When reports emerged back in August that there was at least one other whistleblower, motivated by Edward Snowden’s actions, who was revealing secrets to the investigative team at The Intercept that has broken most of the stories, I was sure that the government would put all its resources into identify and throw the book at them. I was surprised that so much time had passed without this happening, given the extensive nature of their surveillance apparatus.
Michael Isikoff reports today that they may have identified the person.
The FBI has identified an employee of a federal contracting firm suspected of being the so-called “second leaker” who turned over sensitive documents about the U.S. government’s terrorist watch list to a journalist closely associated with ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, according to law enforcement and intelligence sources who have been briefed on the case.
The FBI recently executed a search of the suspect’s home, and federal prosecutors in Northern Virginia have opened up a criminal investigation into the matter, the sources said.
Why did it take so long? Isikoff suggests that the government has been stung by the increasing criticism of its hardline stance against whistleblowers, with many calling it the most oppressive administration in history when it comes to attacking those seeking transparency and that this has taken the edge off its efforts at uncovering a potentially new high-profile case in which they would likely again come off looking bad.
But the case has also generated concerns among some within the U.S. intelligence community that top Justice Department officials — stung by criticism that they have been overzealous in pursuing leak cases — may now be more reluctant to bring criminal charges involving unauthorized disclosures to the news media, the sources said. One source, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said there was concern “there is no longer an appetite at Justice for these cases.”
Since September of last year, when a former FBI agent pleaded guilty to disclosing details about an al-Qaida bomb plot to the AP, the Justice Department has brought no further leak cases. Attorney General Eric Holder — who sources say was personally stung by the criticism — has also unveiled new “guidelines” that restrict how the Justice Department would seek information from the news media in leak cases.
Holder, who recently announced his plans to step down, also appeared to signal that he was eager to avoid further confrontations with the press when he was asked whether he would seek to incarcerate New York Times reporter James Risen if he refused to testify in an upcoming trial of a former CIA officer accused of leaking him information about a covert effort to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. Risen has vowed he will never testify about a confidential source.
“As long as I am attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job will go to jail,” Holder said at a meeting with news media representatives when asked about the Risen case.
It may be that now in the last days of his stay in office Holder is trying to salvage his reputation and not be seen as an ardent foe of journalists and truth-tellers.