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If Republicans Did Get Intel From Israeli Spies, They Could Be Charged Under Espionage Act

Congressional Republicans had to know they were playing a dangerous game. In their quest to undermine Obama and derail any chance for negotiations between the United States (and it’s allies) and Iran, the GOP had pushed the envelope right up to the edge of the table. It’s becoming clear that it may have finally toppled over.

In a bombshell report, The Wall Street Journal (paywall) quotes U.S. officials as alleging Israeli spies have been gathering sensitive intelligence on the Iran nuclear deals in the hopes that it can better help Israel derail the talks. That news in and of itself isn’t exactly shocking. As we mentioned earlier, governments spy on each other all the time. The United States spies on Israel. Israel spies on the United States. In fact, the reason we know about this latest bit of espionage is because American spies intercepted conversations between Israeli officials discussing it.

However, the buried lede of the story, and what is quite possibly a twist with massive implications, is what the Wall Street Journal alleges the Israeli government did with the intel.

The Journal, in its Tuesday edition, reported the “espionage” did not concern the White House “as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support” for a possible deal with Iran to rein in Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing of international sanctions. [source]


Considering this is the first time we’re hearing about it, it seems likely that Republicans didn’t immediately turn over the leaks to the Defense Department. Instead, they kept the info and its sources private.

The allegations have been strongly denied by Republican lawmakers, including House Majority leader John Boehner. When asked about the Israeli intel, he claimed he was “baffled” by the allegations. And don’t expect him to budge from that position any time soon because the implications of admitting to the charges would not only be political suicide, but possibly criminal.

In a cruel irony, Republicans who were so adamant about sending Wikileaks leaker Chelsea Manning behind bars under the Espionage Act, may find themselves sitting next to her — for the exact same crime.

According to U.S. law, “espionage” is defined loosely as “The act of obtaining, delivering, transmitting, communicating, or receiving information about the national defense with an intent, or reason to believe, that the information may be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.” Further clarifying, the Espionage Act, as part of title 18 of the U.S. legal code, states that accepting any sensitive intel that is harmful to U.S. defense or interests is a federal crime, carrying sentences of up to life in prison or execution depending on the state. Even “less severe” sentences are staggering. Chelsea Manning, for example, received 35 years in prison for handing over classified documents to Wikileaks.

If it can be shown that Republicans used the information they received from the Israelis to harm high stakes negotiations with Iran, those actions might well be considered acts of sabotage. And in fact, that’s exactly what the Wall Street Journal’s sources suggest they were being used for. Republicans and Israel didn’t like Obama talking to Iran, so they went behind his back to make the deal a nonstarter, including quite possibly actively spying on U.S. and Iranian diplomats.

Those who were on the fence about whether or not the infamous “letter to Iran” was an act of treason — this is a much more concrete example.

For most people, the idea of espionage may make them recall the Cold War, when Russian and American spies maneuvered around each other in the hopes of finding weaknesses in the other’s defenses. A traitor would be a communist sympathizer, a radical working to undermine the U.S. government through leaks and intel. We live in a very different world these days. It’s becoming clear that the people working to undermine the government aren’t dissidents, they are the government. Whether it’s sending a letter to Iran asking that the country ignore the president or receiving highly sensitive information about nuclear negotiations in order to better derail them, America’s Republican Party has gone off the deep end. With a one track mind — destroy Obama above all else — they’ve forgotten to look up occasionally to see just how far afield they’ve gotten.

If it can be proven that Republican lawmakers were dealing in Israeli backchannels in violation of federal law, the country may witness something it has never seen before: the mass incarceration of politicians whose crimes look an awful lot like treason. History books might be forgiven for one day viewing it as a sort of failed silent coup.


Feature image via Gage Skidmore/Flickr