(Image: Flickr / Justin Norman) After I blew the whistle on the CIA’s torture program in 2007, the fallout for me was brutal. To make a long story short, I served nearly two years in federal prison and then endured a few more months of house arrest. What happened to the torture program? Nothing. Following years of waiting for the government to do something, I was heartened when I read in my prison cell — in a four-day-old copy of The New York Times— that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had finally released in December a heavily censored summary of its report on the CIA’s brutal “enhanced interrogation” techniques. Finally, I thought, Congress will do something about our government’s shameful embrace of torture. It was big news — for two or three days. I thought there’d be quick action by courageous members of both parties who respect human rights and civil liberties. I thought they’d work together to ensure that our collective name would never again be sullied by torture — that we’d respect our own laws and the international laws and treaties to which we’re signatories. In retrospect, I was naïve, even after having served in the CIA for nearly 15 years and as a Senate committee staffer for several more. Despite repeated efforts by the CIA to impede investigations into its conduct, the report confirmed that the program was even worse than most Americans had thought. Take the case of Ammar al-Baluchi, who was arrested in Pakistan and sent to a secret CIA prison, where interrogators held his head under water, beat him repeatedly with a truncheon, and slammed his head against the wall, causing lasting head trauma. This abuse wasn’t authorized by the Justice Department. So why weren’t the perpetrators charged with a crime? Perhaps worst of all, CIA officers tortured as many as 26 people who were probably innocent of any ties to terrorism. Sadly, the report’s release didn’t lead to any action by the White House or the Justice Department. The architects of the program haven’t been held accountable. Nor have those who clearly violated the law by torturing prisoners without any legal justifications. Why should the government have locked me up for telling the truth and given them full impunity? But there’s still time for President Barack Obama to order the Justice Department to prosecute these perpetrators of torture. And there’s a clear precedent in how the government has confronted similar actions in the past. In 1968, for example, The Washington Post published a photo of a U.S. soldier waterboarding a North Vietnamese prisoner. The Defense Department investigated the incident, court-martialed the soldier, and convicted him of torture. Why should the Senate’s torture report elicit less response than a photograph? It was wrong in 1968 to commit torture. It’s still wrong — and prosecutable — in 2015. Some current and former CIA leaders will argue that torture netted actionable intelligence that saved American lives. I was working in the CIA’s counterterrorism center at the same time they were, and I can tell you that they’re lying. Torture may have made some Americans feel better in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. It may have made them feel that the government was avenging our fallen compatriots. But the report found that “the harsh interrogation methods did not succeed in exacting useful intelligence.” Whether or not it ever gleans useful intelligence, however, is beside the point. The question isn’t whether torture works. Torture is immoral. There has to be a red line: The United States of America must oppose torture and ban its use absolutely. That begins in the Oval Office, and Obama needs to belatedly do something about it. The post Closing the Door on Torture appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies. John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.
(Image: Shutterstock) Jeffrey Sterling recently stood before a judge as his sentence was read. The former CIA officer, the judge declared, would spend 42 months — that’s three and half years — behind bars. The feds had convicted Sterling on nine felony charges, including seven counts of espionage. He didn’t sell secrets to the Russians. He didn’t trade intelligence for personal gain. He made no attempt to disrupt the American way of life. What did he do, then? He reported to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the CIA had botched an operation to feed false information about nuclear technology to Iran — and may have actually helped Iran’s enrichment program instead. Largely based on this, the government accused Sterling of leaking details about the program to journalist James Risen, who wrote about it in his book State of War. Even worse, the feds claimed that Sterling, who is black, did it out of resentment over a failed racial discrimination lawsuit against the agency — in effect using Sterling’s willingness to stand up for his rights against him. There was no actual proof, though, that Sterling was Risen’s source. The only evidence the prosecution had against Sterling was metadata that showed he had spoken to Risen by phone. There were no recordings, no messages, and no snitches to testify against him. For all we know, Sterling and Risen were talking about the weather. Was this guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? I think not. Whatever the case, the worst Sterling can be accused of is exposing government failure