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Former contractor pleads guilty in leak case

Stephen Kim pleaded guilty to disclosing classified information.
The US State Department is seen in Washington, DC.
The US State Department is seen in Washington, DC.

Stephen Kim, the former State Department contractor charged with leaking classified information to a Fox News reporter, has pled guilty to disclosing classified documents and will serve 13 months in prison.

Kim's case drew national attention when it came out that the FBI had named Fox News reporter James Rosen as a possible "co-conspirator" in a search warrant. The outcry from media and civil liberties advocates after this revelation led Attorney General Eric Holder to issue new guidelines for investigating cases related to leaked information.

According to Stephen Kohn Executive Director of the National Whistleblowers Center, Friday's ruling will almost certainly have a chilling effect on government employees and contractors.

“I think the crackdown concerning leaks has hit people who are classic whistleblowers and whose intent was unquestionably exposure of wrongdoing, and other persons who just leaked information,” Kohn told msnbc. “There are two problems: the first is that there’s a first amendment right [to disclose information to the news media], and the second is that the government controls the classifications, and the government officials regularly leak information that is classified when it serves their interest.”

Kim's guilty plea brings to a close one more case in what has been an unprecedented war on leaks by the Obama administration. Kim was charged under the Espionage Act, the same law used to charge Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. More people have been charged under the Espionage Act during Obama's presidency than under all prior administrations combined.

"On June 11, 2009, Stephen Kim did what so many government officials do every day in Washington, DC: he talked to a reporter," Kim's lawyer Abbe Lowell said in a statement Friday. "Accordingly, Stephen pled guilty today to one count of disclosing this classified information to someone not authorized to receive it.  Stephen takes full responsibility for his actions."

Lowell continued, "Faced with the draconian penalties of the Espionage Act, the tremendous resources that the federal government devoted to his case (a half-dozen prosecutors and a dozen FBI agents), and the prospect of a lengthy trial in today's highly-charged climate of mass disclosures,  Stephen decided to take responsibility for his actions and move forward with his life."

In his plea hearing, according to a report by Politico, Kim admitted that he provided Rosen with a classified intelligence report on North Korea’s intentions to conduct nuclear tests. Rosen filed a story on the report a few hours later.

"Today Stephen Kim admitted to violating his oath to protect our country by disclosing highly classified intelligence about North Korea's military capabilities. Stephen Kim admits that he wasn't a whistleblower. He admits that his actions could put America at risk," Ronald Machen, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia said in a statement. He continued, "As this prosecution demonstrates, we will not waver in our commitment to pursuing and holding accountable government officials who blatantly disregard their obligations to protect our nation's most highly guarded secrets.”

Kims's sentencing is scheduled for April.