According to an October article on Bloomberg.com, the Obama administration has charged more people under the 1917 Espionage Act than all the other presidents since its inception. Six times has the administration sought this type of indictment, while previously the act had only been applied to three other cases.
Now, at least two of those preceding instances were pretty nasty ones that had dealt with government workers selling secrets to a foreign country. CIA operative Aldrich Ames and former FBI Special Agent Robert Hanssen are examples of these, both justifiably prosecuted under the law for divulging classified — and potentially life-threatening — information to Russia.
Recent charges using the law have been quite different. None of the men revealed “secrets” to an unfriendly foreign government. Instead, five of the six spoke to journalists. The last, Bradley Manning, disclosed documents to the online organization Wikileaks.
There’s a big difference to what these men unveiled. From waterboarding to wiretapping, those who have been charged seem to generally want to tell stories of governmental abuses. Monetary gain isn’t the primary motive for their actions. Instead, it seems, there is a quest for awareness of these perceived immoral or illegal acts.
Some of these cases have been resolved either through plea deals or charges being dropped. Still several remain active, leading “The Daily Show’s” John Stewart to say that the administration “believes in freedom of the press, just not freedom of speech for people who might talk to the press.”
In different states, certain protections have been enacted that safeguard an average employee’s constitutional right of free speech. Not so much though for those who work for the federal government.
It’s not necessarily that the laws aren’t on the books. The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 protects many federal workers from workplace retaliation for revealing wrongdoings. But members of the intelligence community, including the NSA, FBI and CIA, are all exempt from the law. An Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act does exist and provides an avenue for employees in these organizations to take their grievances to Congress. Yet at times, like in the case of NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, pleas for intervention are ignored, allowing for retribution from the agency in question.