Skip to main content

"Scrap the Espionage Act": A Controversial 1917 Law is Revived to Prosecute Julian Assange

A Roundtable discussion about freedom of the press and the dangers of stretching a wartime law signed by Woodrow Wilson.

In a Roundtable discussion of the Julian Assange case, former CIA agent and whistleblower John Kiriakou argues that the use of the 1917 Espionage Act presents a dangerous precedent and has a chilling effect on media and the government. 

"The only thing we can do is to change or scrap the Espionage Act,” he said. "We've got to identify legislators who are willing to take this on."

Jody David Armour, USC Professor of Law, worries that left-leaning and liberal-minded people are not concerned enough about the larger issue of government secrets, or the repression of those who expose them. He noted that when WikiLeaks shared unflattering information about presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee in 2016, the media ignored the substance in order to focus on blaming Assange and Russia. 

Marjorie Cohn, professor emeritus at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, said the media needs to do a better job of educating people about what Assange is really being indicted for: exposing war crimes.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended for You

Cohn said both the media and citizens need to pressure members of Congress, write letters, publish editorials, and speak up for Assange and the principles at stake.

“I think that there are a lot of things that we can do as journalists and as citizens in this country to get the word out about Julian Assange and reverse Biden's prosecution of him,” Cohn said.

Watch the full discussion: