This weekend's Washington Post had a disturbing article on how the FBI is ramping up--using new computer software--its investigation into the government sources for an explosive article on the Stuxnet computer virus that attacked Iran's nuclear reactors (while the U.S. simultaneously states that cyberwarfare is a crime.)
As an attorney for a number of whistleblowers prosecuted under the Espionage Act, including Tom Drake and John Kiriakou, I want to make it clear that we have already seen what it looks like when the government conducts invasive surveillance on its own employees in an attempt to find sources, especially whistleblowers.
In a case of history repeating itself--but this time ramped up by an order of magnitude with fancy new electronic surveillance software--the FBI is intensifying its investigation into government officials suspected of leaking information on the Stuxnet virus to the press. (Stuxnet is the computer virus that attacked Iran's nuclear reactors. The U.S. considers cyberwarfare a crime.)
If this sounds at all familiar, it's because we saw an eerie preview of this six months ago when the New York Times revealed the FDA's invasive surveillance on employees, reporters, and congressional staffers in an attempt to target seven scientist-whistleblowers who raised concerns about excessive radiation emitted from mammogram and colonoscopy machines.
That scandal included an "enemies list," outsourced surveillance, spyware on dogs, and numerous other outrages conducted by our government. The fact that FDA targeted only the whistleblowers, whose communications included legally-protected disclosures to the media, congress, and the Office of Special Counsel, made the monitoring more problematic, not less.
Now we have a much more sophisticated investigation run by the nation's top law enforcement agency--the FBI--rather than a bunch of FDA stooges. This FBI Stuxnet investigation-on-steroids is datamining not only government officials' professional communications with journalists, but also their personal communications from their private e-mail accounts, phone records and text messages. And it is ensnaring untold numbers of journalists along the way.
Whistleblowers have already been chilled by the cases of Thomas Drake and Friday's sentencing of John Kiriakou. Here we see the logical extension: chilling journalists and a free press--something I've been shouting into the wilderness about for years.