Research Programs: Public Scholars

Period of Performance

1/1/2022 - 12/31/2022

Funding Totals

$60,000.00 (approved)
$60,000.00 (awarded)

A History of the Espionage Act

FAIN: FZ-279701-21

Samuel M. Lebovic
George Mason University (Fairfax, VA 22030-4444)

Research and writing of a book on the history of the Espionage Act (1917-present).

This book will provide the first history of the Espionage Act over the course of its life, using the century-long evolution of this controversial law to explore the challenges that state secrecy poses to democratic life. Based on new research, it argues that the institutional and legal apparatus for securing national security secrets emerged in a piecemeal, improvised fashion over the course of many decades. In a narrative that unfolds through infamous espionage trials, paranoia about foreign infiltration, scandalous abuses by the national security state, and controversial leaks and whistleblowers, the book shows that history has bequeathed to us a broken secrecy regime, one that classifies too much information, with serious consequences for democratic accountability, public discourse, and the freedom of the press.

Media Coverage

The Troubled History of the Espionage Act (Review)
Author(s): Amy Davidson Sorkin
Publication: New Yorker
Date: 12/18/2023

Associated Products

State of Silence: The Espionage Act and the Rise of America's Secrecy Regime (Book)
Title: State of Silence: The Espionage Act and the Rise of America's Secrecy Regime
Author: Sam Lebovic
Editor: Emma Berry and Brandon Proia
Abstract: In State of Silence, political historian Sam Lebovic uncovers the troubling history of the Espionage Act. First passed in 1917, it was initially used to punish critics of World War I. Yet as Americans began to balk at the act’s restrictions on political dissidents and the press, the government turned its focus toward keeping its secrets under wraps. The resulting system for classifying information is absurdly cautious, staggeringly costly, and shrouded in secrecy, preventing ordinary Americans from learning what their country is doing in their name, both at home and abroad. Shedding new light on the bloated governmental security apparatus that’s weighing our democracy down, State of Silence offers the definitive history of America’s turn toward secrecy—and its staggering human costs.
Year: 2023
Primary URL:
Publisher: Basic Books
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 978-1541620162
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes