The Whistleblowers of Oz

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This past summer, a federal judge unsealed grand jury transcripts from a 1942 investigation of the Chicago Tribune for violating the Espionage Act.

The investigation was in response to a front page article about America’s victory at the Battle of Midway — in which the Tribune leaked one of the biggest secrets of World War 2: US codebreakers (from the precursor to the NSA) had broken Japan’s code.

The article leaking the US military secret was headlined “Navy Had Word of Jap Plan To Strike At Sea” — it ran the same day the US victory at Midway was reported, and was republished in the Tribune’s sister publications, The New York Daily News and the Washington Times-Herald.

The article began,

The strength of the Japanese forces with which the American navy is battling somewhere west of Midway Island in what is believed to be the greatest naval battle of the war, was well known in American naval circles several days before the battle began, reliable sources in the naval intelligence disclosed here tonight.

FDR’s Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, was furious, of course. Knox asked the attorney general, Francis Biddle, to charge the Tribune’s reporter who leaked the story, Stanley Johnston, under the Espionage Act—which could carry the death penalty. And to investigate whether the paper’s managing editor—and therefore the corporation, and its publisher––could be held criminally liable.

It was the last time the federal government tried to charge a newspaper or journalist with treason for leaking, though many have contemplated it since — most recently when the Bush Administration announced it was looking into   charging the New York Times under the Espionage Act for leaking the NSA warrantless wiretap story that was revived a few years ago with Edward Snowden’s leaks…

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Assange Champions Role of Wikileaks, WordPress for Free Press During Call with Whistleblowers

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Two of Bradley Manning‘s most vocal supporters participated in a call with reporters today to champion the rights of journalists and the public to a free and open press as closing arguments wound down in the Wikileaks case of U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning at Fort Meade.

Julian Assange and Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who shared more than 7,000 pages of classified material that became known as the Pentagon Papers, joined Assange’s lawyer Barry Pollack to put the Manning case, the Edward Snowden situation and what they describe as the Obama Administration’s attack on journalism in perspective, repeating the calls made a few weeks ago.

Pollack cited the latest blow coming from a recent federal appeals court ruling ordering The New York Times reporter James Risen to testify against his government source—charges Assange said imply that journalists are “aiding and abetting” whistleblowers simply by publishing their material.

What all of these whistleblowers have in common–going back to Ellsberg’s case in the 1970s–is that the government believes that publishing truthful information has become a crime, in these cases. Because internet publishers such as Wikileaks, WordPress and even ProPublica, which specializes in investigative journalism, are available online coverage can now be read and disseminated more quickly.

The number of cases charging whistleblowers under the Espionage Act has increased from three prior to President Obama taking office to seven during the president’s administration alone, a point that Assange and others on the call repeated frequently as a cause for alarm.

While Assange doesn’t believe that developments in technology played any role in the increase in cases (perhaps a bit in the case of Snowden and Manning, he admitted), social media had some role in making Manning’s plight more widely known.

Manning has surely benefited from the wide support generated online through the Bradley Manning Support Network, which is comprised of an active Twitter, Facebook and web presence.

And to Assange and Ellsberg’s point today, reporters, especially those covering national security issues, are coming under increasing attack. They cited the Bradley Manning trial itself, where Charlie Savage of The New York Times (@Charlie_Savage) said through a tweet that armed guards peered over the shoulders of reporters in the coutroom, monitoring what was on their screens and editing what they could Tweet about.

Other reporters have tweeted extensively from the trial—which Ellsberg said is being streamed online –writing about the way media are being treated. One reporter was even barred from the proceedings, information shared across social media. Wikileaks even has a reporter covering the trial.

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