Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) sided with Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to vote against a resolution calling on the US government to treat WikiLeaks like a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”
Harris, a rumored presidential contender, joined with Wyden, a leading civil libertarian lawmaker, to oppose the legislation in a Senate Intelligence Committee vote on annual policy legislation.
Harris said the language was reckless and vague, while Wyden focused much of his ire at the legal distinction the committee is attempting to create.
“[T]he ambiguity in the bill is dangerous because it fails to draw a bright line between WikiLeaks and legitimate journalistic organizations that play a vital role in our democracy,” Harris stated, in a committee report published last week.
Wyden, meanwhile, said that the “non-state hostile intelligence service” label was a “novel phrase” with severe consequences–“legal, constitutional, and policy implications, particularly should it be applied to journalists inquiring about secrets.”
“The language in the bill suggesting that the US government has some unstated course of action against ‘non-state hostile intelligence services’ is equally troubling,” Wyden added.
Both lawmakers hit out at WikiLeaks, referencing its pre-election release last year of Democratic National Committee emails. US intelligence officials have accused Russian government-backed hackers of being responsible for giving the email cache to the publication to benefit Donald Trump.
“The damage done by WikiLeaks to the United States is clear,” Wyden claimed. “But with any new challenge to our country, Congress ought not react in a manner that could have negative consequences, unforeseen or not, for our constitutional principles.”
“The introduction of vague, undefined new categories of enemies constitutes such an ill-considered reaction,” he added.
Wyden voted against the final mark-up. Harris, who voted for it, said she “look[s] forward to working with my colleagues as the bill proceeds to address my concerns.”
Lawmakers who backed the amendment—Section 623 of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2018—did soften some of its language, but only marginally. The call-to-action initially said WikiLeaks’ “constitute[s] a non-state hostile intelligence service.” The verb in that phrasing was changed, from “constitute” to “resemble.”
Wikileaks shot to global prominence in 2010, when it started publishing US state secrets that had been given to the organization by Chelsea Manning, then an Army Private serving in Iraq.
Despite the newsworthy content of Manning’s disclosures, President Obama’s Justice Department started a criminal grand jury investigation looking into WikiLeaks.
Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions referenced that years-old probe in April, when he described the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as “a priority.”
Assange is currently residing at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been granted asylum. In 2012, the British government agreed to a Swedish government’s request to extradite Assange for questioning over rape allegations. The WikiLeaks founder claims the request is related to the federal grand jury investigation in the US.