A federal judge went too far when he ruled that two pro-Israel lobbyists charged with trafficking in classified information were entitled to present certain secret information in court to mount their defense, prosecutors argued in a new brief filed with a federal appeals court.

Large portions of the public version of the brief were blacked out, but the thrust of the government’s argument was that Judge Thomas Ellis III should have treated the former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, more like typical spies and less like foreign policy advocates who stumbled into classified information as they pursued their work.

“The district court’s view that unlawfully conspiring to disclose classified information about troop movements to a foreign government is ‘patently’ unprotected by the First Amendment, but disclosing classified information to a foreign government about terrorist attacks on those same troops is a ‘core value’ of the First Amendment proves the point that ‘judges … have little or no background in the delicate business of intelligence gathering,'” prosecutors wrote in the brief filed late Friday night. “Clandestinely obtaining and passing U.S. government classified information to the Israeli government does not represent participation in a ‘public debate’ to ‘influence United States foreign policy.'”

Messrs. Rosen and Weissman were indicted in 2005 on charges that they conspired to obtain classified information and disclose it to journalists and Israeli government officials. The pair, who have pleaded not guilty, are set to stand trial in October, but the trial date has been repeatedly delayed and lawyers expect it to be put off again as the parties await a ruling from the appeals court.

A defense department analyst who leaked information to the pair, Lawrence Franklin, pleaded guilty, received a 12-year prison term, and is cooperating with prosecutors.

The precise information the two lobbyists allegedly obtained and relayed to others has never been described in public court filings. However, sources have said some of the information relates to Iranian involvement in attacks on American forces in Iraq. (MORE)


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