After Bradley Manning Verdict: Time to Amend the Espionage Act of 1917?

Ever since Bradley Manning’s identity became known, and certainly before it, there has been a dynamic interplay between the definition of the whistleblower and the spy. How could an act written in 1917 possibly address or, rather, handle the complexity of a whistleblower of Manning’s scale and intent? The fact is that the Espionage Act of 1917 was never written with Bradley Manning in mind. Its goal was not to address whistleblowing at all, but the delivery of intelligence to foreign governments.

We must keep this in mind today as Manning was found not guilty of aiding the enemy, but found guilty of over a dozen other violations, including five related to the Espionage Act.

Now, it is one thing to create the legal mechanism to prosecute spies who deliver information to the enemy. But it is quite another to prosecute a soldier, or any American for that matter (journalists, for instance) for publishing documents that shine a light on shameful deeds. Manning wasn’t paid for his work by any foreign nation or agent. He wasn’t working on anyone’s behalf apart from his countrymen.

All of this is to say that the Espionage Act needs to be amended to make room for whistleblowers. Because, as it stands, any whistleblower is at the mercy of the law, and the President’s particular whistleblower policies.

Take Obama, for instance. His Justice Department has charged seven people (including Edward Snowden) with violating the Espionage Act for simply leaking information to the press. More cases in five years than George W. Bush managed to accumulate in his eight years in office. This from the man who heralded whistleblowers. Now, as the Sunlight Foundation recently pointed out, the Obama administration took the shady route of removing from his Change.org website any mention of the president’s 2008 call for whistleblower protections.

Read the rest over at Death and Taxes.

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