DOJ Issues New Rules On Espionage Investigations To Keep It From Embarrassing Itself So Often

from the it's-not-so-much-the-bad-prosecutions-as-it-is-people-making-fun-of-us dept

A string of aborted federal prosecutions of alleged “traitors” has the DOJ rethinking its national security strategies. The DOJ went after National Weather Service employee Sherry Chen, who shared public web links about reservoir water funding with a senior Chinese official, who also happened to be Chen’s friend. It went after Temple University’s physics department head Xi Xiaoxang for allegedly sharing secret semiconductor blueprints with Chinese scientists. The case fell apart once the DOJ was informed by actual experts in the field that the shared blueprints weren’t for the item the DOJ claimed they were for. Finally, it went after Robin Raphael, a State Department advisor, who it believed was passing on state secrets to Pakistani officials. At this point, the DOJ’s case has dissolved into little more than an accusation that Raphael kept classified documents in her home, something others like Hillary Clinton and General Petraeus have managed to walk from unscathed.

The New York Times reports the DOJ has issued some new guidelines for national security prosecutions — ones that will hopefully result in fewer misguided prosecutions and destroyed lives.

In a letter last month to federal prosecutors nationwide, Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates said that would change. All cases affecting national security, even tangentially, now require coordination and oversight in Washington. That had always been the intention of the rule, but Ms. Yates made it explicit.

“The term ‘national security issue’ is meant to be a broad one,” she wrote.

Ms. Yates told federal prosecutors that consulting with experienced national security prosecutors in Washington would help “ensure prompt, consistent and effective responses” to national security cases.

This doesn’t exactly sound encouraging, but it’s a step away from the DOJ’s autonomy, which has led to a run of botched prosecutions predicated on next to no evidence. According to the letter shared with the New York Times, the DOJ will now have to consult with “espionage experts” before moving forward with investigations and will face more direct supervision from higher-ranking officials during the investigative process.

This fix — if that’s what it actually is — will possibly head off misguided investigations before they wreck the lives of people who’ve done nothing wrong. Sadly, the DOJ doesn’t seem to view its high-profile failures as being anything more than a learning experience. There’s no effort being made to undo the damage done by the agency during its botched prosecutions. And even though prosecutors dropped all charges against Sherry Chen, the government is still seeking to fire her.

The problem with espionage investigations is that they’re a completely opaque process. Tying something to “national security” is a great way to circumvent due process, and the DOJ has used this to pursue extremely dubious cases without having to face any sort of legal challenge until the life-destroying process is well underway. The new guidelines don’t appear to open up this process in any appreciable fashion, but any additional eyes on “evidence” collected by the DOJ can only be a good thing as it’s obviously terrible at making those determinations on its own.

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Comments on “DOJ Issues New Rules On Espionage Investigations To Keep It From Embarrassing Itself So Often”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

But but but we have to keep the storyline going, that people are being corrupted by foriegn influences. We have to root them out and destroy their lives to remind all of the other peons that we are watching and we will destroy your life because we can’t be bothered to investigate we play our hunches.

Perhaps instead of firing the employee who was shown to have done nothing wrong, they should instead try to drum out those who launched a huge waste of time and effort over her sharing some public information that saved her friend 5 minutes of Googling.

But to protect the machine, they are trying to get rid of her… who did nothing wrong other than in the imaginations of those given far to much power with no oversight and no punishment for chasing fantasies.

jim says:

Re: Re:

Actually, she has no email problem. The employees who emailed her at that address have a problem. You, can have any email address you want, use any server you want, until that law is changed, you can even have as many as you want. But, the sending from a secure government server to a private server, is treason, or prosecutable, the government does have rules about that. So, she doesn’t have a problem, many others do.

Anonymous Coward says:

On the DoJ Wish-List

“The problem with espionage investigations is that they’re a completely opaque process.”

That’s not a “problem” – it’s a “feature, and we’d like to generalize it to all investigations. If possible, having “transparent” be understood as a synonym for “opaque” in the context of our documents, news releases, court and Congressional testimonies, etc. would be nice.

Thank You,

Matt Bennett (profile) says:

I don’t think you realized what you said, there. Keeping unclassified documents unsecured is a serious crime, and Petraeus DID get in trouble for a very minor version, and by all accounts Clinton SHOULD go to jail for a very major version (but probably won’t). Moreover, conflating the two cases (I have no idea about Raphael) is either disingenuous or ignorant, I guess I’m hoping the later.

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