When he was an attorney and U.S. senator, Barack Obama established a record of pushing for stronger protections for whistleblowers – generally defined as someone who tells the public or someone in authority about alleged improper or illegal activity being committed by a government agency or by government personnel.
In 2008, then-presidential candidate Obama “said he would strengthen whistleblower laws for federal workers,” the Tampa Bay Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning site, Politifact.com, has noted.
“Specifically,” continued Politifact’s J.B. Wogan, Obama pledged to “speed up the review process of whistleblower claims and grant whistleblowers full access to court and due process.”
It was a pledge that, Wogan said in July, Obama generally appears to have fulfilled.
“As of this writing, Obama has improved conditions for federal whistleblowers, but he hasn’t succeeded in getting larger, structural reforms passed through Congress,” he wrote.
If that is accurate, then how is it possible that Attorney General Eric Holder, Obama’s top Justice Department official, has prosecuted more whistleblowers during his tenure than all his predecessors combined?
‘There’s a problem with prosecutions that don’t distinguish between bad people’
In an extensive report recently, Bloomberg News said that Holder has launched more legal action against government employees for alleged leaks under provisions of the World War I-era Espionage Act than even “law-and-order Republicans John Mitchell, Edwin Meese and John Ashcroft.”
In all, Holder has indicted six people under that law, drawing a rash of criticism from a host of officials, including Washington, D.C.-area attorneys and other officials familiar with the law and the government’s traditional employment of it.
For one, they say the aggressive persecution by the administration not only chills dissent and curbs free speech, it undermines the whistleblower process and Obama’s initial pledge to “usher in a new era of open government.”
“There’s a problem with prosecutions that don’t distinguish between bad people — people who spy for other governments, people who sell secrets for money — and people who are accused of having conversations and discussions,” Abbe Lowell, attorney for Stephen J. Kim, an intelligence analyst charged under the Act, told Bloomberg.
Lowell, a high-powered D.C. lawyer, knows of what he speaks. His clientele has included Jack Abramoff, the former Washington lobbyist, and major political figures including one-time Democratic presidential contender John Edwards. He says the administration is using the Espionage Act “like a club” against government workers accused of leaking.
Obama and the Justice Department have defended the prosecutions on national security grounds (sound familiar?). But what they really mean is that “government officials who speak to the media can face financial and professional ruin as they spend years fighting for their reputations, and, in some cases, their freedom,” Bloomberg reported.
For Kim, his problems began in September 2009, when he was working as a contract analyst specializing in North Korea. He was visited by FBI agents at his office in the State Department and was questioned about contacts with a reporter regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Within a year, he was indicted by a grand jury on several counts of making false statements and disclosing classified information.
“To be accused of doing something against or harmful to U.S. national interest is something I can’t comprehend,” said Kim, 45, who has pleaded not guilty in court. He faces 15 years in prison if convicted.
“Your reputation is shot; there is such a sense of shame brought on the family,” he added.
Obama administration has itself been accused of releasing classified info
Kim is just one of five people who have been targeted by the Obama Justice Department for allegedly leaking classified information to the news media. The sixth case involves the Defense Department’s pursuit of U.S. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, who stands accused of sending documents to the WikiLeaks website.
Interestingly, the Obama administration itself has been accused of releasing classified information to various media outlets, which critics charge is part of a White House strategy of trying to burnish the president’s foreign policy credentials in an election season.
That includes “operational details of the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden and attempts to disrupt Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Bloomberg reported.
Those releases have also been criticized by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“Obama appointees, who are accountable to President Obama’s attorney general, should not be responsible for investigating leaks coming from the Obama White House,” he said in a speech at national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in July. “Who in the White House betrayed these secrets?”