U.S. Pursues Leak Crackdown

June 18th, 2011 at 8:55 am | No Comments |

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The New York Times reports:

Stephen J. Kim, an arms expert who immigrated from South Korea as a child, spent a decade briefing top government officials on the dangers posed by North Korea. Then last August he was charged with violating the Espionage Act — not by aiding some foreign adversary, but by revealing classified information to a Fox News reporter.

Mr. Kim’s case is next in line in the Obama administration’s unprecedented crackdown on leaks, after the crumbling last week of the case against a former National Security Agency official, Thomas A. Drake. Accused of giving secrets to The Baltimore Sun, Mr. Drake pleaded guilty to a minor charge and will serve no prison time and pay no fine.

The Justice Department shows no sign of rethinking its campaign to punish unauthorized disclosures to the news media, with five criminal cases so far under President Obama, compared with three under all previous presidents combined. This week, a grand jury in Virginia heard testimony in a continuing investigation of WikiLeaks, the antisecrecy group, a rare effort to prosecute those who publish secrets, rather than those who leak them.

The string of cases reflects a broad belief across two administrations and in both parties in Congress that leaks have gotten out of hand, endangering intelligence agents and exposing American spying methods.

But Steven Aftergood, director of the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said the fizzling of the Drake prosecution “ought to be a signal to the government to rethink its approach to these cases.” He said the government had many options for punishing leaks: stripping an official’s security clearance, firing him or pursuing a misdemeanor charge. Instead, it “has been leaping to the most extreme response, felony charges,” he said.

In particular, critics of the leak prosecutions question the appropriateness of using the Espionage Act, a World War I-era statute first applied to leaks in the Pentagon Papers case in 1971. They say it is misleading and unfair to lump the likes of Mr. Drake and Mr. Kim with traitors like Aldrich Ames or Robert P. Hanssen, who sold secrets to the Soviet Union.

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