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Cora Currier: Charting Obama’s Crackdown on Leaks

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wikileaks.jpgPhotograph via FLICKR by theG.

By **Cara Currier**

By arrangement with ProPublica.

While the Obama administration has promised to strengthen protections for whistleblowers, it has also launched an aggressive crackdown on government employees who have leaked national security information to the press.

The administration has brought a total of six cases under the Espionage Act, which dates from World War I and criminalizes disclosing information “relating to the national defense.” (The Department of Justice has five criminal cases and the Army has one against alleged Wikileaks source Bradley Manning.) Prior to the current administration, there had been only three known cases resulting in indictments in which the Espionage Act was used to prosecute government officials for leaks.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice told us the government “does not target whistleblowers.” As they point out, government whistleblower protections shield only those who raise their concerns through the proper channels within their agency—not through leaks to the media or other unauthorized persons. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper summed up the government’s approach in a 2010 memo: “people in the intelligence business should be like my grandchildren—seen but not heard.”

Here’s a timeline of leak prosecutions under the Espionage Act, showing how they’ve picked up steam under Obama.

1971: Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo indicted

Two analysts at the RAND Corporation, Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, were indicted for leaking classified information about the Vietnam War—what came to be known as The Pentagon Papers. The case was dismissed in 1973 due to government misconduct.

1985: Samuel Morison convicted

Samuel Loring Morison, a civilian analyst with the Navy, was convicted of leaking classified satellite photographs to a British magazine. He was sentenced to 2 years in prison, and eventually pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

Aug. 2005: Lawrence Franklin indicted

Franklin, an analyst for the State Department, was charged with leaking classified information about Iran to two lobbyists for AIPAC.

Jan. 2006: Lawrence Franklin convicted

Franklin pled guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, which was later reduced to ten months’ house arrest. The two lobbyists were also indicted for receiving unauthorized information—a highly unusual charge—but the case against them was dropped in May of 2009.

Nov. 2007: Thomas Drake’s house raided

FBI agents raided the house of National Security Agency employee Thomas Drake, who was suspected of leaking information on the agency’s domestic surveillance program TrailBlazer.

April 2010: Drake indicted

Drake was charged with violating the Espionage Act for retaining classified documents for “unauthorized disclosure.”

May 2010: Shamai Leibowitz convicted

Leibowitz, a linguist and translator for the FBI, pled guilty to leaking classified information to a blogger. He was sentenced to 20 months in prison. At the time of his sentencing, not even the judge knew exactly what he had leaked, though later disclosures indicated it was FBI wiretaps of conversations between Israeli diplomats about Iran.

June 2010: Bradley Manning arrested

Bradley Manning, a 22-year Army Private was arrested after he told someone online that he was the source for Wikileaks’ biggest gets, including a quarter-million State Department cables.

Aug. 2010: Stephen Kim indicted

Kim, an analyst working under contract with the State Department, was indicted for giving classified information to Fox News about North Korea. His case is still pending.

Dec. 2010: Jeffrey Sterling indicted

Sterling, a CIA officer, was charged with leaking information about the CIA’s efforts against Iran’s nuclear program. His case is still pending.

May 2011: James Risen subpoenaed

New York Times reporter James Risen was ordered to testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, who prosecutors believed leaked material to Risen for his book, State of War. Risen fought the subpoena, arguing that it was his First Amendment right to protect his source vs confidentiality. In February of this year, the government appealed a decision to limit the scope of what Risen could be called to testify on.

Jun. 2011: Case against Thomas Drake dropped

Drake pled guilty to a minor charge, not under the Espionage Act, and served no prison time. The government had decided that they could not prosecute him without revealing details about the documents he supposedly leaked. Critics saw the government’s withdrawal as a sign that they had overreached in using the Espionage Act.

Jan. 2012: John Kiriakou charged

John Kiriakou was charged with leaking information about the interrogation of an Al Qaeda leader and disclosing the name of a CIA analyst involved. Kiriakou, in 2007, gave an interview on ABC News detailing the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding in interrogating terrorist suspects.

Feb. 2012: Bradley Manning charged

Manning will be tried in a military court on 22 counts, including “aiding the enemy,” and one count under the Espionage Act. A hearing is scheduled for March 2012, and a trial for later in the year.


By arrangement with ProPublica.

Cara Currier is a writer for ProPublica.

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