The Lawfare Podcast: Sam Lebovic on the Espionage Act's Unlikely History

Scott R. Anderson, Sam Lebovic, Jen Patja
Friday, December 29, 2023, 8:00 AM
What is the history of the Espionage Act?

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Former President Trump’s prosecution for mishandling classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate has brought an old law back to the front pages—the Espionage Act.

Enacted more than a century ago, parts of that law allowing for the prosecution of those who mishandle or unduly disclose sensitive national security information, have helped provide the legal infrastructure for the modern classification system used to protect our country's most important secrets. And by some accounts, to limit debate over some of its most controversial policies.

In his new book, “State of Silence,” George Mason University History Professor Sam Lebovic provides a fast-paced and eminently readable account of the Espionage Act, from its early-20th-century origins, through the various twists and turns that have led it to be applied to government leakers and former presidents alike. Lawfare Senior Editor Scott R. Anderson sat down with Lebovic to discuss the unlikely evolution of the Espionage Act, the role that it has come to play in our national security system, and how it might be changed to better reflect our democratic values.

Scott R. Anderson is a fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and a Senior Fellow in the National Security Law Program at Columbia Law School. He previously served as an Attorney-Adviser in the Office of the Legal Adviser at the U.S. Department of State and as the legal advisor for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.
Sam Lebovic is a professor in the department of history and art history at George Mason University. He is the author of "State of Silence."
Jen Patja is the editor and producer of The Lawfare Podcast and Rational Security. She currently serves as the Co-Executive Director of Virginia Civics, a nonprofit organization that empowers the next generation of leaders in Virginia by promoting constitutional literacy, critical thinking, and civic engagement. She is the former Deputy Director of the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier and has been a freelance editor for over 20 years.

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