Experts: Charging WikiLeaks could erode freedom of the press

WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange have come under increasing pressure from U.S. authorities since they began releasing the cables, including some calls for Assange to be assassinated by the government. George Washington University National Security Archive Director Thomas Blanton suggested former Nixon aide G. Gordon Liddy would be right at home amid those advocating such an approach. 

"The only remedies that will genuinely curb leaks are ones that force the government to disgorge most of the information it holds rather than hold information more tightly," Blanton said.

Blanton blamed the government's overuse of classified status for the atmosphere of secrecy that contributed to the leaks. He also denied WikiLeaks had performed a "document dump," noting the site has responded to earlier criticisms by working with international newspapers to ensure sensitive information is redacted.

"We have to recognize that right now, we have low fences around vast prairies of government secrets, when what we need are high fences around small graveyards of the real secrets," Blanton said.

However, former FBI chief of staff and assistant attorney general Kenneth Wainstein argued the government would be able to successfully prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks by distinguishing the nature of their actions and the motivations behind them as exceptional compared to traditional news organizations.

Wainstein also recommended any update to the Espionage Act provide a more clear definition of what information is protected under the law. That recommendation was echoed by American University professor of law Steve Vladeck, who said any update should include a lesser offense for disseminating or publishing classified materials versus being the original source, along with protections for any employee covered under federal whistleblower statutes.