The Crime of “Espionage” is Alive and Well in South Florida
Espionage – the word itself conjures up images of suave secret agents risking life and limb while adorned with expertly tailored clothing and high-tech gadgetry. Espionage, or spying on the United States for some foreign (and usually hostile enemy) seems like something that should be relegated to a time long since past and/or the action/adventure shelf of a local bookstore or video rental store. But a West Palm Beach man was recently sentenced in federal court to ten years in prison after pleading guilty to several charges, including willful retention of classified defense information and computer intrusion. The act was alleged to have occurred while the man was working at an airbase in Honduras.
Did the Defendant Commit Espionage?
“Espionage” under federal law consists of several prohibited acts that are described in 18 U.S.C. Chapter 37. The crimes that this particular defendant was sentenced for pertained to fraudulent acts committed using a computer. The difference between these two groups of crimes is more than just mere semantics: while the maximum penalty for a fraudulent computer activity is ten years, the United States is able to impose the death penalty in cases of espionage (although it has not done so since 1953 when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed).
So while some might call the man’s actions acts of espionage, the statute under which this West Palm Beach man was sentenced is not an “espionage” statute but instead encompasses seven different types of conduct. Much of the conduct prohibited by the statute relates to accessing a computer:
- Without authorization to do so; or
- While axceeding authorized access; and
- Obtaining, disseminating, or otherwise using information or passwords unlawfully obtained for personal gain, to cause damage, or to defraud or blackmail another.
Do I Need an Attorney if I Am Unjustly Accused of Espionage or Fraudulent Acts Committed with a Computer?
Charges of espionage are a serious matter, but a “less severe” conviction of committing a fraudulent act with a computer may be more difficult to avoid because it requires little more than evidence you unlawfully accessed or unlawfully attempted to access a computer for some purpose. The government prosecutors do not even need to show you “sold” any of the information you obtained or realized any benefit yourself.
For this reason, Florida residents who are charged with any federal computer-related crime are strongly encouraged to seek out the assistance of a federal computer crimes defense attorney like Jeffrey S. Weiner. A simple denial – “I didn’t do it” – is rarely enough to result in an acquittal of these types of charges. Instead, you need the legal assistance of a skilled defense attorney who is able to expose weaknesses in the government’s case against you while also presenting facts that are favorable to you through questioning of the government’s witnesses, your own witnesses, and evidence. Do not take any charge of fraudulent activity involving computers lightly! Contact the office of Jeffrey S. Weiner today to discuss your case by calling (305) 670-9919.