Obama turns WWI-era law against leakers

(By Deutsche Welle) During WWI, President Wilson signed off on the Espionage Act, in a bid to keep a lid on German spies in the US. But 96 years later, President Obama is using the act to aggressively prosecute leaks to the press.

The Obama administration has cracked down hard on national security leaks to the press over the past four years, dusting off the almost 100-year-old Espionage Act to pursue prosecutions against leakers in seven cases, twice the number of any other presidency combined.

At the end of last month, Bradley Manning became the first successful Espionage Act conviction under the Obama administration. Manning was WikiLeaks’ source for some 700,000 diplomatic cables and battlefield reports, the largest single leak of secret information in US history. Edward Snowden, who leaked several secret National Security Agency surveillance programs to the press, is the latest leaker to be charged under the act.

Signed into law in 1917, the Espionage Act criminalizes the transmission of defense information, which could cause injury to the US or give advantage to a foreign nation, to unauthorized people. According to Stephen I. Vladeck, an expert on national security law, the language of the act makes no distinction between old-fashioned espionage by foreign spies and whistle-blowing government abuse to the press.

“For better or worse, the Espionage Act is the American statute that best fits the crime of wrongfully disclosing national security information to someone who’s not entitled to receive it,” Vladeck told DW via email.

“Whether we’d call it leaking, whistle-blowing, or classic espionage, the statute treats all three as the same offense – and so the government understandably gravitates toward it in any case where it can,” he said.

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AP accuses Justice Department of ‘unprecedented intrusion’

(By Deutsche Welle) The US Department of Justice secretly seized two months of telephone records from the Associated Press (AP) in 2012. This comes amid a crackdown by the Obama administration on whistleblowers and leaks.

AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt has accused the Justice Department of infringing on the freedom of the press, after the department revealed that it had seized records from more than 20 separate AP phone lines.

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of telephone communications of the Associated Press and its reporters,” Pruitt wrote in a letter addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday (13.05.2013).

“These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to the AP’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” Pruitt went on to say.

The records seized by the Justice Department cover the period of April and May 2012, listing outgoing calls from the work and personal phone numbers of AP reporters. AP offices in New York, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Connecticut were affected by the records seizures.

It’s unclear whether the government also obtained records of incoming calls and how many journalists were affected, according to the AP. More than 100 journalists work in the offices where records were targeted.

Pruitt said the Justice Department informed the AP of the seizures in a letter received on Friday. But the notification came after the subpoena had already been issued and the phone records seized. That means the AP had no chance to challenge the Justice Department’s move.

“To be secretly seizing two months of phone records for reporters and editors at the AP is just a serious interference with First Amendment, freedom of the press, and constitutional rights that are enshrined in our constitution,” Jesselyn Radack, the national security and human rights director at the Government Accountability Project, told DW.

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