Skip to main content

In its third editorial about the Espionage Act prosecution against National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake, the conservative Washington Post (WaPo) editorial board opines that the Drake case demonstrates how dysfunctional the classification system has become.

Just before the Justice Department's case against Drake collapsed in spectacular fashion days before trial last summer, WaPo ran two editorials critical of the prosecution. (here and here).Then, former classification czar under G.W. Bush, J William Leonard, was slated to testify as a defense expert for Drake and called the case the most "deliberate and willful example of government officials improperly classifying a document," he had ever seen.

In the year since the prosecution fell apart, WaPo obtained one of the documents that formed the basis of an Espionage Act charge against Drake, which prompted WaPo to opine again - this time sarcastically - on the flimsy evidence the government used to threaten Drake with spending "the rest of his natural life" behind bars:

A document at the center of the Drake case was a classified e-mail summarizing an agency meeting. The e-mail was titled “What a Wonderful Success.” It is an innocuous, self-congratulatory message to a team for its presentation to the director, Gen. Keith Alexander. Two paragraphs were classified “secret.” Now that the e-mail has been released, everyone can see what was so sensitive. One of the paragraphs included the hush-hush fact — be careful if you finish reading this sentence — that Gen. Alexander left a conference room and greeted people in a lab who had worked to make sure the demonstration was a success.
Last summer, WaPo articulated the chilling effect the Drake case has on potential whistleblowers:
Mr. Drake’s prosecution smacks of overkill and could scare others with legitimate concerns about government programs from coming forward.
Again, the WaPo editorial board understands the larger implications of using the classification to cover-up embarrassing government conduct:
The more that classification is used to hide the trivial, inconvenient or embarrassing, the less useful it is for genuine national security secrets.
Prosecuting whistleblowers under the Espionage Act (an action the Obama has taken twice as many times as all past presidents combined) serves neither the public - it chills potential whistleblowers - nor national security - it undermines the classification system.

The fact that even the conservative WaPo editorial board recognizes the grave implications of charging employees under the Espionage Act for allegedly mishandling improperly-classified, innocuous information should serve as a wake-up call to the Obama administration, which is currently doggedly pursuing four other Espionage Act cases against alleged so-called "leakers," who are usually whistleblowers.

The threats are beyond those to whistleblowers. Attuned to the hypocrisy of the Obama administration prosecuting low-level and mid-level employees for alleged "leaks" while feeding simultaneously pro-government information to the press, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved a series of measures to crackdown on employees, which are more likely to chill legitimate free speech than stop so-called "leaks."

I have long-warned that the Espionage Act cases could be used as a back-door way of going after journalists. The Justice Department's Espionage Act case against former CIA official Jeffery Sterling has already swept up New York Times reporter James Risen, who was subpoenaed three times to testify about his alleged source. In that case, the Justice Department most recently argued that, despite the fact that legal precedent clearly dictates otherwise, there is no reporter's privilege in a criminal case.

The latest revelation that the information used to prosecute Drake under the heavy-handed Espionage Act was so obviously innocuous and unclassified should give the Justice Department pause before continuing to pursue similar whistleblowers, such as CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, whose case is set for trial in November.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site