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Not just Bradley Manning: His case spurs broader crackdown on leaks (+video)

Seven current or previous government officials or contractors, including Pfc. Bradley Manning, have been charged with espionage for leaking secrets since President Obama took office.

By Staff writer / July 30, 2013

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning wears handcuffs as he is escorted out of a courthouse after receiving a verdict in his court martial, in Fort Meade, Md., July 30. Manning is one of seven current or previous government officials or contractors to be charged with espionage for leaking secrets since President Obama took office.

Patrick Semansky/AP

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The case of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, convicted of stealing and then leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents, has spurred an unprecedented, governmentwide crackdown on leaks.

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Though acquitted of “aiding the enemy,” a charge that could have brought a life sentence, Manning was found guilty under the Espionage Act of six counts of stealing secret documents that he then delivered to the anti-secrets website WikiLeaks, which published them.

But long before Tuesday’s verdict, this case had made a major impact on government agencies and the Pentagon, which were given explicit orders by the White House to plug the leaks – and to investigate the identity of leakers and charge them as spies, close observers say.

In all, seven current or previous government officials or contractors have been charged with espionage for leaking secrets since President Obama took office –compared with three cases under all prior presidents.

“Manning is one of very few people ever charged under the Espionage Act prosecutions for leaks to the media,” says Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York. “The only other person who was convicted after trial was pardoned. Despite the lack of any evidence that he intended any harm to the United States, Manning faces decades in prison. That’s a very scary precedent.”

Overall, Manning leaked more than 700,000 documents and other material, including about a quarter million State Department diplomatic cables. Even so, the initial spate of leaks did not compromise intelligence sources or practices, though it might still cause damage to US security interests in the future, a 2010 Pentagon report concluded.

Whatever its future impact might be, Manning’s massive leak of secret documents has in the present catalyzed the Obama administration to act vigorously – some critics say harshly – to curb leaks of classified information as a matter of policy, several observers say.

“WikiLeaks was such a shock to the Obama administration that it triggered an intense reaction and determination to squelch future leaks,” says Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “Security officials were determined to prevent a breach of that scale from occurring again. Part of that was a new zero-tolerance policy toward leakers.”

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