Why We Prosecute Leakers

Julian SanchezOver at Mother Jones, Julian Sanchez provided an overview of what’s going on with the most recent case of the Obama administration going after whistleblowers. It is very hard not to accept the most intense critics’ contention that this is not about national security or even embarrassment. This is about creating an environment in which people who see government wrongdoing feel that they can’t go to the press.

One of the best examples of this is former NSA executive Thomas Andrews Drake who blew the whistle on the wasteful and unconstitutional Trailblazer Project. Drake did all that he was supposed to in terms of trying to take care of the matter internally. And then, when that didn’t work, he went to the press. As usual, he was being gone after under the Espionage Act of 1917—clearly an outrageous use of the law. And they didn’t even charge him with distributing classified documents. Instead, they changed him with “Willful Retention of National Defense Information.” That’s right: he held onto documents. In the end, all the government got was a “misdemeanor of misusing the agency’s computer system.”

But the issue there wasn’t to get him. It was to stop people like him in the future. And now the situation has gotten even worse. Now it seems that the administration is going after Fox News reporter James Rosen. Again, I doubt they mean to get him or even prosecute him. But as Sanchez pointed out, “The Rosen case is especially unsettling because the warrant affidavit suggests that Rosen himself could be subject to prosecution under the Espionage Act, on the grounds that his alleged encouragement to a source to provide classified information amounted to ‘conspiracy.'”

Most reporters won’t even risk angering a White House source for fear of losing “access.” So there is no doubt that the threat of a night raid by the FBI, not to mention years in prison, will turn the few remaining investigative journalists into pundits. This all looks very much like a full court press against the Fourth Estate. It is very troubling. And this scandal, really does reach to the president; he’s the one who sets the policies.


Sanchez ended his article arguing that people really should care about this issue because the government isn’t always just trying to protect the national security. I think this came off as rather naive. It is almost never the case that documents are classified for good reasons. I would be shocked if even 5% of all classified documents were justified. It is mostly just a matter of protecting reputations and a blind drive to make everything secret. That way, the power elite know that they’re important: they get access to these files and the rest of us do not. It’s pathetic.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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