Candidate Obama promised—quite vigorously—to strengthen existing whistle-blower protection laws to protect federal workers who disclose government misdeeds. It was a cornerstone of his pledge to make the US federal government absolutely transparent.
Well, like many other campaign promises made by Barack Obama, this one never had a chance.
The Espionage Act was passed into law in 1917 prohibiting interference with the military and supporting enemies during wartime. Until President Obama took office it had been used only three times against federal employees who disclosed classified information to the media. President Obama has used it six times so far since he’s taken office.
As David Carr notes in his New York Times column, “... the majority of the recent prosecutions seem to have everything to do with administrative secrecy and very little to do with national security.”
Carr opines that President Obama has been misusing the provisions of the Espionage Act to maintain secrecy within his administration: “In case after case, the Espionage Act has been deployed as a kind of ad hoc Official Secrets Act, which is not a law that has ever found traction in America, a place where the people’s right to know is viewed as superseding the government’s right to hide its business.”
Carr cites ABC News White House correspondent Jake Tapper on his motivation for questioning the Obama administration’s praise for journalists seeking truth overseas while squelching such endeavors here at home. “How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistle-blowers to court?” Tapper asked Jay Carney, Obama administration press secretary, on air. Carney dodged the question. “I have been following all of these case, and it’s not like they are instances of government employees leaking the location of secret nuclear sites,” Tapper tells Carr. “These are classic whistle-blower cases that dealt with questionable behavior by government officials or its agents acting in the name of protecting America.”
Carr points to the case of Thomas A. Drake, a former employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) as typical. Last year Drake was charged with 10 felonies under the Espionage Act for disclosing to a reporter that the NSA unnecessarily spent hundreds of millions of dollars on surveillance software that was less effective—but more invasive of citizenry privacy—than software developed internally by the NSA. The case against Drake collapsed and he plead guilty to misuse of a government computer.