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.”