Saturday, August 20, 2011

Whistleblower case plea deal not reassuring

This summer, federal prosecutors agreed to a deal with a whistleblower that avoided a trial (and public disclosure of information the government prefers to keep secret), but civil libertarians and journalists haven't been reassured that the Obama administration's zeal to vigorously stop leaks won't continue-- and have dire effects on transparency and on basic reporting.

Ex-National Security Agency official Thomas Drake (pictured above in a shot from the Government Accountability Project) was charged with violating the Espionage Act by giving classified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter, but he pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor. Drake's defense was that he was a whistleblower exposing waste in an NSA program after his superiors ignored his concerns.

Journalists are very sensitive to the case -- and the federal government's targeting whistleblowers -- because journalists by the nature of newsgathering could be interpreted as co-conspirators.

"Because reporters often retain unauthorized defense documents, Drake's conviction would estbalish a legal precedent making it possible to prosecute journalists," wrote Jane Mayer in The New Yorker magazine.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, predicted the administration will continue to pursue whistleblowers at intelligence agencies “very, very aggressively.”

For more coverage and context, check out Mayer's piece (, Scott Horton's piece in Harper's (, and Pete Yost's Associated Press story from Army Times (