A whistleblower is a current or former employee who reveals what he or she reasonably believes evidences fraud, waste, abuse, illegality, or a danger to public health and safety. The individual can disclose their concerns to their superiors, Congress, an interest group representative, or the media. Unfortunately, often nothing gets fixed when employees report internally; in fact, they often become the target of smear campaigns, sued under the Espionage Act, fired and new work made difficult, threatened, or even assassinated or ‘suicided’. This is especially true in the Intelligence Community, where whistleblowers lack strong protection from retaliation. It is easier to shoot the messenger than listen to the message. On the other hand, those involved in the corruption and illegalities are never charged with anything. The word “whistleblower” was coined by Ralph Nader. All governments engage in leaks to control how the media reports a story (leakers), but hate unauthorized leaks (whistleblowers), because suddenly they lose control of the story. The evidence is undeniable and incontrovertible: there is a concerted campaign to suppress information that exposes government fraud, corruption or abuse.
In fact, the nation’s top intelligence watchdog put the brakes on a report in 2017 that uncovered whistleblower reprisal issues within America’s spy agencies according to a report by The Daily Beast. The move concealed a finding that the agencies—including the CIA and the NSA—were failing to protect intelligence workers who report waste, fraud, abuse, or criminality up the chain of command. The investigators looked into 190 cases of alleged reprisal in six agencies, and uncovered a shocking pattern. In only one case out of the 190 did the agencies find in favor of the whistleblower—and that case took 742 days to complete. Other cases remained open longer. One complaint from 2010 was still waiting for a ruling. But the framework was remarkably consistent: Over and over and over again, intelligence inspectors ruled that the agency was in the right, and the whistleblowers were almost always wrong.
The report was near completion following a six-month-long inspection run out of the Intelligence Community Inspector General office. It was aborted in April 2017 by the new acting head of the office, Wayne Stone, following the discovery that one of the inspectors was himself a whistleblower in the middle of a federal lawsuit against the CIA, according to former IC IG officials.
As former whistleblower Sibel Edmonds argues, the long-term solution to the problem we are facing cannot possibly come from people petitioning for the very criminals who are breaking the law to grant their pardon from on high, thus legitimizing the very criminal system that the people are supposed to be protesting. The idea that the criminals can “pardon” the whistleblowers is an insult to every decent American, and indeed people around the world, who are outraged by and fed up with the rampant criminality of their own government.
Precisely as Edmonds indicates the ultimate solution is not going to come from Washington, but from the people. Unless the people can be motivated en masse to engage the system head on, not to petition it on bended knee to please stop violating the law, but to actively dismantle the entire “national security” smokescreen that the criminals have drawn around themselves, then nothing will ever fundamentally change. Nothing short of the repeal of the National Security Act of 1947 and the dismantling of the intelligence agencies that have been set up in its name will even begin to touch the shadow government that has been steadily usurping power for the last 70 years, and such an idea is truly unthinkable if it is left to the hands of the Washington beltway politicians and journalists to direct the national conversation.(CorbettReport)
As journalist Gary Allen explained in his now famous book ‘None Dare Call it a Conspiracy’,
“It must be remembered that the first job of any conspiracy whether it be in politics, crime or within a business office, is to convince everyone else that no conspiracy exists. The conspirators’ success will be determined largely by their ability to do this.”
Obviously, controlling media would be needed for a global conspiracy, and so they have. But, whistleblowers can still cause a major problem by exposing the unknown to the rest of the world. This is why there has always been a war on whistleblowers, but never more apparent than following 9/11. whistleblower Sibel Edmonds was the most gagged person in history, but courageously broke the gag to expose much of the 9/11 cover up.
Sometimes silencing whistleblowers can be accomplished by intimidation, threats, smear campaigns by the deep state controlled mainstream media, as well as other tactics. But when it is determined that none of those will be successful, or that a potential whistleblower or brave journalist knows too much or is digging too deep, then more drastic measures are used. Some of the typical methods to of elimination are to assure that the enemy to the conspiracy is suicided, meaning murdered but made to look as if the person committed suicide, ‘accidented’, or just outright murdered and the scene wiped clean as to leave no trail back to the conspirators. After all, Dead Men Tell No Tells as they say.
