The bipartisan war on whistleblowers

When it comes to covering up the abuses by the government’s military and security services, all political partisan divisions disappear and the two parties become as one in prosecuting those people who have the temerity to leak information. This has happened repeatedly with whistleblowers and the government’s weapon of choice is the Espionage Act, something that strips defendants of most of the legal protections they are normally have access to and makes getting convictions easier and punishments harsher.

Barack Obama was particularly vicious in his use of the Espionage Act, using it against whistleblowers even when what they did was not remotely what we normally consider espionage, since the people did not secretly give the information to foreign governments nor did they seek to monetarily benefit in any way. Edward Snowden has been threatened with prosecution under this Act if he ever returns to the US which is why he continues to live in Russia. Other whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning were also hit with this Act.

Jon Schwarz argued back in January that Biden should stop this abuse of the espionage Act.

BEFORE DONALD TRUMP began his run for president, there was a war against journalism in the United States. President George W. Bush used the Espionage Act and sought to jail reporters who refused to give up their sources, not to mention killing journalists in war zones. When President Barack Obama, a constitutional law scholar, came to power, he did so claiming that he and Joe Biden would represent the most transparent administration in history. But then reality set in. During his eight years in power, Obama’s Justice Department used the Espionage Act against whistleblowers more than all of Obama’s predecessors combined. They continued the Bush Justice Department’s war on journalists, including threatening to jail then-New York Times reporter James Risen if he did not testify against his alleged source.

In a clear effort to send chills through the government and as a warning to any would-be whistleblowers, Trump’s Justice Department went on a rampage using the Espionage Act… Winner accepted a plea agreement to one count of felony transmission of national defense information and was sentenced to five years, the longest prison term of any whistleblower convicted under the Espionage Act. It was an unconscionable act by a vindictive administration.

President Joe Biden has an opportunity to right some of these wrongs. He should publicly commit to ending the use of the Espionage Act against whistleblowers. Congress could also amend or repeal the act so that it cannot be used for such purposes. Biden should also take actions to end the persecution of Assange and return to the Obama-era position that Assange should not be prosecuted by the United States. “We thought it was a dangerous precedent to prosecute Assange for something that reporters do all the time,” said Matthew Miller, an Obama Justice Department spokesperson. “The Espionage Act doesn’t make any distinction between journalists and others, so if you can apply it to Assange, there’s no real reason you couldn’t apply it to [the New York Times].” Biden should immediately pardon Winner and secure her release from a coronavirus-infested prison. He also should drop the case against former intelligence contractor and war veteran Daniel Hale, who is facing trial under the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking documents on the U.S. drone and assassination programs.

But Biden continues the practice and Ryan Devereaux and Murtaza Hussain write about what happened with Hale.

DANIEL HALE, a former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst, was sentenced to 45 months in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to leaking a trove of government documents exposing the inner workings and severe civilian costs of the U.S. military’s drone program. Appearing in an Alexandria, Virginia, courtroom, the 33-year-old Hale told U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady that he believed it “was necessary to dispel the lie that drone warfare keeps us safe, that our lives are worth more than theirs.”

“I am here because I stole something that was never mine to take — precious human life,” Hale said. “I couldn’t keep living in a world in which people pretend that things weren’t happening that were. Please, your honor, forgive me for taking papers instead of human lives.”

Hale was indicted by a grand jury and arrested in 2019 on a series of counts related to the unauthorized disclosure of national defense and intelligence information and the theft of government property. In addition to documents related to how the government chooses its drone strike targets — and information detailing how often people who are not the intended targets of those strikes are nonetheless killed — Hale was also linked to the release of a secret, though unclassified, rulebook detailing how the U.S. government places individuals in its sprawling system of watchlists. Long shrouded in secrecy, the release of the rulebook has been celebrated by advocacy groups as a triumph of the post-9/11 era.

As has become standard practice in the U.S., Hale was charged under the Espionage Act, and he pleaded guilty to one count in March. (O’Grady dismissed the four remaining charges against Hale with prejudice on Tuesday, meaning those charges can’t be filed again.) Under the highly controversial 1917 law, defendants cannot point to their efforts to inform the public about government actions and operations as a defense for leaking classified information. President Barack Obama weaponized the anti-spying law as a tool to hammer government employees who were sources for national security stories, particularly those that were unflattering for the government. The Trump administration continued the practice and now, so too, has the Biden administration.

“In today’s sentencing, the court did reject the prosecution’s extreme demands, but Hale’s prison sentence is nonetheless another tragic example of how the government misuses the Espionage Act to punish alleged journalistic sources as spies, a practice that damages human rights, press freedom, and democracy,” Reed added in her statement.

Hale’s support team, in a statement following the sentencing, said: “everyone agrees #DanielHale is not a spy. He is a deeply honorable man who is being punished simply for acting on his conscience and telling the truth.”

Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden are all strong supporters of the national security state that will seek to punish anyone that exposes its abuses.


  1. beholder says

    Almost all of the so-called “free press” amplifies the interests and the voices of the oligarchy. They seem to throw whistleblowers under the bus as gleefully as the government does.

    Timely and somewhat related (not in the U.S., but almost certainly done by a craven ruling class in service of American empire), the former diplomat and anti-torture whistleblower Craig Murray lost his appeal to the U.K. supreme court and is headed to prison today.

  2. jrkrideau says

    @ 1 beholder
    Timely and somewhat related (not in the U.S., but almost certainly done by a craven ruling class in service of American empire),

    I disagree here. The Assange case seems clear but Craig’s case seems a determined effort by SNP powers to crush local, that is, Scottish dissent. The Supreme Court decision, which I found surprising, may be a case of BoZo and crew exerting pressure but in their own defence.

  3. mnb0 says

    The list of topics on which voting JoeB into the White House hasn’t made any difference becomes longer and longer rather quickly ……
    The question what difference JoeB has made for our world (I’ll admit that he has done some domestic window dressing) remains largely unanswered.

  4. beholder says

    @2 jrkrideau

    I figured it was ultimately political payback for Murray exposing, among other things, MI6’s complicity in using intelligence gathered through torture in Uzbekistan, provided to them by the CIA. He’s made more enemies since then, but this was what I was referring to by “in service of American empire”.

  5. Holms says

    #3 mnb0
    This has actually been specifically addressed in posts and comments to posts. You just never read them, or dismiss what you read as not meaningful enough to count.

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