Obama signed both the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, expanding whistleblower protections, in November 2012, and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) furthering these protections in January 2013. His NDAA signing statement, however, undermines these protections, stating that those expanded protections “could be interpreted in a manner that would interfere with my authority to manage and direct executive branch officials.” Thus, in his signing statement, Obama promised to ignore expanded whistleblower protections if they conflicted with his power to “supervise, control, and correct employees’ communications with the Congress in cases where such communications would be unlawful or would reveal information that is properly privileged or otherwise confidential.”
Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the Obama administration is targeting government whistleblowers, having invoked the otherwise dormant Espionage Act of 1917 seven times. The Obama justice department has also used the Intelligence Identities Protection Act to obtain a conviction against Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) whistleblower John Kiriakou for exposing the waterboarding of prisoners, ironically making Kiriakou the first CIA official to be sentenced to prison in connection with the torture program. The justice department charged former National Security Agency senior executive Thomas Drake with espionage for exposing hundreds of millions of dollars of waste.
The highly visible prosecution of Bradley Manning has become what some may argue to be the most effective deterrent for government whistleblowers. Manning admitted to leaking troves of classified documents to WikiLeaks, but pleaded not guilty on counts of espionage.
Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Dana Liebelson, “Why Is Obama Bashing a Whistleblower Law He Already Signed?,” Mother Jones, January 10, 2013, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/01/obama-whistleblower-protections-signing-statement.
Glenn Greenwald, “Kiriakou and Stuxnet: The Danger of the Still-Escalating Obama Whistleblower War,” Guardian, January 27, 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/27/obama-war-on-whistleblowers-purpose?INTCMP=SRCH.
Paul Harris, “Barack Obama’s ‘Extreme’ Anti-Terror Tactics Face Liberal Backlash,” Guardian, February 9, 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/09/barack-obama-extreme-anti-terror-tactics-liberal-backlash?INTCMP=SRCH.
Ed Pilkington, “Bradley Manning Prosecution to Call Full Witness List Despite Guilty Plea,” Guardian, March 1, 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/01/bradley-manning-prosecution-guilty-plea.
Student Researchers: Shannon Polvino, William Scannapieco, Kathyrn La Juett, and Justin Lewis (State University of New York–Buffalo)
Faculty Evaluator: Michael I. Niman (State University of New York–Buffalo)