House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) has again raised the specter of going after journalists as "accomplices" for reporting leaks of classified information.
In a "Worldwide Threats" hearing Feb. 4 with the heads of U.S. intelligence agencies, Rogers and the witnesses indicated that one of those threats was the information leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Rogers, citing discussions about selling access to that material to newspapers and other media outlets, asked FBI director James Comey whether, like fencing stolen goods, "selling the access of classified material that is stolen from the Unites States government" would be a crime.
Comey said it would be, though added that it was an issue that "can be complicated if it involves a newsgathering or news promulgation function."
Rogers then asked whether if he were a reporter and sold stolen material, would it be legal because he was a reporter
"If you are a newspaper reporter and you are hocking stolen jewelry, it's still a crime," said Rogers. "And if I am hocking stolen classified material that I am not legally in the possession of for personal gain and profit, is that not a crime?"
Comey said that was a harder question given the First Amendment implications.
"So, entering into a commercial enterprise to sell stolen material is acceptable to a legitimate news organization," said Rogers.
Comey said it was not something he was prepared to talk about in the abstract—Rogers did not point any fingers. Comey agreed it was food for thought.
Rogers said the government should be concerned if there are "accomplices in purveying stolen information."
Back in May, the Washington Post reported that an FBI agent had characterized Fox News chief Washington correspondent James Rosen as a coconspirator as it built a case against a State Department arms expert accused of leaking info to Rosen about intelligence on a North Korean nuclear test.