Armed with the vague language of the Espionage Act, which is ‘extremely difficult’ to defend against, the Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any other president

Under President Barack Obama’s administration, intelligence workers who leak information to the public are likely to be tried under the Espionage Act of 1917, “a broad, vague charge not easily defended against.” (Photo: Brave New Films/POGO)

The U.S. government is not doing enough to protect national security whistleblowers, leaving those who expose corruption vulnerable to prosecution, undermining valuable information exchange for journalists and the public, and allowing government abuse to run rampant, a new report by a free speech advocacy group published Tuesday has found.

In its report, Secret Sources: Whistleblowers, National Security, and Free Expression (pdf), PEN American Center analyzed government policies and discovered while there are “at least 57 U.S. federal laws with whistleblower or witness protection provisions,” these laws “are not consistent” in terms of who they apply to and protect.

Moreover, public debate over high-profile leaks—such as the National Security Agency (NSA) files released in 2013 by former contractor Edward Snowden—is stymied by policymakers and public officials who claim whistleblower protections are stronger than they really are, as Hillary Clinton did during the Democratic presidential debate in October, when she stated of Snowden that he “could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he has raised. And I think there would have been a positive response to that.”

But the report—and the government’s own track record—proves otherwise.

“As a government contractor, Snowden had few, if any protections under whistleblower provisions compared to intelligence employees who are hired directly by the U.S. government,” the report states.

Under President Barack Obama’s administration, intelligence workers who leak information to the public are likely to be tried under the Espionage Act of 1917, the same law that was used to prosecute whistleblowers including Chelsea Manning, Jeffrey Sterling, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, Shamai Leibowitz, James Hitselberger, and Donald Sachtleben. Snowden also faces charges under the Espionage Act if he returns home.

READ MORE