This from Bloomberg:

Eric Holder, attorney general under President Barack Obama, has prosecuted more government officials for alleged leaks under the World War I-era Espionage Act than all his predecessors combined, including law-and-order Republicans John Mitchell, Edwin Meese and John Ashcroft.

The indictments of six individuals under that spy law have drawn criticism from those who say the president’s crackdown chills dissent, curtails a free press and betrays Obama’s initial promise to “usher in a new era of open government.”

“There’s a problem with prosecutions that don’t distinguish between bad people — people who spy for other governments, people who sell secrets for money — and people who are accused of having conversations and discussions,” said Abbe Lowell, attorney for Stephen J. Kim, an intelligence analyst charged under the Act.

Lowell, the Washington defense lawyer who has counted as his clients the likes of Jack Abramoff, the former Washington lobbyist, and political figures including former presidential candidate John Edwards, said the Obama administration is using the Espionage Act “like a club” against government employees accused of leaks.

The prosecutions, which Obama and the Justice Department have defended on national security grounds, mean that government officials who speak to the media can face financial and professional ruin as they spend years fighting for their reputations, and, in some cases, their freedom.

New Directive

The Justice Department said that there are established avenues for government employees to follow if they want to report misdeeds. The agency “does not target whistle-blowers in leak cases or any other cases,” Dean Boyd, a department spokesman, said.

“An individual in authorized possession of classified information has no authority or right to unilaterally determine that it should be made public or otherwise disclose it,” he said.

On Oct. 10, Obama issued a policy directive to executive- branch agencies extending whistle-blower protections to national security and intelligence employees, who weren’t included in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that passed the U.S. House last month and awaits Senate approval.

While the directive seeks to protect those workers from retaliation if they report waste, fraud or abuse through official channels, it “doesn’t include media representatives within the universe of people to whom the whistle-blower can make the disclosure,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center of Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. That still gives Obama the option of pursuing prosecutions of intelligence employees who talk to the press, she said.

‘Important Step’

“The directive is definitely an important step in the right direction, but even if it’s faithfully enforced — and that’s an open question — it may not always be enough,” Goitein said. “A whistle-blower’s report could go to the very people who are responsible for the misconduct.”

‘Chilling Message’

Administration officials are far less forgiving of those who conduct unauthorized contacts with the press.

“They want to destroy you personally,” said Thomas Drake, a senior National Security Agency employee prosecuted in 2010 by Obama’s Justice Department under the Espionage Act. The message to government workers seeking to expose waste, fraud and abuse is “see nothing, say nothing, don’t speak out — otherwise we’ll hammer you,” he said.

Drake faced 10 felony counts in connection to an allegation that he shared with classified information with a reporter. He was linked to a report in the Baltimore Sun about inefficiencies and cost over-runs in an NSA surveillance program that was later abandoned.

The case against Drake collapsed last year before trial after he agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, and the government dropped the more serious charges that could have sent him to jail for 35 years.

The prosecution was meant to “make me an object lesson and to send the most chilling message,” said Drake, who is adamant that he never handed over any classified information. “I was essentially bankrupted, blacklisted and blackballed. I was turned into damaged goods.”

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