Penalties of Mishandling Classified Documents in the United States

Mishandling classified document offenses is a serious crime that can carry severe penalties. These offenses are defined by a variety of statutes, including 18 USC § 783(b), 18 USC § 793(e), 18 USC § 952, and 18 USC § 1924.

18 USC § 783(b) deals with the receipt of classified information by foreigners and their agents. Under this statute, it is a crime for a foreign national or their agent to knowingly receive, retain, or transmit classified information without proper authorization. This includes any information that has been classified by the United States government as “confidential,” “secret,” or “top secret.” Penalties for violating this statute can include fines, imprisonment, or both.

18 USC § 793(e) deals with the unauthorized possession of sensitive materials with reason to believe it could injure the United States and willfully disclosing to unauthorized person. This statute applies to any person who has unauthorized possession of any information or material that the government has determined to be “related to the national defense.” This includes any information or material that could be used to harm the United States or its interests. If an individual is found guilty of violating this statute, they can be punished with fines, imprisonment, or both.

18 USC § 952 deals with leaking diplomatic codes. Under this statute, it is a crime for any individual to knowingly and willfully disclose any classified information that relates to the communication intelligence activities of the United States. This includes any codes, ciphers, or other information that is used to protect the communication of the United States government. Penalties for violating this statute can include fines, imprisonment, or both.

18 USC § 1924 deals with the unauthorized removal of classified documents. Under this statute, it is a crime for any officer, employee, contractor, or consultant of the United States government to knowingly possess classified documents and remove them without proper authorization. Additionally, if an individual is found guilty of violating this statute, they must also have intended to retain the documents at an unauthorized location. Penalties for violating this statute can include fines, imprisonment, or both.

It is important to note that mishandling classified documents is not only a criminal offense but also a violation of national security. It is a federal crime to mishandle, misuse or abuse classified information, as it can potentially harm the United States and its interests. The severity of the penalties depend on the level of classification of the information involved, the intended use of the information, and the harm caused by the mishandling.

Another important statute to mention is 18 USC § 798, which prohibits the unauthorized disclosure of classified information related to the communication intelligence activities of the United States. This statute applies to any individual who has been given access to classified information related to communication intelligence, and prohibits them from disclosing such information without proper authorization. Penalties for violating this statute can include fines, imprisonment, or both.

Additionally, the Espionage Act of 1917, 18 USC § 793, also criminalizes the unauthorized disclosure of classified information that is related to the national defense. This includes any information or material that could be used to harm the United States or its interests. Penalties for violating this statute can include fines, imprisonment, or both.

It is also worth noting that there are civil penalties for mishandling classified documents as well. For instance, if an individual is found guilty of violating the regulations of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which is responsible for overseeing the classification and declassification of national security information, they can be subject to fines or penalties.

Individuals who are privy to classified information must also be aware of their obligations to report any mishandling, loss or compromise of classified information to their supervisor or security office immediately. Failure to do so can result in disciplinary action, and in some cases, criminal charges.

Mishandling classified documents is a serious crime that can carry severe penalties. These offenses are defined by a variety of statutes, including 18 USC § 783(b), 18 USC § 793(e), 18 USC § 952, 18 USC § 1924, 18 USC § 798, and the Espionage Act of 1917. It is important for individuals who work with classified information to understand the laws and regulations that govern their handling and use of these materials, and to always ensure that they are acting in compliance with these laws to avoid any potential criminal charges.

If the government receives a report that classified material has been mishandled, the investigation will often go the National Security Section of the Department of Justice or of a local U.S. Attorneys office.  As in any government investigation, the federal agents will question all witnesses with knowledge of the potentially mishandled documents.

Often, the investigators’ most pressing objective is to determine if the potentially compromised information has given rise to a threat to U.S. interests or personnel.  For example, if the classified documents contain the identity of a foreign intelligence asset, the government will want to take immediate action to protect that person’s safety.

The more long-term objective, however, is usually to determine of criminal laws have been broken.  For this reason, if you become involved in a classified documents investigation, you should contact experienced counsel immediately.  Your lawyer can help you figure out if you have any exposure to prosecution and help you cooperate in the investigation.

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