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Bradley Manning and leaks to news media: Is US pursuit too hot? (+video)

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Of the seven individuals prosecuted during Mr. Obama’s tenure, three have gone to jail. (Two other cases are pending, charges were dropped in Drake's, and Snowden – who this spring gave certain newspapers classified documents about secret NSA surveillance programs that he claims are illegal – is not in US custody.)

More indictments may lie ahead. Retired Gen. James Cartwright – until August 2011 the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – in June was served a “target letter” indicating he is being investigated for leaking to the media details of a secret cyberweapon program, NBC News reported.

Defenders of the administration’s approach say the government has a right and a duty to plug leaks and to pursue leakers.

“If someone morally disagrees with the policy of government and unilaterally reveals a secret just because they believe it to be morally wrong, that puts our government on an unstable or anarchic path,” says Rahul Sagar, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University and the author of the forthcoming book “Secrets and Leaks: the Dilemma of State Secrecy.”

“If someone can just break regulations whenever they don’t like them, then what’s the point of having regulations,” he adds. “OK, I don’t like nuclear weapons, so I’ll reveal their locations. I don’t like the president’s Air Force One, so I’ll reveal its flight itinerary. Government can’t tolerate this. You try to change the law. You don’t just break the law.”

Behind the Obama team’s toughened stance toward leakers, say experts on both sides, are three key developments. One is the advent of mass leaks of classified information, made possible by digital technology. Another is better tools for tracking down those who leak. And the third is an overheated political environment that, coupled with overclassification of documents as secret, makes it difficult for the administration to use a softer touch. 

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