Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence

Should ‘He’ Flee? Whistleblowers Worry for New Drone Leaker

A notable leak to the press could result in prosecution.

Former U.S. drone operator Brandon Bryant, pictured, testified before a German parliamentary committee Thursday in Berlin. The Intercept did not say who provided the publication with classified documents on drone warfare.

National security whistleblowers and their supporters say whoever leaked a batch of classified documents about the U.S. government’s drone warfare efforts to The Intercept should brace for the fury of federal prosecutors.

The Intercept says articles it published Thursday are based on classified slides from 2011 through 2013 provided by an unnamed source who opposes the U.S. policy of using drones to assassinate suspected terrorists. Exiled whistleblower Edward Snowden worked as a government contractor until 2013, but the source of the drone documents is described as new by Intercept journalists.

The person or persons responsible for the leak — identified with a singular “he” in one of the news publication’s articles — could face decades behind bars if charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917, which bars defendants from telling jurors why they disclosed classified information.

The Espionage Act is a popular tool for Obama administration prosecutors, who have used the law in more prosecutions of journalist sources than all previous administrations combined.

“If they’ve shared documents like Edward Snowden, then they will come at them with the Espionage Act for sure if they’re classified,” says retired National Security Agency analyst William Binney.

Binney and other NSA veterans raised concern through official channels about privacy and waste at the NSA. Their homes later were raided by the FBI and a fellow critic then still with the NSA, Thomas Drake, was prosecuted for allegedly violating the Espionage Act in a case that fell apart before trial.

Drake ultimately pleaded guilty in 2011 to exceeding authorized use of an agency computer, a misdemeanor. Drake and Binney have supported Snowden’s decision to flee the country before journalists published his documents exposing mass surveillance, citing their own experiences.

Snowden himself cited their years-long struggle as a reason he relocated first to Hong Kong and then Russia — where he was stranded en route to Latin America when the State Department canceled his passport — rather than stay in the U.S.

(Click for full article on US News and World Report)