All governments engage in leaks. They do it to control how the media reports a story. For the same reason, all governments hate unauthorized leaks, because suddenly they lose control of the story. There’s a crucial difference between a whistleblower and a leaker. A whistleblower identifies a problem— an act of questionable legality — notifies a supervisor of the impropriety, and only provides information to Congress or the press if going through the normal chain of command fails to rectify the problem.
John Kiriakou, Jesselyn Radack, and Tom Drake all tried to address impropriety through the proper channels. John Kiriakou raised his concerns about torture within the CIA, Tom Drake alerted higher-ups within the NSA about illegal surveillance, and Jesselyn Radack communicated her discomfort about the interrogation of the “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh to her supervisor at the Justice Department. Frustrated by the lack of response — or, rather, by the very negative response — of the institutions where they worked, they risked everything to expose the misconduct.
As the powerful 2014 documentary Silenced reveals, all three whistleblowers paid very high prices for their courage. They lost their jobs. They found it extremely difficult to get new ones. They were threatened with legal action.
Kiriakou and Drake were even charged under the 1917 Espionage Act. Of the 10 cases of people charged under this act in U.S. history, the Obama administration is responsible for seven of them (including Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning). The charges against Drake were eventually dropped. Kiriakou went to prison for more than two years after taking a plea bargain on a lesser charge. (He didn’t want to agree to the plea, but the prospect of a longer prison term was just too daunting, particularly for someone with three young children.) He is now one of my colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Many whistleblowers pay a very high price. Chelsea Manning was tortured and imprisoned. Thomas Drake faced life in prison and was left bankrupt and blacklisted. What the government has never managed to take away, however, is their integrity or their voices. And despite their ordeals, the whistleblowers who have suffered the most have often amplified their voices once it was safe to do so. They have continued to advocate for the causes they believe and against the injustices they faced: surveillance reform, ending torture, accountability for war crimes. The least we can do is protect them.
What’s particularly disturbing about these cases is that the people responsible for the illegalities — the torturers and the officials who authorized illegal surveillance — have not been charged with anything.Shortly after taking office, as journalist Glenn Greenwald pointed out, Obama “decreed absolute immunity for any official involved in torture provided that it comported with the permission slips produced by Bush Department of Justice lawyers which authorized certain techniques.”
As for those who went beyond the lax rules of the DOJ lawyers, and who were responsible for the deaths of as many as 100 detainees, they too would eventually receive absolution. In 2012, the Justice Department wrapped up two last cases involving torture, involving the death of an Afghan detainee at a CIA prison near Kabul in one instance and an Iraqi detainee at Guantanamo in the other, without any convictions. Instead of throwing the book at the torturers and the handlers who enabled them, the Justice Department closed the book on the legal proceedings.
In May 2015, meanwhile, a federal court ruled that the NSA metadata collection was illegal. Thanks to Edward Snowden and subsequent revelations, we know that the extent of NSA surveillance goes well beyond metadata to truly mind-boggling operations, from TREASUREMAP’s mapping of the Internet connections of everyone on the planet to the agency’s depositing of malware in more than 50,000 locations around the world. But not a single person engaged in the violation of the civil rights of Americans in these programs has been punished.
The Obama administration justified this effective amnesty of all government officials involved in the “dark side” — from George W. Bush and Dick Cheney all the way down to the guys who did the waterboarding and administered the illegal data collection — as a way to focus on the future and not the past.
The amnesty is morally questionable. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that the administration was right about closing the chapter on a divisive issue. Even in this case, the administration should have been generous to both malefactor and whistleblower.
But it’s gone after the messengers with a vengeance. Why?
The Deep State
John Kiriakou, Jesselyn Radack, and Tom Drake explained that the Barack Obama who ran for president was a different person than the one who occupied the Oval Office. As soon as he entered the White House and received his first top-secret briefing, the president was ushered into a new fraternity. He was dazzled by the potential of raw executive power, the godlike ability to determine life and death, as when the president conducts a weekly meeting to review the “kill list” of drone targets.
