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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Swiping National Secrets Statute Isn’t Too Vague

WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge denied the latest attempt to skirt charges by an American linguist accused of stealing secret documents from a U.S. Navy base in Bahrain.

James Hitselberger, 56, is fluent in Arabic, Farsi and Russian. Global Linguist Solutions assigned him to the naval base in Bahrain in 2011, but the government said he illegally retained national defense information on two occasions during this placement.

According to previous rulings against Hitselberger in the matter, he's been charged with three counts of stealing national secrets - one count for each document authorities found.

After unsuccessfully arguing that the government's multiple counts for violating the same statute amounts to double jeopardy, Hitselberger moved to have 18 U.S.C. §793(e) - willfully removing and retaining documents relating to the national defense - declared too vague in its application against him.

"Specifically, Mr. Hitselberger argues (1) that the phrase 'relating to the national defense' covers too much information to draw a clear line between criminal and non-criminal conduct, (2) that the statute fails to specify what constitutes a culpable mens rea, and (3) that the phrase 'used to the injury of the United States' has no judicial gloss and is unconstitutionally vague," U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras summarized Tuesday.

Contreras made quick work in denying each of Hitselberger's arguments regarding the statute.

Hitselberg has been under house arrest, living with his aunt in the Washington area and monitored electronically pending trial.

Prosecutors failed last year to show that Hitselberger posed a flight risk and should be locked up.

Apparently naval investigators who initially interviewed Hitselberger about the allegedly stolen documents told him Global Linguist wanted him to return to the United States to be officially fired.

Instead, Hitselberger traveled through Europe for several months, communicating with friends through is government-monitored email account and updating his Facebook page with sightseeing picture.

He did not know that the government had filed a sealed warrant and complaint against him in the meantime. When he tried to retrieve his belongings from a U.S. military base in Kuwait, authorities denied him entry at the border and arrested him.

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