FORTY years ago, The New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers, a seminal moment not only for freedom of the press but also for the role of whistle-blowers — like Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the papers to expose the mishandling of the war in Vietnam — in defending democracy. The US government is celebrating the release of the ‘Pentagon Papers’ on the Vietnam War as a sign of its openness. The truth, however, is that President Barack Obama has taken a much tougher line on whistle-blowers than his predecessors — despite courtroom setbacks.
Obama’s administration has pursued cases against five government leakers under espionage statutes, more than any of his recent predecessors.
Bradley E. Manning, an intelligence analyst, has been imprisoned in solitary confinement since May 2010 on suspicion of having passed classified data to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, is being investigated by the Justice Department. Thomas A. Drake, a former official at the National Security Agency, pleaded guilty Friday to a misdemeanor of misusing the agency’s computer system by providing information to a newspaper reporter.
Shamai Leibowitz, a former FBI interpreter was convicted in May 2010 to 20 months in prison for providing government information to a blogger. Two further whistle-blowers face prosecution: Stephen Kim, the former North Korea expert at the State Department, for allegedly having supplied state secrets to Fox News and former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling who stands accused of having provided information to author James Risen for his 2006 exposé “State of War.”
A 1989 law, the Whistle-blower Protection Act was supposed to protect federal employees who expose fraud and misconduct from retaliation. But over the years, these protections have been completely undermined. One loophole gives the government the absolute right to strip employees of their security clearances and fire them, without judicial review. Another bars employees of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency from any coverage under the law. And Congress has barred national security whistle-blowers who are fired for exposing wrongdoing from obtaining protection in federal court.