The president, in other words, was initiated into what amounts to a cult of national security. The first rule of this cult is to preserve its existence at all costs. Those who threaten the cult are, like any apostates, to be dealt with as ruthlessly as possible. After all, cult members who break the law are still acting according to the principles of the cult; apostates, however, challenge the very legitimacy of the cult.
The world of checks-and-balances, of an executive branch bounded by Congress and the court system, is meaningless to the national security state. This “deep state” remains impervious to elections, partisan passions, congressional inquiries, and legal challenges. It’s not a conspiracy any more than the Vatican is a conspiracy. It’s simply an institution with an imperative: to survive.
Obama’s commitment to the preservation of the national security state could be seen in his approach to secrecy in general. “Despite Barack Obama’s promises of a more transparent government, 76.7 million documents were classified in 2010, compared with 8.6 million in 2001 and 23.4 million in 2008, the first and last years of George W. Bush’s administration,” writes Andy Greenberg in his book This Machine Kills Secrets.
Obama’s cult membership explains why he kept the national security state flush with a trillion dollars of annual funding. The Obama administration upped the “black budget” for non-military intelligence agencies by 3.5 billion for 2016. The Obama administration refused to disclose how that money was apportioned to the NSA, the CIA, and so on.
It also explains why the Obama administration not only went after whistleblowers but also the press. It targeted both James Rosen and James Risen, attempted to smear USA Today journalists digging into Pentagon propaganda, and spied on a variety of reporters.
Members of the cult who have committed chargeable offenses but have not turned apostate have gotten off with a slap on the wrist. Former general David Petraeus, who shared top-secret information with a reporter that just happened to be his lover as well, received a sentence of two years probation and a fine of $100,000 (more than twice what the Justice Department pursued). He continues to receive a $220,000 pension, has had no difficulty getting a job at a top investment firm, and has been invited to join various elite institutions, including Harvard.
As for the whistleblowers, their suffering serves as a warning to all potential apostates. Edward Snowden remains in Moscow. Julian Assange was holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London for a while. Chelsea Manning went to prison to serve a 35-year sentence (before being pardoned by Obama). Jeremy Hammond, Jeffrey Sterling, and Barrett Brown all face years of jail time. Indeed, under Obama, whistleblowers were to face a total of 751 months behind bars — compared to 24 months for all other whistleblowers combined since the American Revolution.
In the meantime, in basement offices in Washington, DC, secure locations in northern Virginia, and listening posts in suburban Maryland, the high priests and priestesses of a secretive cult quietly toasted the former president for a very different legacy: his fierce defense of a lawless and destructive fraternity that only grew more powerful on his watch.
The Criminalization of Whistleblowing
Over the last 10 years we have seen a rise in the use of the Espionage Act to criminally pursue national security whistleblowers, like Thomas Drake, Edward Snowden and Reality Winner. The Espionage Act was written in 1917 to stop actual spies and saboteurs, though it was frequently used against dissidents instead. A section of the law regarding disclosures of sensitive information enables its modern usage against whistleblowers. While there are numerous other laws that could be applied to the mishandling of classified information, several features of the Espionage Act provide obvious advantages to the government.
The Espionage Act ensures that the proceedings will happen largely in secret and safely away from the court of public opinion. Moreover, the Espionage Act is effectively a strict liability crime, meaning a whistleblower’s intent is irrelevant and thus bars a defendant from raising a “public interest” defense. It doesn’t matter if an individual divulged information to the enemy for profit (traditional spying), or to the press because it was in the public’s interest to know (whistleblowing). The distinction is most vividly illustrated by the fact that the newspapers that published Snowden’s revelations won a Pulitzer for their reporting, but he continues to live in Russia to avoid prosecution, or worse. And finally, charging under the Espionage Act insinuates treason, even if the defendant is not literally accused of such. This serves to smear and isolate the accused, making them too controversial for all but the most ardent defenders of civil liberties.
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