Where is the espionage?

Edward Snowden is being charged by the Obama administration with espionage under the 1917 Espionage Act that was introduced to criminalize dissent against World War I. Up until the Obama administration, a grand total to three people had been charged under this act for leaking information, including Daniel Ellsberg. Obama alone has now prosecuted seven people. So according to Obama, we are now having an epidemic of spying, far more than during all the years of actual war and the Cold War combined.

Glenn Greenwald writes about how absurd the current charge is and how the goal really is to create a chilling effect on investigative journalism and exposure of government wrong doing.

For a politician who tried to convince Americans to elect him based on repeated pledges of unprecedented transparency and specific vows to protect “noble” and “patriotic” whistleblowers, is this unparalleled assault on those who enable investigative journalism remotely defensible? Recall that the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer said recently that this oppressive climate created by the Obama presidency has brought investigative journalism to a “standstill”, while James Goodale, the General Counsel for the New York Times during its battles with the Nixon administration, wrote last month in that paper that “President Obama will surely pass President Richard Nixon as the worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom.” Read what Mayer and Goodale wrote and ask yourself: is the Obama administration’s threat to the news-gathering process not a serious crisis at this point?

Few people – likely including Snowden himself – would contest that his actions constitute some sort of breach of the law. He made his choice based on basic theories of civil disobedience: that those who control the law have become corrupt, that the law in this case (by concealing the actions of government officials in building this massive spying apparatus in secret) is a tool of injustice, and that he felt compelled to act in violation of it in order to expose these official bad acts and enable debate and reform.

But that’s a far cry from charging Snowden, who just turned 30 yesterday, with multiple felonies under the Espionage Act that will send him to prison for decades if not life upon conviction. In what conceivable sense are Snowden’s actions “espionage”? He could have – but chose not – sold the information he had to a foreign intelligence service for vast sums of money, or covertly passed it to one of America’s enemies, or worked at the direction of a foreign government. That is espionage. He did none of those things.

In the eyes of the Obama administration, the biggest crime is revealing government wrongdoing.


  1. says

    the biggest crime is revealing government wrongdoing

    I always figured that the emperor had that kid who pointed out he was naked boiled in oil. The tailors were given a promotion and told not to talk about the incident.

  2. says

    I found this to be the most cutting remark:

    The “enemy” they’re seeking to keep ignorant with selective and excessive leak prosecutions are not The Terrorists or T

  3. ema says

    So now passing classified information to the Chinese represents a little civil disobedience booboo? Just because occasional useful idiots like Greenwald are charismatic doesn’t mean their work shouldn’t be scrutinized.

  4. Mano Singham says

    You think Greenwald is charismatic? I have never thought so. What I do find is that he is articulate and smart, with an almost encyclopedic recall of facts, which is what makes him a formidable debater.

    Charisma is an over-rated quality in public affairs. Good for getting votes, but not so good for most other things.

  5. says

    Up until the Obama administration, a grand total to three people had been charged under this act, including Daniel Ellsberg.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Among those who have been charged with offenses under the Act are German-American socialist congressman and newspaper editor Victor Berger, former Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society president Joseph Franklin Rutherford, communists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg,…”

    I’m counting five right there without even looking into the article. Am I missing something?

  6. Mano Singham says

    No you are not. I should have clarified that the numbers refer to people who have been charged under the Espionage Act with leaking information as whistleblowers. I have corrected the post accordingly.

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