’s CIPA 6(c) Requests and to Strike the Government’s Request to Close the Trial,” which likewise is unavailable to the public.

The motion by Rosen and Weissman, which was docketed Monday, provided the first notice to non-parties that there was a request before the Court to restrict public access to the trial, which presently is set for June 4. The court entered an order granting “defendants’ motion to suspend the CIPA schedule pending resolution of defendants’ motion opposing the government’s proposed trial procedures” and specifying that “the hearing now scheduled for March 15-16 will first address defendants’ challenge to the government’s proposed trial proceedings.” The order did not indicate whether this hearing would be open to members of the press and the public.

“The media is particularly interested in the prosecution of the AIPAC lobbyists because it is the first time the government has indicted for espionage private individuals who received classified information from a government source and passed it along to others. Functionally, this is not much different from what journalists covering national security issues do,” Dalglish said.

The media organizations are represented by Jay Ward Brown and John O’Keefe of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz LLP in Washington, D.C.

In addition to the Reporters Committee, the coalition of media groups seeking to intervene includes ABC, Inc., The Associated Press, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the American Society of Newspaper Editors; Dow Jones & Company, Inc.; the Newspaper Association of America; the Newspaper Guild; the Radio-Television News Directors Association, Reuters America LLC; the Society of Professional Journalists; Time Inc.; and The Washington Post.

Read the Motion to Intervene.