and indiscretion. In that sense, he easily meets the legal definition of a whistleblower. Whatever information he exposed, he did it in the public interest. But the Obama administration has abused whistleblowers. I know a little something about that myself — I was charged with three counts of espionage for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program several years ago. If I hadn’t taken a plea deal, I could’ve been locked up for the rest of my life. I still had to endure nearly two years in a federal prison, followed by a few months of house arrest. Sterling is the latest victim in this war on whistleblowing. The message is clear: If you go public with evidence of government malfeasance, you must prepare yourself for the worst. The Justice Department will spend millions of taxpayer dollars to ruin you financially, personally, and professionally — and to make an example of you in the media. And if you have the nerve to deny the charges and go to trial, the punishment will be even worse. Sterling believed that if he could get in front of a jury and explain his side of the story, they’d see how ridiculous the entire case really was. But the government exercises such tight control over these cases that most juries would, as the saying goes, convict a baloney sandwich. In a small sense, Sterling was lucky to get a 42-month sentence. The government had sought up to 24 years. To the judge’s credit, she recognized what one expert witness described as the government’s “overwrought hyperbole.” And she was surely aware of the sweetheart deal — 18 months unsupervised probation and a fine — General David Petraeus recently landed. The former CIA director had given classified information, including the names of covert agents, to his lover — and then lied about it to the FBI. In short, the Justice Department is meting out very little “justice” to whistleblowers. But if you’re part of the White House “in” crowd, you’ll get a pass. I’m glad Sterling’s not going away for 20 years or more. But the proper action would have been for the judge to send Sterling home to be with his wife, and castigate the Justice Department for wasting the court’s time — and the taxpayers’ money — on wrongheadedly prosecuting another whistleblower. The post The Latest Victim in the War on Whistleblowers appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies. John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Edward J. Snowden, exiled in Russia, is globe hopping via video appearances and enjoying victories for his cause in Congress and the courts.
Book Review of: Poison Spring – The Secret History of the EPA
By Carol van Strum
Ever since its creation in 1970 the US-EPA has been a failing organization, writes Carol Van Strum in her review of ‘Poison Spring’ – serving the corporations it was there to regulate, falsifying data, suppressing the truth about pesticide toxicity, and crushing whistleblowers.
EPA officials know global chemical and agribusiness industries are manufacturing science. They know their products are dangerous … This entire book is, in a sense, about a bureaucracy going mad.
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts", Richard Feynman famously declared in 1966. Ever quick to challenge accepted wisdom, he distinguished the laudable ignorance of science, forever seeking unattainable certainties, from the dangerous ignorance of experts who professed such certainty.
Twenty years later, he would drop a rubber ring into a glass of ice water to show a panel of clueless rocket experts how willful ignorance of basic temperature effects likely caused the Challenger shuttle disaster .
Experts with delusions of certainty create imitative forms of science, he warned, producing"the kind of tyranny we have today in the many institutions that have come under the influence of pseudoscientific advisors." 
Feynman’s warning against faith in the phony trappings of"cargo cult science"fell on deaf ears. Policies affecting every aspect of our lives are now based on dangerous forms of ignorance.
A prime case in point is the noble edifice of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where a high-ranking EPA official was recently jailed and fined for collecting pay and bonuses for decades of non-existent work while he claimed to be working elsewhere for the CIA.
Rubber stamping pesticide industry approvals
Such long-standing fraud would hardly come as a surprise to Evaggelos Vallianatos, who toiled for a quarter of a century in the EPA’s Pesticide Division, ostensibly responsible for protecting human health and the environment from commercial poisons.
His new book, Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA, documents a culture of fraud and corruption infesting every corner and closet of the agency.
The EPA, created with much fanfare by Richard Nixon in 1970, was an agency crippled at birth by inadequate funding, political hypocrisy, and laws protecting industry profits above all.
Vallianatos points out that one of the fledgling agency’s greatest handicaps was its initial staffing with personnel from USDA, steeped in the religion of corporate agriculture and lethal technologies.
With USDA staff came also USDA’s outdated pesticide registrations, which were to be reviewed and reregistered by EPA. In addition, hundreds of new pesticide applications accumulated every year, each supported by industry-produced safety studies to meet new federal requirements.
