8 Whistleblowers Charged With Violating the Espionage Act Under Obama


With the U.S. government having filed charges against Edward Snowden, accusing him of theft of government property and violating the Espionage Act, the NSA whistle-blower now joins a growing list of people who have been charged with leaking or mishandling classified information under the 1917 act during the Obama administration. Prior to Obama taking office, only three people in total, Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg under Richard Nixon, Navy civilian analyst Samuel Loring Morison under Ronald Reagan, and Defense Department analyst Lawrence A. Franklin under George W. Bush, had been charged with doing so. 

Enacted two months after the U.S. formally entered World War I during an era of trench warfare and the Ottoman Empire, the Espionage Act is hopelessly out of date, and, as Glenn Greenwald writes, the act is "so broad that even the U.S. government has largely refrained from using it." That is, until Obama came along. Welcome to the club Mr. Snowden.

1. Thomas Drake:

A former senior executive at the National Security Agency (NSA), Drake was charged with violating the Espionage Act through unauthorized "willful retention" of classified documents for the purpose of "unauthorized disclosure." Concerned about the inefficiency of NSA's "Trailblazer" program and its violation of American's civil liberties compared with a rival program called "ThinThread," Drake was one of the sources for a damming Baltimore Sun article about "Trailblazer."

At one point Drake faced up to 35 years in prison, but the government case against him collapsed in 2011 with Drake pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for exceeding authorized use of a computer.

2. Stephen Jin-Woo Kim:

Kim worked for the State Department as an adviser on nuclear proliferation and is accused of violating the Espionage Act by giving classified information about North Korea to Fox News reporter James Rosen. The charges relate to a report published by Rosen in 2009 revealing that according to U.S. officials, North Korea intended "to respond to the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution this week — condemning [it for] its recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests — with another nuclear test."

Kim has pleaded not guilty, but although he was indicted back in 2010, his case is still pending.

3. James Hitselberger:

Hitselberger, a Navy contract linguist, was charged under the Espionage Act with unauthorized retention of national defense information for allegedly taking classified documents off the military base he was working at as a translator in Bahrain. The documents, discussing gaps in U.S. intelligence in Bahrain, the civil unrest in the country, and the location of U.S. forces in the region, were allegedly sent to "the Hoover Institute, the conservative think-tank located on the campus of Stanford University." Hitselberger remains in jail as his trial continues.

4. Shami K. Leibowitz:

Leibowitz, a former FBI Hebrew translator, was sentenced to 20 months in prison in 2010 after pleading guilty to leaking classified information to a reporter. Leibowitz leaked around 200 pages of documents containing transcribed conversations recorded by FBI wiretaps of the Israeli embassy in Washington to blogger Richard Silverstein.

In an interview with the New York Times, Silverstein said that Leibowitz released the material "because of concerns about Israel's aggressive efforts to influence Congress and public opinion, and fears that Israel might strike nuclear facilities in Iran."

5. John Kiriakou:

Former CIA official Kiriakou faced up to 30 years in prison after he was charged by the government with leaking classified information to journalists. Kiriakou was accused of giving "the names of two former colleagues who interrogated detainees using harsh practices including waterboarding" to journalists.

In 2012, as part of a plea deal, Kiriakou plead guilty to leaking the identity of one of the CIA operatives and is currently serving a two and a half year jail term. The charges filed against him under the Espionage Act were dropped as part of the deal.

6. Bradley Manning:

Former Army intelligence analyst Manning is currently on trial for the largest leak of government documents in U.S. history. He has admitted to leaking over 700,000 diplomatic cables and military reports on the Iraq and Afghan wars but argues that he did so to spark public debate on U.S. foreign policy.

While he has already pleaded guilty to lesser charges, he has pleaded not guilty to the far more serious charges of "aiding the enemy" and violating the Espionage Act.

7. Jeffrey Sterling:

Former CIA officer Sterling pleaded not guilty to charges that he leaked classified information about U.S. efforts to disrupt Iran's nuclear program to New York Times reporter James Risen. Risen wrote about the U.S. government's failed sabotage efforts in his 2006 book "State of War". The 10-count indictment against Sterling in 2011 included the charge of disclosing national defense information.

As of June 2012, the New York Times reported that the "Justice Department is appealing several of the judge's pretrial rulings about evidentiary issues, saying they effectively terminated the case."

8. Edward Snowden:

The moment recent member of this growing club, Snowden has been charged by the U.S. government with theft of government property and two counts of violating the Espionage Act. Snowden leaked details of the NSA's surveillance practices, including the PRISM program and the collection of the data of Verizon customers, to the media earlier this month.

Snowden is currently in Hong Kong where local authorities have yet to react to the charges. He has, however, previously said that he plans to stay in the city and fight any charges against him in court. He faces up to 30 years in prison if found guilty.