Espionage Act, Patriot Act and Criminalization of Journalism

Former National Security Agency (NSA) computer contractor, and whistleblower du jour, Edward Snowden left Hong Kong on June 23 for Moscow. He is now seeking political asylum in either Iceland, Ecuador or Venezuela. Snowden has been charged with three felonies by the U.S. Department Of Justice after leaking NSA documents to two newspapers. The reports outline the agency’s daily collection of the phone records of American citizens.

Surveillance and SpyingTimes have certainly changed for modern whistleblowers. The 24-hour news cycle offered today by cable and satellite providers along with various laws have made investigative journalism a “do it at your own risk” occupation.

Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, along with their source “Deep Throat,” aka FBI agent Mark Felts, set the standard for journalism with their expose on the Watergate Scandal. Daniel Ellsburg, the former aide to Assistant Defense Secretary John McNaughton, copied and leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in February 1971. The Times, some 25 years later, said that government had lied so much about Vietnam that no rational journalist could ever take what they say as truth again. Snowden on the other hand is labeled a “traitor” by many in media, while Glenn Greenwald, the U.K. Guardian reporter who broke the instant story, was basically indicated as a co-conspirator by NBC’s David Gregory on “Meet The Press.”

Americans did not think much of legislation like the Patriot Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) when they were initially ratified or re-authorized by Congress and the White House. These statutes, along with the Espionage Act, now have Americans curious as to the direction the government is going.

Espionage Act of 1917

The Justice Department under President Barack Obama has now charged eight people (including Snowden) under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information, according to a report by FireDogLake.com. The law was enacted the same year the United States officially entered World War I. History.com says the Espionage Act, along with the Sedition Act, were passed to suppress anyone who “insulted” the U.S. government or interfered with the war effort in any way. Eugene Debs was one of the first Americans arrested under the Act, for making a speech in Canton, Ohio that was critical of the new laws. Debs was sentenced to ten years in prison, but the part of the law he was found guilty of was repealed in 1921, thus commuting his sentence. Every person charged under the current administration leaked information about secret government programs to journalists.

NDAA

The National Defense Authorization Act was quietly signed into law by President Obama on New Year’s Eve 2012, after the Senate overwhelmingly approved it by a vote of 93-7. The NDAA 2013 not only gives the White House the power to indefinitely detain Americans it “suspects” to be terrorists, but also gives the Pentagon authority to assassinate Americans. Many have speculated that Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings was assassinated under this program, according to MSN News. Hastings rose to prominence after his 2010 article led to the resignation/firing of U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal. A few hours before his Mercedes crashed and burst into flames on June 18, Hastings sent emails to colleagues referencing that he was working a “big story” and the FBI potentially was watching him. Theweek.com wrote that cars rarely burst into flames upon impact (especially well-built ones like Mercedes) without some kind of explosives being near the gas tank. The L.A. County Coroner’s Office said it may take until September to determine the cause of death.

Saga Continues for Snowden

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, yet another whistleblower in the crosshairs of the U.S. Justice Department, said his organization is assisting Snowden with his asylum requests and travels. It is unclear as of publishing which country will ultimately take in Snowden.

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flickr image by Fibonacci Blue

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The author, Robert Henderson, is a legal assistant from Plano, Texas.



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