Panels to examine national security, First Amendment

Monday, October 4, 2010

The intersection of criminal law, national security and the First Amendment will be explored in a panel program in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 29.

The First Amendment Center, in partnership with Arnold & Porter LLP and McDermott Will & Emery LLP, is hosting the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. event at the Newseum.

National security and open government have often been at odds in the past decade, particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Classified documents, as in the current WikiLeaks controversy, are frequently at the center of debate. Panelists for the program, “Criminal Law, National Security and the First Amendment,” will examine what's at stake in conflicts involving security, secrecy and the public's right to know.

Many Americans, including politicians, say precautions must be taken when our national security is threatened, and that these may involve certain restrictions on our rights to free speech, privacy and freedom of information. Others insist that our constitutional rights cannot be diminished, sacrificed and/or criminalized, even in the name of national security.

Amid the WikiLeaks situation involving the release of thousands of pages of classified material, and a current leak case, United States v. Stephen Kim, the program will provide an opportunity for experts on all sides to weigh in on difficult matters.

The program is free and open to the public, but participants must register at 9:30 a.m. at the Knight Conference Center in the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., 7th Floor. Introductory remarks will be by Gene Policinski, vice president/executive director of the First Amendment Center, and John N. Nassikas, partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter and former assistant U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia.  

“I think this conference is an outstanding opportunity to look at new challenges and old threats facing a free press on reporting about government and the military in the new, complicated era of terrorism,” Policinski said.

The 10 a.m. panel on “The News Media and National Security” will discuss the issues involved, including First Amendment implications, when the government seeks to hold or release classified information. Panelists will include reporters specializing in intelligence and national security, as well as national security specialists and a First Amendment advocate.

The lunch speaker will be Gen. Michael Hayden, a former CIA director currently with the Chertoff Group, which provides strategic security advice and assistance to business leaders and local governments.

The 1 p.m. panel is “Prosecuting and Defending Cases Involving Classified Information.” This discussion will explore the problems for the government in investigating and prosecuting cases in which national security violations are alleged or classified security information is or may be involved, the defense of such cases, and the First Amendment issues implicated. Participants in this panel will represent the areas of law, press, and national security.

John Nassikas, Abbe Lowell, and Baruch Weiss, the lead defense lawyers in the AIPAC/Espionage Act case, will moderate the panels. See the full list of panelists.

To attend this event, please RSVP to Ashlie Hampton at or 202/292-6288.

Laura Stephenson is a senior at Vanderbilt University majoring in classics and philosophy.