6 Brave Govt. Whistleblowers Charged Under the Espionage Act by Obama's Administration
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The Obama administration has been carrying out an unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers, particularly on those who have divulged information that relates to national security. The Espionage Act, enacted during the first World War to punish Americans who aided the enemy, had only been used three times in its history to try government officials accused of leaking classified information — until the Obama administration. Since 2009, the administration has used the act to prosecute six government officials. Meet the whistleblowers.
1. Thomas Drake
Thomas Drake is a former senior executive at the NSA who was charged under the Espionage Act for the unauthorized “willful retention” of classified documents. Drake’s problems with the agency started when he found himself on the minority side of a debate about two new tools for collecting intelligence from digital sources. One program, called Trailblazer, was being built by an outside contractor for $1.2 billion; the other, known as ThinThread, was created in-house by a legendary crypto-mathematician named Bill Binney for about $3 million.
Then, in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11 2001, the NSA, with the approval of the Bush administration, began the illegal warrantless surveillance of American citizens. This did not sit well with Drake, who says that during his time in the Air Force, where he also did surveillance work, the imperative to protect American’s privacy was drilled into him. “If you accidentally intercepted U.S. persons, there were special procedures to expunge it.”
“I was faced with a crisis of conscience,” Drake told The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer. “What do I do — remain silent, and complicit, or go to the press?” As a father of five, one of whom has serious health problems, Drake concluded that he’d go to the press with his complaints about the NSA — but he’d only share unclassified information, thinking perhaps he’d lose he’s job but at least not end up in jail. So he leaked the story of ThinThread vs. Trailblazer — a simple story of government waste — to the Baltimore Sun. A few months later, the FBI appeared at his door. Drake at one point faced up to 35 years in prison for various charges, most of which were dropped. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for exceeding authorized use of a computer.
2. Stephen Jin-Woo Kim
In 2010, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a specialist in nuclear proliferation who worked as a contractor for the State Department, pleaded not guilty to charges of leaking information about North Korea to Fox News. He was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury, but the case has not yet been brought to trial.
Fox journalist James Rosen, with whom Kim had been in touch in the past, reported in 2009 that North Korea would likely test another nuclear missile in reaction to a pending United Nations Security Council resolution condemning its nuclear tests. The Justice Department said Kim was Fox’s source.
Kim, who immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea when he was nine years old, told Bloomberg News that “to be accused of doing something against or harmful to U.S. national interest is something I can’t comprehend.” Kim’s lawyers said that Kim was being charged for participating in the type of exchange between experts and the press “that happen hundreds of times a day in Washington.”
“In its obsession to clamp down on perfectly appropriate conversations between government employees and the press, the Obama Administration has forgotten that wise foreign policy must be founded on a two-way conversation between government and the public,” his lawyers said.