Bradley Manning Conviction and the Future of National Security Whistleblowers

Bradley Manning’s recent conviction of 19 criminal charges including six charges of espionage is a partial victory for the Obama Administration’s campaign to suppress national security whistleblowers who, as acts of conscience, leak classified information revealing government crimes. However, Bradley Manning’s acquittal on the charge of ‘aiding the enemy’ constitutes “a setback for the Obama administration’s aggressive prosecution of leaks,” according to a recent MSNBC article. As explained in a statement by the National Whistleblowers Center:

It was wrong for the government to charge Mr. Manning with the offense of 'aiding the enemy.' Mr. Manning pleaded guilty to lesser offenses related to his disclosure of classified information.  That should have ended the case.  Charging a whistleblower with the crime of 'aiding the enemy,' simply because the whistleblower provided information to the news media, was wrong and was designed to improperly scare other citizens into silence. The court's refusal to convict on this count was well supported by the evidence and consistent with the First Amendment. Courts are required to balance the public right to know with the government's interest in secrecy.

As reported by MSNBC, “Under President Obama, the Department of Justice has charged more leakers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. Journalists and advocates for whistleblowers are increasingly concerned about the administration’s unprecedented pursuit of leakers.” However, although the Obama Administration’s aggressive stance against whistleblowers will deter many potential national security whistleblowers, the systemic problem of largely ineffectual options for national security whistleblowers makes future Bradley Mannings inevitable. The situation is framed by Executive Director Stephen Kohn of the National Whistleblowers Center in the same MSNBC article as follows:

On one hand, you see an employee or soldier who learns about what they think are significant crimes, and the other hand, no effective channel to raise those concerns in which they’ll be protected and properly investigated….Until there is a workable whistleblower law that creates a safe and effective channel for national security and intelligence whistleblowers, we’re going to see a repeat of the Snowden and Manning cases.



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