The nearing trial of Thomas Drake is pulling the Obama administration’s investigation of espionage into a sharp spotlight. The New Yorker’s compelling profile of Drake revealed that the administration has filed Espionage Act charges in more leak cases than in the previous administrations combined. That may come as a shock to those who voted to elect a man who promised to lift up whistle-blowers as heroes.
But is Obama’s track record with espionage trials just a product of the climate he finds himself in? Global terrorist networks, multiple wars, and a digital-information system ever outpacing itself have injected the business of secret-keeping and -passing with steroids. President Kennedy certainly never had a WikiLeaks scandal to deal with.
But circumstance, it seems, is only part of the picture. Mark Zaid, a Washington attorney with a history of defending whistle-blowers, says that the Obama administration has used the latest technology to ramp up the executive-branch aggression that began under George W. Bush. According to Zaid, only two things hold the administration back from pursuing a case: The fear that a trial will release more damaging information or the lack of evidence to sustain a conviction.
We survey the past 10 whistle-blower cases and reveal a boundary on the verge of being breached: Charging citizens for sharing unclassified information.