United States military whistleblower Chelsea Manning was convicted of offenses related to her disclosures to WikiLeaks one year ago. In this time, Manning’s case has become a clear example to future whistleblowers of what the US government will do to military officers or federal government employees, who follow their conscience. And her case seems to have only emboldened President Barack Obama and his administration to continue to wage a war to control information that includes a clampdown on leaks, a campaign against national security whistleblowers and a concerted attack on press freedom.
Manning was convicted of five Espionage Act offenses. The military prosecuted her as if she had committed strict liability crimes, which is how the Justice Department had pursued previous leak prosecutions.
According to Nancy Hollander, one of the defense attorneys who is working on appealing her convictions, “It is frightening that the Espionage Act has essentially become a strict liability crime, that intent required is the intent to disclose and we simply cannot let that continue.” And, “the lack of criminal intent is frankly horrifying to me as a lawyer, that Chelsea was convicted and is going to spend 35 years in jail without any burden on the government whatsoever to prove that she intended or had reason to believe that this disclosure would harm the United States or advantage a foreign government.”
Hollander contends the Justice Department must stop using the Espionage Act in the way it is being used if there is to be any freedom of speech or First Amendment in this country. But Manning’s case and how the Espionage Act was employed has not discouraged the Justice Department from using the World War 1-era law intended for spies against leakers.
James Hitselberger, a former Navy linguist, was charged with multiple Espionage Act offenses for a lapse in judgment, which involved taking classified documents related to Bahrain, which he had clearance to read, outside of his living quarters without proper authorization. In April, Hitselberger chose to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of “removing classified documents without authorization.” As Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News pointed out, “the progression” of Hitselberger’s case was similar to the prosecution of NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, where ten felony counts, including Espionage Act charges, “gave way to a technical misdemeanor” of exceeding authorized use of a government computer.
State Department contractor Stephen Jin-Woo Kim disclosed information on the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program to Fox News reporter James Rosen. Kim was charged with violating the Espionage Act (and making false statements), and the Justice Department used a potential 10-year sentence to pressure Kim into not taking the case to trial. And, in February, he essentially chose to plead guilty to the Espionage Act charge if his prison sentence would not exceed 13 months in jail.