Fact Check

No, Barack Obama Wasn't Arrested for Espionage

Claims that high-profile political figures are arrested for various crimes make for frequent online disinformation.

Published Dec. 1, 2020

UNSPECIFIED - MAY 16: In this screengrab, Former President Barack Obama speaks during Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020 on May 16, 2020. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images for EIF & XQ) (Getty Images)
Image courtesy of Getty Images
Former U.S. President Barack Obama was arrested for espionage.

In late November 2020, readers ask Snopes to look into internet rumors that 44th U.S. President Barack Obama had been arrested for espionage. The rumor is not true — Obama wasn't arrested.

On Nov. 28, 2020, the website Conservative Beaver reported that Obama was arrested "on a charge that he conspired with a business partner of his who also was a former CIA officer to communicate classified information up to the Top Secret level to intelligence officials of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)."

The Conservative Beaver story included an embedded video of a YouTuber claiming Obama was arrested, citing the Conservative Beaver story as evidence.

The story also contains quotes from two U.S. attorneys — but those quotes were lifted from an August 2020 Department of Justice news release about a case that makes no mention of Obama. The release instead announced the arrest of Alexander Yuk Ching, a former CIA officer accused of passing classified information to the Chinese government.

The source of this rumor appears to be what can be called a disinformation ouroboros. An ouroboros is an ancient symbol of a snake eating its own tail. Likewise this rumor goes in a perpetual loop, with a junk site citing social media posts as evidence, which then cite the junk site as evidence.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who started her career as a daily newspaper reporter and has covered everything from crime to government to national politics. She has written for ... read more