Carey Shenkman on the Espionage Act

By Sharon Kyle: LA Progressive

Carey Shenkman joined us, Dick and Sharon, for an interview to discuss his new book, A CENTURY OF REPRESSION The Espionage Act and Freedom of the Press – a book he co-authored with long-time journalism professor Ralph Engelman.

Our intention, when we interviewed Carey, was to engage in a brief discussion while creating a 15- minute video that covered the highlights of the book. That plan was quickly abandoned as we got into the meat of the discussion. Carey Shenkman and Ralph Engelman took what many would consider and a dry topic and made it accessible and appealing to the average reader. It is entertaining, educational, and enlightening!

Truth is, I could have talked to Carey for hours.  Dick and I read the book before our interview so I was a little concerned going into the interview that there was too much to cover in 15 minutes. I was right.  Engelman and Shenkman attack the subject matter from two different perspectives. As an attorney and law professor, Carey Shenkman offers the reader an analysis of the Espionage Act in ways that only a constitutional law professor can. But then Ralph Engelman’s perspective satisfies the curious minds of those who might be looking for the personal stories surrounding the people impacted by the Espionage Act in the more than one hundred years since it was enacted.

What Shenkman and Engelman reveal through this book is that The Espionage Act of 1917 is one of the most important yet least understood pieces of legislation ever enacted in the United States.  Contrary to what its name implies, the Espionage Act has not historically been used to thwart the efforts of spies – this fact and much more is what makes this read so compelling.

A CENTURY OF REPRESSION spans two World Wars, the Cold War, and the War on Terror. It addresses illegal break-ins, and prosecutorial misconduct as well as the cases of Eugene Debs, John S. Service, Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange.

Most importantly, this book uncovers that ways in which a piece of legislation, given a name that is a misnomer, has been used quash dissent and, by extension, violate civil liberties.