The Obama administration’s targeting of journalists and their sources is an assault on the First Amendment, a former National Security Agency official and prominent whistleblower says.
“[R]eporters have shared with me privately that some of their most trusted sources within government are increasingly afraid to speak with them, even off-the-record, for fear that they will be monitored and surveilled,” Thomas Drake, a former senior executive of the National Security Agency and a whistleblower who was prosecuted by the Obama administration, told The Daily Caller in an exclusive interview.
“That’s self-censorship,” he said.
Drake explained to TheDC that he sees a “soft tyranny” enveloping the United States through the federal government’s targeting of journalists and their sources.
Such a fear of speaking to the press, he said, interferes with the freedom of association — recognized in the First Amendment as an essential component of free speech.
Reporters are then left with talking points and privileged access to government officials, he explained, all amounting to government propaganda.
Drake passed along unclassified information about wasteful spending on the development of the National Security Agency’s post-9/11 secret surveillance program. For that, he was singled out by the Obama administration for indictment and prosecution.
“We were the canaries in the coal mine,” Drake said.
Drake fought the charges leveled against him, which were ultimately dropped in 2011 in exchange for a guilty plea to a misdemeanor, but the damage was done.
“I became a criminal and was labeled an enemy of the state because I was calling out government wrongdoing and illegality,” he said.
When the Associated Press revealed that the Department of Justice was engaging in the secret surveillance of its journalists to find a source that leaked classified information about a confidential foreign espionage operation, Drake took to his Twitter account in a fury.
4all hypertwitterlating abt gov’t spying on AP. Wake up Amerika! Welcome 2 NatSec surveillance state! Just the tip. Whereya been past 10yrs?
— Thomas Drake (@Thomas_Drake1) May 14, 2013
The prosecution or targeting of journalists has been central to the government’s expanding investigations against leakers and whistleblowers who have disclosed embarrassing or confidential national security and foreign policy information.
“This takes openness and transparency and tips it on its head,” Drake told TheDC, speaking of the much-touted promise by President Obama to make his administration the most open and transparent in history.
“I guess it only applies when they get ticked off with news they don’t like,” he said, adding that the administration seems to apply its desire for openness and transparency only to the investigation of journalists and their sources.
“I’ve lived a future I don’t want the rest of the country to even begin to experience, and I’m a free man — I’m saying this as a free man,” said Drake.
Following the AP’s announcement that the DOJ has been targeting the wire service, Fox News revealed that Justice had targeted a journalist at its network.
The DOJ, Fox reported, invoked the Espionage Act to justify its investigation of Fox News reporter James Rosen. That law, signed by President Woodrow Wilson during World War I, was used against journalists only three times in all the presidential administrations between Wilson’s and Obama’s, according to a 2012 article by David Carr in The New York Times. Administrations have declined to use the Espionage Act even in cases such as the publication of global military plans by the fiercely isolationist Chicago Tribune just before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
By contrast, the Obama administration has used the Act six times in cases of information leaked to the media.
Obama’s history of suppressing the media has also included ostracizing Fox News and conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, who have taken a critical stance of the administration.
Coverage that exposed government wrongdoing or embarrassed the government was either opposed or demeaned as untruthful in many cases during the first four years of the administration, Drake said.
“This administration is evidencing what many would call very significant narcissistic tendencies,” Drake ventured, “meaning, when narcissists are confronted by themselves looking in the mirror, they want to smash the mirror.”
“It’s extremely uncomfortable to have to look at what you are actually doing,” he said, “and so they’re projecting, they project onto the source of what is making them look bad.”
The federal government has a responsibility to use the powers at its disposal responsibly, Drake said.
“And so using those levers of power to assault the First Amendment in such an egregious way,” he said, “I mean, I’m hoping that the AP files a lawsuit, I really do, because it just tries to cut at the very heart of what it means to have a free press.”
Tom Devine at the Government Accountability Project recently told TheDC that there is a civil war within the Obama administration between the national security bureaucracy, as he calls it, and those who want government transparency.
Drake said, however, that “their actual practices betray them,” contrasting the Obama administration’s pursuit of whistleblowers and journalists with its claims to value freedom of the press.