Second whistleblower identified?

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.


  1. Chiroptera says

    And, hey!, if they have identified this other leaker, they now have the opportunity to show Snowden just how overblown his fears about returning to the US really are!

  2. says

    leaking him information about a covert effort to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program

    Can you imagine the shitstorm that would ensue if, say, China tried to disrupt the US’ nuclear program?

  3. Dunc says

    I believe that would probably be termed an “act of war”…

    As for why it’s taken so long to identify this whistleblower, I suppose a lack of enthusiasm due to criticism is possible, but the cynic in me can’t help but suspect that that’s just a cover for not wanting to admit that they had a lot of trouble finding him. I would expect whistleblowers in this area to be well aware of the need to protect themselves from detection, and also to have a pretty good idea of exactly how to go about that.

  4. Mano Singham says

    It may also be that this puts the government in a quandary.

    If they treat this whistleblower by charging him under the Espionage Act, keep him in solitary confinement, and not allow him to make a public defense at an open trial, that would vindicate Snowden’s claim that he would not get a fair trial.

    If they give this whistleblower a fair trial in an open court, they might be forced to admit that all their claims of threats to national security were overblown.

  5. Chiroptera says

    Another possibility is that the investigators didn’t want to act too soon for fear that any accomplices or other independent leakers would burrow deeper, begin hiding their tracks, or remove themselves to a safer position before they could be identified and caught themselves.

  6. lorn says

    To understand what is going on it is important to remember that a whole lot of government is beyond any administration’s effective control. There is an entire second government functioning without any substantial oversight or control. This second government tells the current administration only what it needs to know and in a way that stacks the deck to allow only very limited choices.

    A whistleblower represents a breach in the wall between this second government and the elected government and people. Which is why they get treated so poorly. As long as the administration willingly takes the blame instead of airing the dirty laundry that there are parts for government that Obama can’t effectively change or control, a move that would be pounced upon as weakness by the GOP, this second government is in no great danger.

    Of course, the general trend is that the Obama administration is so open that it is allowing huge swaths of the security apparatus to be dragged into the sunlight. Yes, to pedestrians it makes the administration look less open but these are programs that were started as options on think tank study fifty or more years ago and have steadily grown in the dark ever since. All while supposedly more open administrations did nothing to highlight the things they couldn’t change without blowing up the system. It is one thing to have no control. Another entirely to deny that which you don’t have control over even exists.

    The NSA, and other agencies, didn’t just recently start trying to monitor essentially everything electronic.

    Nor was that program the first. The origins of that program has its roots in wide spectrum signal intelligence dating back to the 60s and the much more limited signals intelligence going back to WW2.

    The same is true of the various detainment/ interrogation/ torture/ information extraction methodologies going back to the Korean war for the ham-handed worse of it, and back to British intelligence gathering through monitoring of German prisoners in WW2.

    Yes, all of this is new to most of the American public and a good part of these programs have been reported in very distorted form in various conspiracy theory sites and unreliable alternative news sources, some of which were clearly being used to discredit any real exposure of these programs, but none of this is new.

  7. says

    I believe that would probably be termed an “act of war”…

    I did a talk at RSA last year in which I mapped international humanitarian law to ‘cyberwar’ – with predictable results. Since virtually everything ‘cyber’ touches civilian infrastructure, at the very least, it ought to be off-limits. Based on the principle that you are engaging in an act of war when you attack another nation’s population or infrastructure, one could easily argue (and I did) that virtually any state-sponsored cyber-attack is an act of war. Additionally, conflict involving ‘natural powers’ (nuclear anything, power plants, dams, oil wells) are specifically banned under the Protocol 2 of the Geneva Conventions. I argued then that if it’s a “war crime” it has to be an “act of war” as well.

  8. says

    the Obama administration is so open

    It’s “leaky” not “open” – open would mean that as a matter of public policy it was offering information. Trickling it out by accident, to manipulate the public, or out of sheer incompetence is not “open”ness.

  9. sailor1031 says

    Well all those complicated hypotheses about why it took so long to find this leaker may be correct but Ockham’s razor suggests we should not discount government incompetence. After all they haven’t shown us much so far

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