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North Korea confirmed it conducted its third nuclear test, which is alarming insofar as North Korea is en route to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power.

But while we hand-wring over this provocative act, we should remember that State Department arms expert Steven Kim is being prosecuted under the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking to FOX News that North Korea was planning to respond to a U.N. Security Council resolution by setting off another nuclear test--clearly of public interest to South Korea, China, and the rest of the world--and that was not sensitive.

Steven Kim became the fourth person in Obama's war on whistleblowers to be prosecuted under the heavy-handed, notoriously ambiguous Espionage Act for allegedly mishandling allegedly classified information. (I emphasize "allegedly classified" because in the botched espionage prosecution of NSA whistleblower Tom Drake, it turned out that the supposedly-classified information was completely unclassified.)

This appears to be the case with Kim's alleged disclosure, too:

John Bolton, the former undersecretary of state for disarmament, and a noted hard-liner on all matters North Korea, said the disclosures in the [Fox] story about North Korean intentions were “neither particularly sensitive nor all that surprising.” It involved the kind of information that could have been gleaned from reading stories in the South Korean press at the time, he noted.
Yet the government is insisting on prosecuting Kim--as with the other prosecutions of whistleblowers, all of whom are in the national security or intelligence agencies--to send a chilling message: If you make an unauthorized disclosure to the media--especially one that embarrasses the U.S. government, or worse, exposes its crimes--you will be hammered with a law meant to go after spies, not whistleblowers, and will face decades in prison.

Never mind that the biggest leaker is the U.S. government, which unleashes "authorized leaks" (an oxymoron) daily--leaks that make the government look good (think Zero Dark Thirty) or press the government's agenda (think yesterday's fear-mongering piece on cyber-espionage days before a draconian "cyber-security" bill is reintroduced in the House.)

Mr. Kim's alleged "leak" did not endanger intel agents or expose American spying methods. He neither intended to harm the U.S. or benefit a foreign nation (elements of the Espionage Act.) He is no Aldrich Ames or Robert P. Hanssen, who sold secrets to the Soviet Union. Rather, he is the classic Horatio Alger story, immigrating from Seoul, excelling academically, and spending his entire career serving the nation at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Defense Department and the State Department, focusing on North Korea’s weapons programs and briefing then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

But these espionage cases have everything to do with politics and nothing to do with justice. They are meant to chill speech and make an example of those who speak truth to power. It leaves defendants blacklisted, bankrupted and broken and smeared. It leaves journalists fearful of reporting sensitive stories (journalists appear in every single espionage indictment, even if they are not the defendant.) And these prosecutions serve as a backdoor way of creating an Official Secrets Act, which America has managed to live without for more than 200 years. The war on whistleblowers is more broadly a war on information, which is antithetical to a free and open democratic society.

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