By MELISSA CASTILLO
On Sept. 25. President Obama gave a speech to the United Nations highlighting the importance of the First Amendment and encouraging those around the world to follow America’s approach to free speech.
“Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views – even views that we profoundly disagree with…. In other words, true democracy, real freedom is hard work. Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissidents,” Obama told world leaders.
Critics have praised the ideals he preached but haven’t ignored the fact that the government doesn’t always seem to share these beliefs. This is referring to the use of the Espionage Act in recent years to essentially attack sources that could be vital to a journalist doing their job, which is to show the truth.
The Espionage Act was created to punish any sort of clandestine activity in regards to national defense in order to protect the United States. The Obama Administration has broken a record with six prosecutions under this act. Previously there were only three with all administrations combined. Well, this is good. The country is being protected from enemies. But are they enemies?
The recent cases in the past few years derived from the fine line between “leakers” and “whistle-blowers.” Former Director of the Office of Public Affairs Matthew Miller posted an article on the Daily Beast titled, “Obama Is Right to Prosecute Leakers Who Are Not the Same as Whistle-Blowers.” In it, he tried to explain the difference.
“The difference between a leaker and a whistle-blower is important. Leaks of classified information can endanger American soldiers and intelligence officers and expose sensitive national-security programs to our enemies. Whistle-blowers expose violations of law, abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific threat to public health or safety,” Miller wrote.
Whistle-blowers are sources political journalists can go to for inside information for the sake of transparency in the government. Journalists and whistle-blowers have a common goal, to expose the truth, especially if it’s in the field of corruption. This of course excludes the corrupted journalists and whistle-blowers.
But like Paul Sullivan from The New York Times points out in his article, “The Price Whistle-Blowers Pay for Secrets,” those that choose to come forward have a lot to lose. This is especially the case now because of the reputation of the government in regards to dealing with the fine line between leakers and whistle-blowers.
For example, the first prosecution under the Espionage Act during the current administration was against a former senior executive of the U.S. National Security, Thomas Drake. He was a source for a Baltimore Sun article about a $1.2 billion NSA program called “Trailblazer.” Basically, he challenged waste, mismanagement and possible constitutional violations at the NSA.
This past year, Drake posted an article on the Daily Kos detailing his experience as “the first whistleblower prosecuted under the Espionage Act in recent government rampage.” On the same website, his lawyer and former ethics adviser to the Justice Department Jesselyn Radack also posted an article, “Newly-Released Documents Show Case Against Drake was Built on Sand.”
She stated during an interview: “It’s a way to create terrible precedent to go after journalists and a backdoor way to create an Official Secrets Act, which we have managed to live without in this country for more than 200 years. And I think it’s being done on the backs of whistleblowers.”
In the end, Drake’s case closed in a misdemeanor plea deal and he was awarded the 2011 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling.