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(Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors are increasingly seizing on an anti-espionage law to pursue Americans suspected of divulging government secrets to the press, a major shift in the use of a 1917 law that was designed to stop leaks to America's enemies.
Nine times in U.S. history, all of them since 1971, federal prosecutors have brought charges under the Espionage Act for disclosing information to a newspaper, blog, book or other media outlet. Six cases occurred in the last eight years.
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden faces the same threat after admitting to leaking secret U.S. surveillance documents to Britain's Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post.
Here are the previous nine cases.
Daniel Ellsberg became the first case in 1971, when prosecutors accused the national security analyst and his colleague Anthony Russo of providing what would become known as the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other media outlets. The secret documents revealed the extent of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Charges against the two men were dismissed when a judge found that the government had wiretapped Ellsberg, possibly illegally.
Samuel Morison, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, was charged in 1984 with illegally passing secret photographs of Soviet ships to a magazine, Jane's Defense Weekly. He pleaded not guilty, but a jury convicted him, making him the first person convicted under the Espionage Act for divulging secrets to the press. He was sentenced to two years in prison but paroled. President Bill Clinton pardoned him.
Lawrence Franklin, a Defense Department employee, was charged in 2005 with passing classified information about Iran to two pro-Israel lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. Franklin pleaded guilty and received a 12-year sentence. Eventually, after the government's case against Rosen and Weissman collapsed, a judge reduced Franklin's sentence to 10 months in a halfway house.
Shamai Leibowitz was an FBI translator when material that he heard while translating ended up on a blog. He reached an agreement with prosecutors before he was charged, and pleaded guilty in 2009 to one count of disclosing classified information. He was sentenced to 20 months in prison.
Former NSA official Thomas Drake was suspected in 2010 of revealing information about the agency's warrantless wiretapping program. He was indicted under the Espionage Act but said the only information he leaked was about waste in a NSA program, which he gave to the Baltimore Sun. The 10 felony counts were dropped when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and received no prison time.
Bradley Manning, an Army private first class, is on trial in a Maryland military court, accused of passing more than 700,000 classified files to WikiLeaks in the biggest leak of secret documents in U.S. history. Manning, who pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges in February, faces 21 additional counts including aiding the enemy and could get life in prison if convicted. The trial is expected to last through the summer.
Stephen Kim, a U.S. State Department contract analyst, divulged to a Fox News reporter what U.S. intelligence believed about how North Korea would respond to new sanctions. A grand jury indicted him in 2010 for disclosing defense information and making false statements, based in part on Fox News records the government seized without notice. He has pleaded not guilty and a trial date is possible in late 2013 or early 2014.
Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was charged in 2011 with illegally disclosing classified information about Iran to James Risen, a New York Times reporter, for his book "State of War." The case remains pending, as the government has tried unsuccessfully to force Risen to testify about his sources.
Former CIA officer John Kiriakou was charged in 2012 with divulging to journalists secret information about the CIA's interrogation program, including the identity of a covert officer. In an agreement with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to one count and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. He started serving the sentence in February.
Reporting by David Ingram in Washington and Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Howard Goller and Lisa Shumaker