But if the editors of the paper were to take a look at the U.S. Criminal Code, they would find that they have run afoul not of the Espionage Act but of another law entirely: Section 798 of Title 18, the so-called Comint statute.
Unambiguously taking within its reach the publication of the NSA terrorist surveillance story (though arguably not the Times's more recent terrorist banking story), Section 798 reads, in part:
Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States or for the benefit of any foreign government to the detriment of the United States any classified information . . . concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States . . . shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both [emphasis added].
This law, passed by Congress in 1950 as it was considering ways to avert a second Pearl Harbor during the Cold War, has a history that is highly germane to the present conduct of the Times. According to the 1949 Senate report accompanying its passage, the publication in the early 1930s of a book offering a detailed account of U.S. successes in breaking Japanese diplomatic codes inflicted "irreparable harm" on our security.
Now I don't pretend to know the law or to have studied law, but it sure looks like the NY Times could be in trouble here.