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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

The Obama administration has aggressively prosecuted leaks and whistleblowers. Who are they?



U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that the AP leak put U.S. lives at risk and demanded "very aggressive" method of investigation, reported the BBC.

Revelations this week of a secret Justice Department seizure of two months’ worth of phone records from The Associated Press are the latest flare up in tense relationship between the U.S. government and the media when it comes to whistleblowers.

The Obama administration’s legacy with access to information and whistleblowers has been contentious. While the administration claims it’s the “most transparent” in history, many critics accused the president of doublespeak on the issue, lauding whistleblowers with the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement act of November 2012 while aggressively prosecuting leaks at the same time.

According to a statement from the White House, the president’s office was not involved in the Justice Department’s request of the AP’s phone records, reported The Huffington Post.

According to The New York Times, the Obama administration has waged the most aggressive campaign against whistleblowers in U.S. history, responsible for six of the nine total indictments ever brought under the 1917 Espionage Act. See a brief timeline of the prosecutions assembled by the newspaper here, including the famous 1973 Pentagon Papers case.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the act as a “grave violation” of press freedom and argued that the Justice Department’s overstep signals the need for a federal shield law to protect journalists and their sources from government interference.

The Obama administration has six current and former government officials indicted on leak-related charges so far, reported The New York Times this morning. Here’s a list of them:

1. Shamai K. Leibowitz, 2009

Leibowitz, a former-FBI Hebrew translator, pleaded guilty to leaking classified information to Richard Silverstein who blogs at Tikun Olam, reported AlterNet. The translator passed 200 pages of transcribed conversations recorded by FBI wiretaps of the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. Leibowitz was sentenced to up to 20 months in prison, according to The Washington Post.

2. Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, 2010

Kim was a nuclear proliferation expert working on a contract basis for the U.S. State Department when he was accused of leaking information about North Korea to Fox News.

The Justice Department claimed that Kim was the source behind Fox News journalist James Rosen’s 2009 report suggesting that the North would likely test another nuclear bomb in reaction to a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning its tests, reported AlterNet.

Kim pleaded not guilty to the charges. A Federal Grand Jury indicted him but the case has not gone to trial, according to The New York Times.

3. Thomas Drake, 2010

Drake worked as a senior executive at the National Security Agency when he was charged with “willful retention” of classified documents under the Espionage Act. He leaked information about government waste on digital data gathering technology to The Baltimore Sun, according to AlterNet.

At one point Drake faced up to 35 years in prison for several charges. Eventually, most of the charges were dropped and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for  “exceeding authorized use of a computer.” He was sentenced to one-year probation and community service.

4. Pfc. Bradley Manning, 2010

Probably the best known of the six under indictment, Manning was the source behind the WikiLeaks and CableGate information dumps. Critics accuse the government of dragging its feet and aggressively redacting requests for public information about the trial. One journalist opined that the Guantanamo military tribunals were more transparent.

Manning faces a court martial and a harsher sentence that could include life in prison without parole, reported The New York Times. AlterNet pointed out, however, that prosecutors would have to prove Manning released the documents with the intention of harming the U.S. to win those harsher charges, something Manning denies. His trial is set for next month, June 3.

5. Jeffery Sterling, 2010

Sterling, a former-CIA official, pleaded not guilty to leaking information to New York Times journalist James Risen regarding a failed U.S. attempt to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. The information in question was published in Risen’s book “State of War.”

Risen successfully fought several subpoenas from the federal government to reveal his sources during Sterling’s trial, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Justice Department announced in the summer of 2012 that it has “effectively terminated” the case, according to the Times.

6. John C. Kiriakou, 2012

One of the few prosecuted under the Espionage act to serve jail time, Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison on Jan. 25, 2013, for leaking classified information to the media. Kiriakou pleaded not guilty to releasing the name of an undercover CIA agent to a reporter and information about the intelligence agency’s use of waterboarding, a controversial interrogation technique.

Kiriakou is the first person successfully prosecuted under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in 27 years, according to the Times. The reporter the ex-CIA official spoke to did not publish the undercover agent’s name, although the Times pointed out that the agent’s identity appeared in a sealed legal filing and on an “obscure” website.



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