What Are the Charges Against Howard Stark on Agent Carter?

Agent Carter started with a bang as a fun Marvel spy-thriller. There were many great geek references from Roxxon to Leviathan. Keep up the good work.

EspionageAct_NationalDefense_2010The story centers of Howard Stark having his “Bad Babies,” advanced weapons so dangers that they are kept locked in a vault under his house, stolen. This results in Howard Stark being grilled by a Senate Committee on his technology, invoking some comparisons to Senator Owen Brewster antagonizing Howard Hughes in real-life 1946 as a wartime profiteer.

The only legal term verbally charged against Howard Stark for Stark technology getting in the hands of US enemies is treason. This certainly is the most serious charge against Stark, but there could have been others.

Treason is “levying War against them [The United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.” United States Constitution, Article III, Section 3.

Treason is the most obvious charge against Stark and providing advanced weapons to a hostile foreign power would certainly qualify. However, there are two other laws Stark could have violated that do not require the foreign power to be an enemy; providing the information to ANY foreign power would violate the law.

Howard Stark could have been charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917, which prohibited the providing any information relating to national defense with the intent to injury the United States to a foreign nation. The peacetime punishment for such a crime was 20 years and in times of war, 30 years. Espionage Act, June 15, 1917, 40 Stat. 217, § 2(a). Alternatively, as seen in the Rosenberg case, death.

EspionageAct_0731Stark could argue his “Bad Babies” were not created for the US government to be used for national defense, but given the destructive power of the implosive weapon, probably would not be effective if a foreign power got its hands on the technology. Moreover, given Stark’s close ties to the SSR and US Government, it is arguable that anything Howard Stark creates is for national defense.

Stark could also be charged under the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which provides against providing foreign nations any “Restricted Data” with the intent to harm the United States in prison for life and a $100,000 fine in present day. 42 U.S.C.S. § 2275. “Restricted Data” means all data relating to the “(1) design, manufacture, or utilization of atomic weapons; (2) the production of special nuclear material; or (3) the use of special nuclear material in the production of energy, but shall not include data declassified or removed from the Restricted Data category pursuant to section 142 [42 USCS § 2162].42 USCS § 2014(y).

It is not clear what exactly are all of Stark’s “Bad Babies,” other than one of the weaponized implosive devices the size of a baseball could cause all matter to collapse into a large sphere. While it would require a physics expert, there has to be some nuclear fusion to create that sort of gravity weapon. This sort of weapon arguably would fall under the Atomic Energy Act, which would be further charges against Stark.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.