Obama Admin. Using Espionage Act Against Whistleblowers


The Obama administration has increasingly used a 1917 law aimed at protecting U.S. national security to prosecute whistleblowers, a practice at odds with the president’s pledge to provide better legal protections for them during his 2008 campaign.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that in all prior administrations since the passage of the Espionage Act during World War I, the law has only been used three times. But the Obama administration has used it six times already, mostly to prosecute federal workers.

“Setting aside the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst who is accused of stealing thousands of secret documents, the majority of the recent prosecutions seem to have everything to do with administrative secrecy and very little to do with national security,” the paper reported.

The Times said in the most recent case, John Kiriakou, a former CIA official who has since become a Democratic staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking information about other CIA officers.

Some of those officers were involved in the agency’s interrogation program, including use of the controversial waterboarding technique approved during the Bush administration for use against terror suspects.

The paper said Kiriakou is the only one who’s being prosecuted that was involved with the program. He has been accused of leaking information to journalists and news organizations, including the Times.

ABC News’ Jake Tapper asked White House spokesman Jay Carney about the administration’s use of the Espionage Act during a press conference in which the White House was noting the deaths of reporters Marie Colvin and Anthony Shadid, who were killed in Syria “in order to bring truth” to the masses.

“How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistle-blowers to court?,” Tapper asked, adding that “the truth should come out abroad; it shouldn’t come out here.”

Carney responded that he felt it was appropriate “to honor and praise the bravery” of the reporters, but failed to address Tapper’s broader question.

Tapper told the Times the cases did not at all resemble real breaches of national security the act was designed to prevent.

“I have been following all of these case, and it’s not like they are instances of government employees leaking the location of secret nuclear sites,” he said. “These are classic whistle-blower cases that dealt with questionable behavior by government officials or its agents acting in the name of protecting America.”

In another case, the paper said, Thomas A. Drake, a former National Security Agency employee, was charged with 10 felony counts under the act for speaking with a reporter from the Baltimore Sun about a private sector program that would be used to monitor digital data. The NSA was set to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the program, but Drake told the Sun an internally developed program that was just as effective and much cheaper would suffice and not violate privacy in the way the private sector program would have.

The case against him fell apart last summer, the Times said, and he wound up pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor – misuse of a government computer.

“The Obama administration has been quite hypocritical about its promises of openness, transparency and accountability,” Jesselyn Radack, the director for national security and human rights at the Government Accountability Project, one of Drake’s lawyers, told the paper.

“All presidents hate leaks, but pursuing whistle-blowers as spies is heavy-handed and beyond the scope of the law,” she said.

© 2012 Newsroom America.