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6 Brave Govt. Whistleblowers Charged Under the Espionage Act by Obama's Administration

The Espionage Act had only been used three times in its history to try government officials accused of leaking classified information — until the Obama administration came along.

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A military judge ruled earlier this month that for Manning to be convicted under the Espionage Act, the prosecution  would have to prove that Manning had “reason to believe” that the files could be used to harm the U.S. or to aid a foreign power. Manning said during his February confession that he thought carefully about the information he was releasing, and felt nothing he leaked could be used to harm the U.S.

6. Jeffrey Sterling

Jeffrey Sterling, a former-CIA officer,  pleaded not guilty to the charge that he leaked information about a U.S. plan to sabotage Iran’s nuclear operations to Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist James Risen for his book State of War. The book had a chapter on  a botched operation to derail Iran’s nuclear ambitions through sabotage, and the Justice Department charged that Sterling had been Risen’s source.

Risen recounts how, in the early 2000s, the CIA sent a Russian nuclear scientist to Iran to leak flawed plans for a nuclear bomb-triggering device in an attempt to set back the country’s efforts to develop a bomb. But the flaw in the bomb plans was so obvious that the Russian scientist spotted it immediately — the scientist then told the Iranians that there was an obvious flaw in the plans so that they would take him seriously. Risen’s source felt the Iranians likely were able to learn from the parts of the plans that weren’t flawed, and that the operation, intended as sabotage, may have in fact brought Iran closer to developing a nuclear weapon.

The CIA had suspected Sterling of leaking information to Risen since 2002, when Risen wrote an article about the effect racial discrimination had on Sterling’s career. In the article, Sterling said he had repeatedly been passed over for advancement because he is black — a superior once told him he was not an ideal spy because “you kind of stick out as a big black guy.”  Sterling sued the CIA for racial discrimination in 2000.

After his arrest, Sterling maintained his innocence, and Risen refused to reveal his confidential sources for his book, citing the first amendment in a lengthy  affidavit. As of summer 2012, the Justice Department says it has  effectively terminated the case.

Lauren Feeney is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and multimedia journalist.
 
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