New York Times reporter Charlie "it's all accidental" Savage reports on "the eighth leak-related prosecution under the Obama administration" complete with the usual government blather that this leak was "potentially devastating" to the security of the country:
“This prosecution demonstrates our deep resolve to hold accountable anyone who would violate their solemn duty to protect our nation’s secrets, and to prevent future, potentially devastating leaks by those who would wantonly ignore their obligations to safeguard classified information,” said Ronald C. Machen Jr., the United States attorney for the District of Columbia.(Side note: this hardly sounds like an "accidental path" to the war on whistleblowers).
In reality, as Marcy Wheeler so deftly explained, the real "outrage" over the AP story was that AP scooped the White House. In all Espionage Act prosecutions, the government has cried wolf about supposed damage to national security despite the fact that in the collapsed cases against National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake, none of the information he was accused of mishandling was actually classified, in the case against Chelsea Manning, the government failed to show any harm, and in the case against Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) whistleblower John Kiriakou, the charges were based on common knowledge in the journalistic and human rights communities.
The government is using this particular defendant's guilty plea as its after-the-fact justification for the unconstitutional and overzealous seizing of phone records for over 100 AP journalists - a seizure that led to such outrage from the press that DOJ revised its own guidelines for subpoenaing reporters' records.
The Justice Department said the phone records had proved crucial in identifying Mr. Sachtleben as a suspect. In a bizarre coincidence, investigators then discovered that other law enforcement officials had already seized his computer and other electronic materials in an unrelated child pornography investigation.While the distribution of child pornography is horrible disgusting conduct for which punishment is well deserved, it also serves as a convenient (for the government) distraction from the unconstitutional seizure of hundreds of AP journalists' phone records. Savage characterizes it as "bizarre coincidence" that the FBI already had the suspects computer, cell phone and electronic media, which the Justice Department was trying to obtain by rifling through journalists' phone records. The hard question journalists should be asking is why was it necessary to compromise the First Amendment rights of hundred of AP journalists to get a warrant to search information already in the government's possession.
“Sachtleben was identified as a suspect in the case of this unauthorized disclosure only after toll records for phone numbers related to the reporter were obtained through a subpoena and compared to other evidence collected during the leak investigation,” the Justice Department said. “This allowed investigators to obtain a search warrant authorizing a more exhaustive search of Sachtleben’s cellphone, computer and other electronic media, which were in the possession of federal investigators due to the child pornography investigation.”
The government will tout this plea deal as a victory, but the plea is 43 months for Espionage and 97 months for child pornography. Three and a half years for what the government calls a "potentially devastating leak" - a disclosure that the government repeated and expanded on a few days later. The Justice Department's consistent overreaching in casting Espionage Act defendants as the worst of the worst does not compare to their punishments of 3 1/2 years for Sachtleben, or 30 months for John Kiriakou or probation for Thomas Drake.
The government's less-than-credible claims about necessity aside, even the new proposed Reporter Shield law would not protect the AP journalists' phone records.The proposal has a gaping hole for national security reporting. It would exempt exactly the reporters who the Justice Department is attacking: the AP reporters and New York Times journalist Jim Risen (who the Justice Department is attempting to force to testify about his source).