Joe Biden, the Espionage Act, and My Experience

Credits: The Hill

In February, I was released from federal prison after serving 33 months for violating the Espionage Act. My offense was disclosing classified information about America’s drone assassination program, which I believed had a high moral cost.

Shortly after my release, I learned about Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report, which explained why he chose not to charge President Joe Biden with similar violations of the Espionage Act.

I always find it encouraging when the Justice Department decides against using the Espionage Act. This law, enacted in 1917, has often been used to silence dissenting voices across the country.

Joe Biden (Credits: Reuters)

Despite some amendments over the years, it remains the primary statute for prosecuting government sources who reveal secret abuses to the public through the press.

The decision to prosecute government whistleblowers under this act sends a clear message that anyone who dares to speak with a reporter could face decades in prison.

After reading Hur’s report, I was struck by the similarities between my case and the investigation into President Biden. Both of us kept classified information outside of secure facilities at our homes and offices, and both of us later spoke with reporters about this information.

We both expressed concerns about official US policy – his about the failed 2009 surge in Afghanistan (while he was vice president) and mine about the consequences of that policy. Despite these similarities, only I was prosecuted.

Hur’s report suggests that President Biden was seen as too sympathetic to be convicted by a jury. Hur believed that Biden, as a well-meaning individual who did not intend harm, should not be charged.

This contrasts sharply with the government’s portrayal of me during my sentencing, where I was accused of endangering the public and likened to a heroin dealer.

Hur’s report cleverly sidesteps the issue of intent under the Espionage Act. While the law does not require proof of intent to harm the United States, it does require evidence that the possessor of classified information knew it was unlawful to disclose it.

Prosecutors often use the stack of nondisclosure agreements signed by clearance holders as evidence of this knowledge. Although Biden may not have signed such an agreement, it would not have been difficult to prove that he knew disclosing classified information was unlawful.

In the end, Biden was not charged because he did not intend harm. In contrast, I was effectively rendered defenseless in court because I was not allowed to present evidence of my good motives. This legal technicality forced me to plead guilty to avoid a costly and unwinnable trial.

My guilt for disclosing national defense information pales in comparison to the shame I feel for participating in the drone program. In 2021, shortly after my sentencing, a mistaken US drone strike killed Zemari Ahmadi and nine members of his family, most of them children.

The Pentagon initially called it a “righteous strike” but later conducted an internal investigation that found no one at fault for the innocent lives lost.

I'm Richard Rosales, I cover political news and ongoing US elections.