Definition of Espionage
Espionage involves obtaining private information or secrets and disclosing that information to a foreign nation or other foreign entity. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) heads most law enforcement efforts related to espionage and this offense results in federal charges.
Penalties for espionage are severe and the complex nature of espionage laws can make it difficult for people who have been accused of espionage to successfully defend against charges. A criminal defense lawyer with a strong background in espionage cases in federal court can provide legal representation to help achieve the best outcome possible under the circumstances.
The Bukh Law Firm, PLLC has experience representing clients who have been accused of acts of espionage.
Two federal acts have been passed to establish the definition of espionage and impose penalties: the Espionage Act of 1917, and the Economic Espionage Act of 1996.
The Espionage Act of 1917 establishes strict penalties for those who engage in spying to impede U.S. military efforts and/or give aid to foreign enemies. Behaviors prohibited by the Espionage Act of 1917 include:
- Obtaining any information related to national defense with the intent for the information to be used to advantage a foreign nation or to injure the United States; or with the belief the information will be used in this way. Under 18 U.S. Code Section 794, the information may be obtained from virtually any source including but not limited to documents (obtained legally or illegally); people; visits to docks or research labs or other locations; blueprints; and photographs. You can also be charged with this offense if you are grossly negligent and lose information; allow it to be removed from its proper place; or fail to report the illegal removal of any information that could hurt the military or aid the enemy.
- Photographing and sketching defense installations. Code Section 795 makes it illegal to make drawings, take photographs, make sketches, or have or develop other visual representations of equipment designated by the President as requiring protection from public knowledge. You must have permission of a commanding officer to take pictures of any vessels or equipment once the equipment has been declared to require protection from general dissemination of information.
- Using an aircraft to photograph defense installations, or publishing or selling photographs. These behaviors are illegal under Code Section 795 and Code Section 796.
- Disclosure of classified information. Code Section 798 prohibits intentional and willful sharing of classified information in any manner that is of interest to foreign governments or when sharing could be detrimental to U.S. interests.
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While the Espionage Act primarily focuses on defense information, the Economic Espionage Act prohibits anyone from acquiring trade secrets to knowingly benefit foreign agents or foreign governments. This Act targets industrial espionage and protects all trade secrets including financial, business, technical, engineering, and scientific information the owner has made attempts to protect or keep secret. Anything that has an economic value because it is not known to the public can be considered a trade secret, the dissemination of which could lead to criminal charges.
Penalties for espionage vary depending upon the offense. For gathering or losing defense information under Code Section 793, you could face 10 years of incarceration in a federal prison. If you are convicted of gathering and delivering defense information in order to aid a foreign government, you could be sentenced to life in prison or face a death sentence. Economic espionage can also lead to 15 years imprisonment and a fine up to $5 million.
How an Espionage Lawyer Can Help
Defenses to espionage vary. Speaking out against corruption and illegal activities within the government has led to espionage charges for many defendants in recent years, and there are federal whistleblower protections that may allow you to avoid conviction.
An espionage lawyer can provide legal advice on options for responding to charges. Contact Bukh Law Firm, PLLC today for help if you are under investigation for espionage.