If you don't like the way the US government is doing things, you have the right to say so. Make public speeches, participate in a protest, or write a letter to your elected officials. What you can't do is take serious steps against the safety and security of the nation and the public. That's treason, and it carries serious consequences.that's what Noshir S. Gowadia is accused of doing.
Noshir Gowadia: Almost a Textbook Example
Noshir Gowadia is a naturalized US citizen from India. For about 18 years, he worked as an engineer for Northrop Corporation (now the Northrop Grumman Corporation), which has been a contractor for the US Defense Department for decades. Among the projects he worked on was B-2 stealth bomber.
In 2005, he was arrested by federal agents and charged with various crimes, including:
- Selling information involving the B-2 to several unnamed foreign countries
- Helping China design and develop key components of a stealth cruise missile
- Selling or sharing secret military information with Chinese officials, and
- Money laundering - specifically hundreds of thousands of dollars he allegedly received as payment for helping the Chinese government
Gowadia was charged with treason. In simple terms, it's when a US citizen takes serious steps to harm the US. When Gowadia became a naturalized citizen, he agreed to show allegiance and loyalty to the US by obeying and respecting its laws and to defend it if asked. He broke that oath by sharing and selling military secrets to foreign countries and by helping China develop missile technology.
There are two basic penalties for treason
- Death, or
- Life in prison, with stiff fines and possible forfeiture of any money or property received as payment for the crime, or any property bought with money received for the crime
In Gowadia's case, the government didn't seek the death penalty. In 2010 he was convicted of five crimes (but not treason), and in 2011 he was sentenced to 32 years in prison. He plans to appeal.
It's uncertain if federal prosecutors will follow through on their original plan to seek forfeiture of Gowadia's bank accounts and property, including his up-scale home in Maui, Hawaii.
Obviously, death or life in prison and being branded a "traitor" are serious punishments. So, under the Constitution, the government needs solid proof to get a conviction. Specifically, it needs testimony from at least two persons involved in the crime or a confession from the accused.
In Gowadia's case, it was unlikely from the start that he'd be convicted of treason. That's because:
- There was little chance of Chinese officials testifying against Gowadia
- Gowadia acted alone, so there were no co-defendants or co-conspirators to testify against him
- He never confessed to the crime of treason
Rare, But It Happens
Thankfully, we don't hear about it in the news too often, but treason does rear its ugly head from time to time. Nearly 200 years passed before treason charges were even considered against a US citizen - John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban." He was never charged with treason, though.
It's the post-9/11 world. The US is engaged in military conflicts, and political and social unrest is in the news quite frequently. That's not to say we're going to be overrun with turncoats and traitors. However, some may see the current conditions as right for taking extreme action against the US and its interests.
Keep your eyes and ears open at work if work for or deal with defense contractors or military secrets. Don't be so fast to shrug off someone's comments about actively fighting or overthrowing the US government. And if anything like this gives you serious concerns about the safety or security of the nation or the general public, report it. Talk to someone at work immediately, or contact your local police department or the FBI.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Why wasn't John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban" fighter in Afghanistan, charged with treason?
- What does the government do with the money and property it seizes from convicted criminals through forfeiture?
- Can an employer be held responsible for not noticing that an employee was stealing and selling sensitive information or technology?