The New York Times reports today on White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's dodge ball non-response to ABC's Jake Tapper on the hypocrisy of promoting an aggressive free press abroad while criminally prosecuting a record number of "leakers" a.k.a. sources a.k.a. whistleblowers in the U.S. under the Espionage Act, a World War I era law intended to go after spies, not whistleblowers. (I blogged about the exchange on Friday). The Times notes something important I've been saying all along, but that the MSM has been slow to recognize:
. . . the majority of the recent prosecutions seem to have everything to do with administrative secrecy and very little to do with national security.
In case after case, the Espionage Act has been deployed as a kind of ad hoc Official Secrets Act, which is not a law that has ever found traction in America, a place where the people’s right to know is viewed as superseding the government’s right to hide its business.
Tapper deserves credit for pushing the White House on the glaring hypocrisy of the self-proclaimed "most transparent administration in history" using the Espionage Act to criminally prosecute whistleblowers. The larger implications were not lost on the Times, which specifically referenced the now-failed Espionage Act case against my client, National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake:
These kinds of prosecutions can have ripples well beyond the immediate proceedings. Two reporters in Washington who work on national security issues said that the rulings had created a chilly environment between journalists and people who work at the various government agencies.
The attack on whistleblowers is an attack on the media.
And it’s worth pointing out that the administration’s emphasis on secrecy comes and goes depending on the news. . . . There is plenty of authorized leaking going on, but this particular boat leaks from the top. Leaks from the decks below, especially ones that might embarrass the administration, have been dealt with very differently.
If the Espionage Act prosecutions continue unbridled, all the media will be left to report will be Executive branch talking points carefully sanitized to remove anything embarrassing, much less government waste, fraud, abuse or illegality. Without sources from the "decks below," the American public will only know what the Executive wants them to know, hardly the informed populace intrinsic to democracies.
Tapper asked the hard-hitting question last week:
“How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistle-blowers to court?” . . . . He then suggested that the administration seemed to believe that “the truth should come out abroad; it shouldn’t come out here.”
Fair point. The Obama administration, which promised during its transition to power that it would enhance “whistle-blower laws to protect federal workers,” has been more prone than any administration in history in trying to silence and prosecute federal workers.
. . . . Jesselyn Radack, the director for national security and human rights at the Government Accountability Project, was one of the lawyers who represented him.
“The Obama administration has been quite hypocritical about its promises of openness, transparency and accountability,” she said. “All presidents hate leaks, but pursuing whistle-blowers as spies is heavy-handed and beyond the scope of the law.”
“I have been following all of these case[s], and it’s not like they are instances of government employees leaking the location of secret nuclear sites,” Mr. Tapper said.“These are classic whistle-blower cases that dealt with questionable behavior by government officials or its agents acting in the name of protecting America.”
Labeling whistleblowers as spies and traitors sends the message to all employees witnessing waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality in government that in the blowing the whistle, they not only risk choosing their conscience over their careers, now they risk choosing their conscience over their freedom.
Zach Toombs also reported on the exchange here:
Jesselyn Radack is the National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.