(MintPress) – John Kiriakou went to journalists with the identities of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers and their use of questionable interrogation techniques, including waterboarding – a simulated drowning technique that is illegal under international law. A former CIA officer himself, Kiriakou exposed the usage of the torture against al-Qaeda logistics chief, Abu Zubaydah. He also is alleged to have leaked classified information about the techniques used to capture Zubaydah.
As of January, none of the CIA officers involved in the alleged waterboarding faced charges for their use of torture. Kiriakou, however, could face decades in prison for exposing secretive truths. A federal criminal complaint charges Kiriakou with disclosing classified information to journalists under the Espionage Act.
Federal charges under the Espionage Act have drastically increased under President Barack Obama’s administration, as has criticisms against the trend. The New York Times has reported that since the inception of the Espionage Act in 1917, administrations prior to Obama used it three times to “bring cases against government officials accused of providing classified information to the media.”
Since Obama was elected into office, his administration has used the act six times to press charges, Kiriakou being the most recent.
Last week, ABC News White House correspondent Jake Tapper questioned a statement made by the Obama administration’s press secretary, Jay Carney. Carney began with a short remembrance for two journalists killed while reporting in Syria when he said the reporters sacrificed their life “in order to bring truth.”
Tapper was then quick to point out that the Obama administration often applauds when the truth is exposed overseas, however, is more often sending those that expose the truth in the United States to court.
“How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistle-blowers to court?” Tapper asked.
Whistleblowing was a sacred cow of sorts when Obama took office. In Obama’s online ethics agenda, the president outlines actions to protect whistleblowers by strengthening laws that protect federal whistleblowers who “expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government.”
“Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled,” Obama’s campaign website says. “We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance.”
Tapper said the charges against individuals who expose wrongdoings go against everything the Obama administration has stood for in protecting whistleblowers.
“I have been following all of these cases, and it’s not like they are instances of government employees leaking the location of secret nuclear sites,” Tapper said. “These are classic whistle-blower cases that dealt with questionable behavior by government officials or its agents acting in the name of protecting America.”
‘Official Secrets Act’
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg was charged with a felony crime under the Espionage Act for his role in the release of the Pentagon Papers – a series of documents that exposed the involvement of the U.S. in Vietnam. The New York Times said the release “demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance.”
In a 2010 interview, Ellsberg expressed his concern for the frequency of which the Obama administration was using the Espionage Act as a means to charge whistleblowers.
“I believe this administration is moving toward really using aggressively the Espionage Act as an Official Secrets Act in which case we’ll know even less than we do about the lies, the prolonged wars and getting us into wrongful wars,” Ellsberg said in an interview with Democracy Now!
The Official Secrets Act Ellsberg references in the interview speaks to legislation passed in other countries, particularly in the United Kingdom, that requires those dealing with sensitive government material to sign a statement saying they will abide by rules that forbid them from speaking about or releasing data deemed sensitive by the government. The act also makes it illegal for journalists to use sensitive government data they receive and publish or broadcast it in any way.
In the U.S., WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could be faced with an indictment after it was revealed in an email leak of global intelligence firm Stratfor that the U.S. had drawn up secret charges against Assange.
WikiLeaks released a press statement from its lawyers, saying, “Indicting Julian Assange would represent a dramatic assault on the First Amendment, journalists, and the public’s right to know.”
Ellsberg echoed similar sentiments in a 1971 interview by saying that the information released by so many indicted whistleblowers is simply data that the American public has a right to see.
“I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public,” Ellsberg said. “I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.”