Hired as scientists, EPA staffers spent their time cutting and pasting industry studies and conclusions into rubber-stamped registration approvals. Under industry-crafted laws, once a pesticide was registered, it could never be unregistered without massive, unequivocal evidence of harm.
Fraud? Non-existent data? No problem
As if such misuse of science weren’t bad enough, audits by FDA and EPA soon found that most of the thousands of industry safety studies used to approve pesticide registrations were fraudulent.
Alerted by FDA scientist Adrian Gross, EPA had discovered in 1976 that Industrial BioTest Laboratories [IBT], which had conducted many of the pesticide safety tests submitted to EPA by manufacturers, had been routinely faking tests, falsifying data, and altering results for years.
Subsequent investigations of other testing laboratories found similar practices in more than half the labs whose tests supported EPA registrations of pesticides.
"IBT was not a unique case of scientific fraud", Vallianatos writes, "it was emblematic of a dark and deviant scientific culture, a ‘brave new science’ with deep roots throughout agribusiness, the chemical industry, universities, and the government." 
In 1979, during the seven years of EPA dithering over this scandal, Vallianatos came to work at EPA. He soon learned that not a single pesticide registration was to be canceled due to fraudulent or nonexistent test data.
Instead, he notes, EPA’s reaction was to outsource science. It shut down its own testing laboratories, closed its own libraries of toxicity data on thousands of chemicals, and outsourced all evaluations of industry-sponsored studies.
"The unspoken understanding in this outsourcing of government functions has been the near certainty of finding industry data satisfactory – all the time."
Old habits die hard – if at all
This issue is relevant today, given that chemicals such as 2,4-D and glyphosate (Roundup TM), whose uses have been vastly increased by GMO practices, were originally registered on the basis of invalid IBT studies.
During Vallianatos’s first year at EPA,1980, some 1.1 billion pounds of pesticide active ingredients were applied to US food crops, a number that does not include home and garden uses, parklands, golf courses, playing fields, and municipal landscapes. In 2011, two billion pounds of pesticides were sold in the US Most if not all of those pesticides lacked valid testing data then, and still lack such data today.
Furthering the fraud, Vallianatos points out, the active ingredient is only the tip of the iceberg, being as little as one percent of the product; the remainder is a trade secret stew of untested, unknown ‘inert’ ingredients that are often more toxic than the active ingredients. What he calls"the big business of fraudulent science"has replaced even the semblance of environmental protection.
Poison Spring chronicles some of the consequences of that fraud in an agency snared in its own tangled lies: cover-ups of dioxin levels in drinking water and in dead babies; routine suppression of data linking pesticides to soaring rates of cancer, birth defects, and chronic disease; industry access to everything; ‘revolving door’ administrators serving corporate bosses; political appointees dismantling EPA labs and data libraries to dispose of damaging evidence; the cutting of research funds for nontoxic alternatives; the harsh retribution visited on whistleblowers; and ever and again, bureaucrats, with full knowledge of the consequences, setting policies that result in death and suffering.
For 25 years, Vallianatos saw and documented it all. "EPA officials know global chemical and agribusiness industries are manufacturing science", he writes. "They know their products are dangerous … [EPA] scientists find themselves working in a roomful of funhouse mirrors, plagiarizing industry studies and cutting and pasting the findings of industry studies as their own … This entire book is, in a sense, about a bureaucracy going mad."
Scientific silence, public indifference
Bureaucracy does not go mad by itself, however. Public indifference to the ignorance of experts and public tolerance of lies are what allow such madness to flourish, enabled by the scientific community’s silence.
Inexorably, Vallianatos found,"science and policy themselves have been made a prop to the pesticides industry and agribusiness."
Such monumental fraud demands drastic remedies, which Vallianatos bravely urges: rebuild an EPA completely independent from industry and politics, remove incentives for huge scale, chemically-dependent corporate agriculture, and address the underlying problem by encouraging small family farms and agriculture without chemical warfare.
"Traditional (and often organic) farmers – until seventy-five years ago, the only farmers there were – are slowly beginning to make a comeback. They have always known how to raise crops and livestock without industrial poisons," Vallianatos points out. "They are the seed for a future harvest of good food, a healthy natural world, and democracy in rural America – and the world."
These are facts, and this is a book that scientists and citizens alike ignore at great peril.