More than a century after it was enacted in 1917, the Espionage Act plays an increasingly significant role in modern American politics. Prosecutions carried out under the act, once rare, have become regular events. Some even speak of a War on Whistleblowers as figures like Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden face imprisonment for violating the law.
How did a law enacted during the Wilson administration to secure the wartime effort become the primary mechanism for securing the country’s vast national security state in the 21st century?
Sam Lebovic, a historian of U.S. politics, culture, civil liberties, and foreign relations at George Mason University, reconstructs the surprising evolution of the Espionage Act to provide a new history of state secrecy today. Tracing the law’s development through the World Wars, the Cold War, and the War on Terror, Lebovic shows how the Espionage Act reveals American democracy’s struggles to balance security and liberty in the past, and suggests the threats that national security secrecy poses to American democracy today.
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