WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors are increasingly seizing on an anti-espionage law to pursue Americans suspected of divulging government secrets to the press, a major shift in the use of a 1917 law that was designed to stop leaks to America’s enemies.
Eleven times in U.S. history, all of them since 1971, federal prosecutors have brought charges under the Espionage Act for disclosing information to a newspaper, blog or other media outlet. Eight of the cases have occurred since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.
At least one other leak investigation is ongoing: an inquiry into who told the New York Times about Stuxnet, a U.S. cyberoperation that targeted Iran’s nuclear program.
Here are the 11 cases.
Daniel Ellsberg became the first case in 1971, when prosecutors accused the national security analyst and his colleague Anthony Russo of providing what would become known as the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other media outlets. The secret documents revealed the extent of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Charges against the two men were dismissed when a judge found that the government had wiretapped Ellsberg, possibly illegally.
Samuel Morison, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, was charged in 1984 with illegally passing secret photographs of Soviet ships to a magazine, Jane’s Defence Weekly. He pleaded not guilty, but a jury convicted him, making him the first person convicted under the Espionage Act for divulging secrets to the press. He was sentenced to two years in prison but paroled. President Bill Clinton pardoned him.
Lawrence Franklin, a Defense Department employee, was charged in 2005 with passing classified information about Iran to two pro-Israel lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. Franklin pleaded guilty and received a 12-year sentence. Eventually, after the government’s case against Rosen and Weissman collapsed, a judge reduced Franklin’s sentence to 10 months in a halfway house.
Shamai Leibowitz was an FBI translator when material that he heard while translating ended up on a blog. He reached an agreement with prosecutors before he was charged, and pleaded guilty in 2009 to one count of disclosing classified information. He was sentenced to 20 months in prison.
Former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake was suspected in 2010 of revealing information about the agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. He was indicted under the Espionage Act but said the only information he leaked was about waste in an NSA program, which he gave to the Baltimore Sun. The 10 felony counts were dropped when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and received no prison time.
Chelsea Manning, an Army private first class formerly known as Bradley Manning, turned over more than 700,000 classified files to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks in the biggest breach of secret data in U.S. history. Manning was sentenced in August 2013 to 35 years in a military prison after being found guilty of 19 counts but acquitted of the most serious one, aiding the enemy. Manning has asked for a presidential pardon.
Stephen Kim, a U.S. State Department contract analyst, allegedly divulged to a Fox News reporter what U.S. intelligence believed about how North Korea would respond to new sanctions. A grand jury indicted him in 2010 for disclosing defense information and making false statements. He has pleaded not guilty and a trial is scheduled to begin in April 2014.
Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was charged in 2011 with illegally disclosing classified information about Iran to James Risen, a New York Times reporter, for his book “State of War.” The case remains pending, as the government has tried unsuccessfully to force Risen to testify about his sources.
Former CIA officer John Kiriakou was charged in 2012 with divulging to journalists secret information about the CIA’s interrogation program, including the identity of a covert officer. In an agreement with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to one count and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
U.S. officials said in June 2013 they had filed sealed criminal charges against former NSA contractor Edward Snowden for unauthorized leaks and theft of government property. Snowden prompted a worldwide debate after he gave documents to newspapers showing the extent of U.S. surveillance programs. Russia granted him asylum.
Former FBI bomb analyst Donald Sachtleben agreed in September 2013 to plead guilty to disclosing national defense information for telling an Associated Press reporter details of a failed airline bombing attempt by Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. His agreement with prosecutors recommends a prison sentence of three years and seven months for the leak, which would make it the longest yet in a civilian case and second only to Manning‘s.
Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Howard Goller and Eric Walsh