Only ten people in American history have been charged with espionage for leaking classified information, seven of them under Barack Obama. The effect of the charge on a person's life – being viewed as a traitor, being shunned by family and friends, incurring massive legal bills – is all a part of the plan to force the whistleblower into personal ruin, to weaken him to the point where he will plead guilty to just about anything to make the case go away. I know. The three espionage charges against me made me one of "the Obama Seven".
In early 2012, I was arrested and charged with three counts of espionage and one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA). (I was only the second person in US history to be charged with violating the IIPA, a law that was written to be used against rogues like Philip Agee.)
Two of my espionage charges were the result of a conversation I had with a New York Times reporter about torture. I gave him no classified information – only the business card of a former CIA colleague who had never been undercover. The other espionage charge was for giving the same unclassified business card to a reporter for ABC News. All three espionage charges were eventually dropped.
So, why charge me in the first place?
It was my punishment for blowing the whistle on the CIA's torture program and for confirming to the press, despite government protestations to the contrary, that the US government was, indeed, in the business of torture.
~ from Obama's Abuse of the Espionage Act Is Modern-Day McCarthyism by John Kiriakou ~
In talking to people age 40 and younger, I'm often amazed that few of them know much of anything about former President Richard M. Nixon and the Watergate scandal. Heck, many of them are unaware that, in fact, Nixon served as US President! This has led me to wonder about the state of the teaching of history in schools. If we, as a nation, don't understand our shared history, we are bound to repeat it.
Though I was not alive during the vast majority of the Red Scare of the 1950s -- I was born in 1957 -- I have studied a lot about the period known as McCarthyism. If you are unfamiliar with this period, here's a brief introduction from Wikipedia.
McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. It also means "the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism." The term has its origins in the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from 1950 to 1956 and characterized by heightened fears of communist influence on American institutions and espionage by Soviet agents. Originally coined to criticize the anti-communist pursuits of Republican U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, "McCarthyism" soon took on a broader meaning, describing the excesses of similar efforts. The term is also now used more generally to describe reckless, unsubstantiated accusations, as well as demagogic attacks on the character or patriotism of political adversaries.
During the McCarthy era, thousands of Americans were accused of being communists or communist sympathizers and became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before government or private-industry panels, committees and agencies. The primary targets of such suspicions were government employees, those in the entertainment industry, educators and union activists. Suspicions were often given credence despite inconclusive or questionable evidence, and the level of threat posed by a person's real or supposed leftist associations or beliefs was often greatly exaggerated. Many people suffered loss of employment and/or destruction of their careers; some even suffered imprisonment.
Sadly, I think Kiriakou's charge is right on target. The President, members of his administration and key supporters are treating whistleblowers the same way McCarthy treated "suspected" communists. They certainly are trying to ruin the lives of anyone who makes them look bad and by "look bad" I mean anyone who exposes their reckless and potentially criminal actions.
And let's be clear. Neither Kiriakou, Manning or Snowden was involved in the act of espionage. They weren't spying for a foreign government and they certainly didn't do what they did for money. No, they acted out of conscience -- something that supposedly is protected by law. But none of this matters to those who hold the reigns of power. The political elite want to do whatever they want to do and they don't want the rest of us to know about it!
Anyone who has the temerity to stand up against them will pay dearly, even if it means twisting the Espionage Act into a pretzel.