PICKET: Is Obama's relentless use of the espionage act keeping whistle blowers silent?

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*Updated

In light of Americans who are demanding answers from the Obama administration on why four Americans were denied help for military assistance when the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi was under attack, there is little chance that any whistle-blower with first hand information will step forward as long as President Barack Obama is still in office.

Republicans are demanding the administration turnover material, including video, that explain what happened in Benghazi, but the President is more likely to cite executive privilege and use the hammer of his Justice Department to keep anybody who knows anything quiet. 

Bloomberg News reported on October 17 that Attorney General Eric Holder “prosecuted more government officials for alleged leaks under the World War I-era Espionage Act than all his predecessors combined, including law-and-order Republicans John Mitchell, Edwin Meese and John Ashcroft.” :

The Justice Department said that there are established avenues for government employees to follow if they want to report misdeeds. The agency “does not target whistle-blowers in leak cases or any other cases,” Dean Boyd, a department spokesman, said.“An individual in authorized possession of classified information has no authority or right to unilaterally determine that it should be made public or otherwise disclose it,” he said.

However, when leaks to the press benefit the administration, prosecutions from the Jusitce Department are absent. For example, AG Holder was not prosecuting anyone over who leaked information about the killing of Oasma bin Laden. The Justice Department has yet to charge anyone over leaking information regarding the U.S. involvement in cyberattacks on Iran as well as an al Qaida plan to blow up a U.S. bound airplane. In fact, the Justice Department ended up appointing one of two attorneys to the cyberattacks investigation who was an Obama donor

“There’s a problem with prosecutions that don’t distinguish between bad people — people who spy for other governments, people who sell secrets for money — and people who are accused of having conversations and discussions,” said Abbe Lowell, attorney for Stephen J. Kim, an intelligence analyst charged under the Act, to Bloomberg News.

The Espionage Act, bans unlawful disclosure of national security information to individuals not authorized to get it. The act was signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1917 and has been used to prosecute double agents like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen.

Bloomberg News cites the particular case of Stephen J. Kim, an intelligence analyst who was charged under the act. He worked as a contract analyst specializing in North Korea. Kim was questioned by law enforcement officials in September of 2009 after making contact with Fox News reporter Jim Rosen about North Korea’s nuclear weapon’s program. Eleven months later he was indicted by a grand jury for revealing classified information and making false statements :

“To be accused of doing something against or harmful to U.S. national interest is something I can’t comprehend,” said Kim, 45, who has pleaded not guilty and faces as many as 15 years in jail if convicted. “Your reputation is shot and there is such a sense of shame brought on the family.”Kim is one of five individuals who have been pursued by Obama’s Justice Department in connection with alleged leaks of classified information to the news media. The Defense Department is pursuing a sixth case against Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of sending documents to the WikiLeaks website.

Allegations

Prosecutors say that when asked about his communications with the press by the FBI in their initial meeting in September 2009, Kim lied about a continued relationship with the reporter. That same day, he was told his State Department contract had been terminated for budget reasons, according to court filings.

The government alleges Kim’s contacts with Rosen included “efforts to conceal his relationship with the reporter and the secretive nature of their communications speaks volumes about the defendant’s knowledge of who was, and who was not, entitled to receive” information. Kim declined to discuss specifics of his case in the interview in his lawyer’s office in Washington. His efforts to get the charges dismissed were rejected last year by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who in denying the motions to dismiss said that the alleged leak involved a report with a classification level that “could be expected to cause grave damage to the national security” if disclosed.

Costly Cases

Cases such as Kim’s, which can be drawn out for years as the prosecution and defense teams work with sensitive materials through dozens of filings and status reports can cost upwards of $1 million, according to Jesselyn Radack, a lawyer with the Government Accountability Project who has defended two individuals prosecuted under the law. Kim said his parents sold their home in South Korea to help pay for his defense. His sister has also pitched in and a former college roommate has created a website to publicize his case and raise funds.

Radack said the Obama administration crackdown is part of an effort to shut down investigations into the workings of the national-security apparatus.

“At first I thought these Espionage Act prosecutions were to curry favor with the national security and intelligence establishments, which saw Obama as weak when he entered office,” Radack said. “It became abundantly clear the more people were indicted, when you read their indictments, that this was a way to create really terrible precedent for ultimately going after journalists.”

On October 10, nearly one month after the deadly Benghazi attack that took the lives of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, President Obama issued a policy directive on whistle blower protections. 

The directive expanded the protections of the House’s Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which was designed to protect federal employees if they reported waste, fraud, or abuse through government officials— to executive branch agencies. National security and intelligence staffers would be included in the legislation through the directive. It. passed the lower chamber in September. The bill has yet to be passed by the Senate.

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center of Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, told Bloomberg News that the Obama policy directive does not go far enough, because it “doesn’t include media representatives within the universe of people to whom the whistle-blower can make the disclosure.” Basically, the administration can still continue to prosecute intelligence staffers who disclose information to the media.

With all of this in mind, do not be surprised if a flood of individuals who have pertinent information begin to step up to the plate and talk about what happened on September 11, 2012 if Mitt Romney wins the presidency.

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About the Author
Kerry Picket

Kerry Picket

Kerry Picket, a former Opinion Blogger/Editor of The Watercooler, was associate producer for the Media Research Center, a content producer for Robin Quivers of "The Howard Stern Show" on Sirius satellite radio and a production assistant and copy writer at MTV.

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