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Elements of White Collar Crime
White-collar crimes include occupational crimes in which individuals commit crimes in the course of their employment and corporate crimes committed by corporations when they break the law to maximize profit (Mooney, Knox & Schacht, 2012, p. 112). In the context of individuals, a white-collar crime is ‘financially motivated, non violent crime committed for illegal monetary gain.’ Sociologist Edwin Sutherland defined white-collar crime in 1939 as ‘a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation’ (Mooney, Knox & Schacht, 2012 ). Thus, three elements of white-collar crime are: crime committed in course of employment, non-violence and financial gain.
In the context of transmission of government documents by Julian Assange, financial gain may not be considered as a prime motivator. He, however, meets the other two elements of white-collar crime: his actions were nonviolent, and he misused his occupational status to transmit the documents. In this context, Julian Assange may be considered guilty of white-collar crime.
The US Espionage Act was passed by the US Congress on 15 June 1917 and amended in May 1918. The act holds that anyone obtaining information regarding the national defense with the intent of the same being used to the injury of the United States by means of making copies of documents related to national defense, inducing others to do so, or transmitting any documents held lawfully or unlawfully, or removing any document from its place of custody to be guilty of espionage. The penalty for espionage in times of war is death or imprisonment of up to thirty years. False reporting in times of war is similarly punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and imprisonment of up to twenty years. Conspiring to violate the provisions of the Espionage Act is punishable under the Act. People harboring an individual guilty of espionage are themselves liable to be jailed for up to two years. In times of war, the President may declare any place involved in the war effort as a zone from where unlawful transmission of information may constitute espionage. The provisions of the Act extend to all territories within the jurisdiction of the United States (First World War, n.d.).
Julian Assange had unauthorized possession of information related to national defense. He willfully retained such information even when the US government demanded its return (Nakashima & Markon, 2010). Further, Assange’s release of confidential documents compromised ongoing military operations and human assets on the ground (Feinstein, 2010). These three aspects violated the provisions of the Espionage Act, and therefore Julian Assange could be charged under the Espionage Act.
The only clause of the Espionage Act that is difficult to attribute to Assange relates to ‘harmful intent’. It would be difficult to prove that he transmitted documents with an intent to harm US national interests.
Support for Julian Assange
Support for Julian Assange comes widely from liberals and leftist governments. Many civil rights organizations have supported Wikileaks as it has indicated violations of human rights and civil liberties. Journalists and prominent personalities have supported Assange on the grounds that his actions would force governments and democracies to function within the ambit of the law and fair play. Assange is also seen as a champion of the right to freedom of speech. The overarching right of journalists to publish leaked information aligns itself in favor of Assange (Karhula, 2010). the fact that Assange’s actions did not directly claim any victims and pose any costs to society acted in his favor.
Julian Assange did not get the full extent of the outcome he desired form his actions. In many ways, governments continue to carry on with their diplomatic overtures in the ways they did in pre-Wikileak periods. There is, however, a growing realization that in the age of the Internet, leaks are bound to happen. The future of diplomacy would entail stronger digital fortresses, dissemination of information on need to know basis and a more nuanced balance between transparency and confidentiality. It would be in the interest of the diplomatic community to engage with the public through the forums of Web 2.0, including Twitter and social media, to thwart the possibility of subversive leaks (Kubalija, 2011).
Categorizing Assange’s Behavior as Deviant
Deviant behavior relates to actions or behaviors that violate social norms. All deviant behavior need not be criminal, but the converse is true. In the case of Julian Assange, while there has been an initial uproar to charge him under the Espionage Act, there have been second thoughts on the issue. Doubts have been raised over the question as to whether Assange meant to inflict harm to the United States. As harmful intent is a cornerstone of the Espionage Act, doubts about whether Assange actually meant harm to the USA waters down the clamor for charging him under the Espionage Act. The First Amendment also stands in his favor. While there are doubts as to whether Assange would qualify to be deemed a journalist, Assange would argue that the transmission of documents is the essence of reporting (Dedman, 2013).
Despite the doubts regarding the possibility of making the charges against him stick and the fact that Assange is unlikely to make himself available in USA to face trial, dominant thought in the US government is that Assange compromised the safety of a large number of US assets. Therefore, it is likely that the US Justice Department would label the actions of Julian Assange as deviant .
Once the US State Department labels Assange’s actions as deviant, it would become easier for the State Department to pursue his extradition from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. A formal charge sheet could be prepared by US Law enforcement agencies, to be served to Assange when extradited to US soil. Also, the pronouncement of Assange as deviant would act as a suitable deterrent to others thinking of breaching government records for multifarious ends.
Dedman, B. (2013). US vs. Wikileaks: Espionage and the First Amendment. Retrieved 01 Feb 2015, from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/40653249/ns/us_news-wikileaks_in_security/t/us-v-wikileaks-espionage-first-amendment/#.VM5U9WSUec-
Fienstein, D. (2010). Prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act. retrieved 01 Feb 2015, from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703989004575653280626335258
First World War. (n.d.). US Espionage Act, 15 June 1917. Retrieved 01 Feb 2015, from http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/espionageact.htm
Kubalija, J. (2011). Wikileaks and the future of diplomacy. Retrieve d 01 Feb 2015, from http://fletcher.tufts.edu/IFDT/~/media/DF378B285DE049EBBE03E9CC5FA60E03.pdf
Mooney, L., Knox, D., & Schacht, C. (2012 ). Understanding social problems. Belmont, CA: Cengage. Accessed 01 Feb 2015, from https://books.google.co.in/books?id=hXwJAAAAQBAJ&pg=PT140&lpg=PT140&dq=julian+assange+white+collar+crime&source=bl&ots=96bd1IHBsP&sig=PdJ1HSqk-iuGea3-3qNCyyIrf3M&hl=en&sa=X&ei=gU3OVPrMBNfi8AWF3ICYCg&ved=0CCUQ6AEwAjgK#v=onepage&q=julian%20assange%20white%20collar%20crime&f=false
Nakashima, E., & Markon, J. (2010). Wikileaks founder could be charged under the Espionage Act. Retrieved 01 Feb 2015, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/29/AR2010112905973.html?sid=ST2010112906806
Karhula, P. (2011). What is the effect of Wikileaks for freedom of information? Retrieved 01 Feb 2015, from http://www.ifla.org/files/assets/faife/publications/spotlights/wikileaks-karhula.pdf
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