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70 Percent of Espionage Act Prosecutions Since 1971 by Obama Administration

Bradley Manning’s conviction under the Espionage Act is the latest development in the Obama administration’s push to prosecute leaks. We’ve updated our timeline with the most recent events.

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

With charges filed against NSA leaker Edward Snowden this June, the administration has brought a total of seven cases under the Espionage Act, which dates from World War I and criminalizes disclosing information “relating to the national defense.” Prior to the current administration, there had been only three known casesresulting in indictments in which the Espionage Act was used to prosecute government officials for leaks.

The administration has also targeted journalists. In May, it was revealed that the Department of Justice had secretly seized AP reporters’ phone recordswhile investigating a potential CIA leak, and targeteda Fox News reporter as part of a criminal leak case (outlined below). No journalist  has been chargedwith a crime. But the news prompted an outcry that Obama’s hard line on leaks could have a "chilling effect" on investigative reporting that depends on inside sources. (In response, the Justice Department issued new guidelines limiting when journalists’ records can be sought.)

A spokesman for the Department of Justice told us the government “does not target whistleblowers.” (Read their full statement.) 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. Read the order against Morison.

August 2005: Lawrence Franklin indicted
Franklin, an analyst for the State Department, was charged with leaking classified information about Iran to two lobbyists for AIPAC. Read the indictment.

January 2006: 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.

April 2010: Thomas Drake indicted
National Security Agency employee Thomas Drake was charged with violating the Espionage Act for retaining classified documents for “unauthorized disclosure.” He was suspected to have leaked information on the agency’s surveillance program TrailBlazer. The case against Drake began under the Bush administration - FBI agents raided his house in 2007. Read the indictment.

May 2010: Shamai Leibowitz convicted
Leibowitz, a linguist and translator for the FBI, pleaded 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. Read the order.

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. It will be more almost two years before he is ultimately charged in a military court. In February 2013, he pleaded guilty to providing files to Wikileaks, but not to violating the Espionage Act and other charges. Courts have maintained an unprecedented level of secrecy over the case, withholding documents and allowing witnesses to testify in secret. Read the charges against Manning.

August 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. In a July 2013 ruling in the case, a federal judge said the government did not need to show that the information leaked could have damaged national security – just that Kim knew it could and willfully leaked the information. Read the INDICTMENT.

The Washington Post reported in May 2013 that Fox News journalist James Rosen was investigated in the Kim case. The Department seized Rosen’s phone records and emails, and tracked his “comings and goings from the State Department.” Rosen was not charged with a crime, but an FBI investigator wrote that there was evidence he was a “co-conspirator.” Read the affidavit.

December 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. Read the indictment.

New York Times reporter James Risen was ordered to testify in Sterling’s trial. Prosecutors believed Kim had 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’s confidentiality.  In July 2013, Risen lost that fight, when a federal appeals court said there was no “reporters privilege” that could allow him not to testify.

June 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.

January 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 gave an interview on ABC News in 2007 detailing the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding in interrogating terrorist suspects. Read the criminal complaint.

October 2012: Kiriakou convicted
Kiriakou pleaded guilty to disclosing the name of a covert CIA officer. He was convicted of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the first under the law in 27 years. In January, Kiriakou was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

June 14, 2013: Edward Snowden charged
Edward Snowden, who leaked documents about the NSA’s secret surveillance programs, was charged with theft of government property and two counts of disclosing information under the Espionage Act – charges which together carry a penalty of up to 30 years in prison. See the criminal complaint.

July 30, 2013: Manning convicted
A military tribunal judge found Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy — the most serious charge against him. He was found guilty of multiple counts under the Espionage Act and five counts of theft, among other charges. He could spend decades in prison.

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