Reporters Without Borders

Freedom of information threatened by abuse of Espionage Act

Freedom of information threatened by abuse of Espionage Act

Published on Wednesday 22 May 2013.
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Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the frequency with which the Obama administration has reacted to leaks by bringing prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act.

Six whistleblowers have been prosecuted under this law since President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Previously, the Espionage Act had only been used three times in response to leaks: in 1973 (for the high-profile Pentagon Papers case during the Vietnam War), in 1985 and in 2005.

These witchhunts violate the principles of the First Amendment by directly impacting on the work of journalists, who are suspected of endangering the country’s security when in fact they are just doing what their job requires them to do.

“Today, President Obama said he did not believe journalists should be prosecuted for doing their job,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But there is still a complete contradiction between wanting to promote a federal shield law protecting the confidentiality of sources, which we fully support, and this conspiracy paranoia that makes the federal authorities spy on journalists in order to identify their sources.”

Four of the six cases against whistleblowers were initiated in 2010, most notably against Private Bradley Manning. The most recent prosecution, initiated in 2012, resulted in former CIA officer John Kiriakou being sentenced to 30 months in prison on 25 January for revealing details about the methods used by the agency to interrogate terrorism suspects.

“The U.S. public has a right to known how federal employees behave in situations in which respect for human rights is an issue,” Reporters Without Borders added.

Just days after the reports about the seizure of Associated Press phone records, the Washington Post revealed on 20 May that Fox News’ chief Washington correspondent James Rosen had been investigated in an “espionage” case.

The newspaper reported that the FBI obtained Rosen’s phone records, got access to his email and even extracted information about his movements from this State Department security badge in order to trace the source of a leak.

Without being formally charged, Rosen was named as possible “co-conspirator” in a 2010 case against State Department security adviser Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who is accused of leaking a classified report predicting that North Korea would respond to UN sanctions by testing a nuclear bomb.

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