Obama's abuse of the Espionage Act is modern-day McCarthyism

Shame on this president for persecuting whistleblowers with a legal
relic, while administration officials leak with impunity

John Kiriakou <http://www.theguardian.com/profile/john-kiriakou> ,
theguardian.com <http://www.theguardian.com/> , Tuesday 6 August 2013
13.15 BST

The conviction of Bradley Manning under the 1917 Espionage
<http://www.theguardian.com/world/espionage>  Act, and the US Justice
Department's decision to file espionage charges against NSA
<http://www.theguardian.com/world/nsa>  whistleblower Edward Snowden
<http://www.theguardian.com/world/edward-snowden>  under the same act,
are yet further examples of the Obama administration
<http://www.theguardian.com/world/obama-administration> 's policy of
using an iron fist against human rights
<http://www.theguardian.com/law/human-rights>  and civil liberties

President Obama has been unprecedented in his use of the Espionage Act
to prosecute those whose whistleblowing he wants to curtail. The purpose
of an Espionage Act prosecution, however, is not to punish a person for
spying for the enemy, selling secrets for personal gain, or trying to
undermine our way of life. It is to ruin the whistleblower personally,
professionally and financially. It is meant to send a message to anybody
else considering speaking truth to power: challenge us and we will
destroy you.

Only ten people in American history have been charged with espionage for
leaking classified information, seven of them under Barack Obama. The
effect of the charge on a person's life – being viewed as a traitor,
being shunned by family and friends, incurring massive legal bills –
is all a part of the plan to force the whistleblower into personal ruin,
to weaken him to the point where he will plead guilty to just about
anything to make the case go away. I know. The three espionage charges
against me made me one of "the Obama Seven".

In early 2012, I was arrested and charged with three counts of espionage
and one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act
(IIPA). (I was only the second person in US history to be charged with
violating the IIPA, a law that was written to be used against rogues
like Philip Agee <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Agee> .)

Two of my espionage charges were the result of a conversation I had with
a New York Times reporter about torture
<http://www.theguardian.com/law/torture> . I gave him no classified
information – only the business card of a former CIA
<http://www.theguardian.com/world/cia>  colleague who had never been
undercover. The other espionage charge was for giving the same
unclassified business card to a reporter for ABC News. All three
espionage charges were eventually dropped.

So, why charge me in the first place?

It was my punishment for blowing the whistle on the CIA's torture
program and for confirming to the press, despite government
protestations to the contrary, that the US government was, indeed, in
the business of torture.

At the CIA, employees are trained to believe that nearly every moral
issue is a shade of grey. But this is simply not true. Some issues are
black-and-white – and torture is one of them. Many of us believed
that the torture policy was solely a Bush-era perversion. But many of
these perversions, or at least efforts to cover them up or justify them,
have continued under President Obama.

Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, declared a war on
whistleblowers virtually as soon as they assumed office. Some of the
investigations began during the Bush administration, as was the case
with NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake
<http://www.theguardian.com/profile/thomas-drake> , but Espionage Act
cases have been prosecuted only under Obama. The president has chosen to
ignore the legal definition of whistleblower – any person who brings
to light evidence of waste, fraud, abuse or illegality – and has
prosecuted truthtellers.

This policy decision smacks of modern-day McCarthyism. Washington has
always needed an "ism" to fight against, an idea against which it could
rally its citizens like lemmings. First, it was anarchism, then
socialism, then communism. Now, it's terrorism. Any whistleblower who
goes public in the name of protecting human rights or civil liberties is
accused of helping the terrorists.

That the whistleblower has the support of groups like Amnesty
International, Human Rights Watch, or the American Civil Liberties Union
matters not a whit. The administration simply presses forward with wild
accusations against the whistleblower: "He's aiding the enemy!" "He put
our soldiers lives in danger!" "He has blood on his hands!" Then, when
it comes time for trial, the espionage charges invariably are either
dropped or thrown out.

The administration and its national security sycophants in both parties
in Congress argue that governmental actions exposed by the whistleblower
are legal. The Justice Department approved the torture, after all, and
the US supreme court <http://www.theguardian.com/law/us-supreme-court> 
said that the NSA's eavesdropping program was constitutional. But this
is the same Justice Department that harassed, surveilled, wiretapped and
threatened Martin Luther King Jr, and that recently allowed weapons to
be sold to Mexican drug gangs in the Fast and Furious
<http://www.theguardian.com/world/operation-fast-and-furious>  scandal.
Just because they're in power doesn't mean they're right.

Yet another problem with the Espionage Act is that it has never been
applied uniformly. Immediately after its passage in 1917, American
socialist leader Eugene V Debs was arrested and imprisoned under the
Espionage Act – simply for criticizing the US decision to enter the
first world war. He ran for president from his prison cell.

Nearly a century later, when the deputy director for national
intelligence revealed the amount
dress=102x1908807>  of the highly-classified intelligence budget in an
ill-conceived speech, she was not even sent a letter of reprimand –
despite the fact the Russians, Chinese, and others had sought the figure
for decades. When former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta
boastfully revealed the identity of the Seal Team member
>  who killed Osama bin Laden in a speech to an audience that included
uncleared individuals, the Pentagon and the CIA simply called the
disclosure "inadvertent".

There was no espionage charge for Panetta. But there was a $3m book deal
geithner-books/2382279/> .

The Obama administration's espionage prosecutions are political actions
for political reasons, and are carried out by political appointees. The
only way to end this or any administration's abuse of the Espionage Act
is to rewrite the law. It is so antiquated that it doesn't even mention
classified information; the classification system hadn't yet been
invented. The law was written a century ago to prosecute German
saboteurs. Its only update came in 1950, at the height of the Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg case. The law is still so broad and vague that many
legal scholars argue that it is unconstitutional.

The only hope of ending this travesty of justice is to scrap the
Espionage Act and to enact new legislation that would protect
whistleblowers while allowing the government to prosecute traitors and
spies. This would require congressional leadership, however, and that is
something that is very difficult to come by. Giants like the late
Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Frank Church, and the late
Representative Otis Pike, who boldly took on and reformed the
intelligence community in the 1970s, are long-gone. Until someone on
Capitol Hill begins to understand the concept of justice for national
security whistleblowers, very little is likely to change.

The press also has a role to play, one that, so far, it has largely
ignored. That role is to report on and investigate the whistleblower's
revelations of illegality, not on the kind of car he drives, the brand
of eyeglasses he wears, where he went to college, or what his nextdoor
neighbor has to say about their childhood.

The attacks on our civil liberties that the whistleblower reports are
far too important to move off-message into trivialities. After all, the
government is spying on all of us. That should be the story.

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