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(photo credit: US Government [file])
A US federal district judge in Virginia Thursday denied the request of two former employees of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to dismiss the espionage charges against them.
Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman stand accused of obtaining national defense information from a Pentagon analyst and communicating it to Israeli diplomats and the press.
In his ruling, Judge T.S. Ellis of the district court in Alexandria, Virginia, wrote, "It must be said that this is a hard case," since it involves questions relating to rights provided by the first and fifth amendments to the US Constitution.
Ellis denied that prosecuting the two men under the 1917 Espionage Act was too vague and that the fact that they had only passed on oral information as opposed to documents made it difficult to prosecute them. "Information relating to the national defense, whether tangible or intangible, must necessarily be information which if disclosed, is potentially harmful to the United States," the he said.
The court also rejected the argument that charging Rosen and Weissman for obtaining and passing on government information infringed on their right to free speech.
However in his conclusion, Ellis did call on lawmakers to consider updating the Espionage Act to reflect the changes that have taken place in the 90 years since it has been approved.
"The time is ripe for Congress to engage in a thorough review and revision of these provisions to ensure that they reflect both these changes, and contemporary views about the appropriate balance between our nation's security and our citizens' ability to engage in public debate about the United States' conduct in the society of nations," Ellis said.