Late Friday, the Washington Post revealed that federal prosecutors have charged Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor behind a series of revelations about the agency’s intelligence-gathering operations, with espionage.
As a state senator, Barack Obama made a name for himself as a defender of whistleblowers. And during the 2008 campaign he pledged that his administration would protect those who speak out against government abuse, arguing that their "acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled."
But as president, Obama has aggressively prosecuted government officials who have disclosed classified information to the media, and has used the 1917 Espionage Act to pursue leakers more frequently than all previous presidents combined. Snowden, in fact, will be the seventh person indicted under the act during the Obama administration. Here’s a quick rundown of the men the Obama White House considers enemies of the state.
A former senior official at the NSA, Drake was indicted in 2010 by prosecutors for obstruction of justice and allegedly retaining classified documents for the purpose of providing them to Siobhan Gorman, a reporter at the Baltimore Sun who has since moved to the Wall Street Journal. According to the New Yorker, Drake thought the NSA had erred in choosing a group of outside contractors to develop a data-mining program that had been developed more cheaply and more effectively by William Binney, an analyst at the agency. Drake also believed that the agency had stripped away the privacy protections in the programs. He eventually reached an agreement with prosecutors under which he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
An FBI linguist, Leibowitz provided transcripts of wiretapped conversations between Israeli officials at their embassy in Washington to a blogger, Richard Silverstein. During his trial, prosecutors considered this information so sensitive that even the judge did not know what material Leibowitz had disclosed. According to Silverstein, Leibowitz was concerned about the influence Israel exercised on Capitol Hill and worried that Israel might strike Iranian nuclear facilities. After observing contacts between the embassy and members of Congress, Leibowitz thought Israeli efforts to influence American public opinion had crossed the line and leaked the transcripts. He was sentenced to 20 months in jail in 2010.
Stephen Jin-Woo Kim
A State Department analyst, Kim was indicted in 2010 for providing a classified intelligence report about North Korea’s response to an upcoming round of sanctions to James Rosen, a reporter for Fox News. Kim’s case made headlines again earlier this year when it was disclosed that Rosen had been named a co-conspirator in the case in order to gain access to his email account. Kim argues that his communication with Rosen was a normal part of interactions between officials and journalists in Washington. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial is ongoing.
Accused of providing thousands of diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, Manning, an Army private, has endured harsh treatment at the hands of his military jailers, who have reportedly subjected him to long stints in solitary confinement and forced him to remain naked in his cell. Manning’s alleged mistreatment have made him a cause célèbre among privacy rights activists, and his trial has become a focal point in the conflict over the Obama administration’s aggressive pursuit of leakers and whistleblowers. In 2011, military prosecutors added an additional set of charges in his case, and he is being prosecuted under both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Espionage Act. His trial is ongoing.
In his 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration, New York Times reporter James Risen detailed an episode in which the CIA sent a former Russian scientist to Iran with faulty plans in an effort to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program. But according to Risen’s account, that mission was botched and may have helped Iran advance its nuclear research. Federal prosecutors allege that Sterling, a former CIA agent, was the source for that account. Sterling has pleaded not guilty, and the Justice Department is currently appealing a series of evidentiary rulings.
A 14-year veteran of the CIA and a counterterror specialist, Kiriakou blew the whistle on the CIA’s use of waterboarding and, according to prosecutors, disclosed the identities of several CIA agents. An outspoken opponent of the agency’s interrogation tactics, he went on television in 2007 and described in detail the methods used to waterboard Abu Zubaydah, a member of al Qaeda currently detained at Guantánamo Bay. Kiriakou agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors, under the terms of which he is currently serving a 30-month prison sentence.
A former NSA contractor and the source for recent revelations about the agency’s top-secret surveillance programs, Snowden is charged with espionage and theft of government property. He has provided the Washington Post and the Guardian with a wide variety of documents detailing the NSA’s efforts to monitor Internet and telephone communications. Snowden is believed to be in Hong Kong, and U.S. officials have asked authorities there to extradite him.