(Image: Mike Mozart / Flickr) What is it about whistleblowers that the powers that be can’t stand? When I blew the whistle on the CIA’s illegal torture program, I was derided in many quarters as a traitor. My detractors in the government attacked me for violating my secrecy agreement, even as they ignored the oath we’d all taken to protect and defend the Constitution. All of this happened despite the fact that the torture I helped expose is illegal in the United States. Torture also violates a number of international laws and treaties to which our country is signatory — some of which the United States itself was the driving force in drafting. I was charged with three counts of espionage, all of which were eventually dropped when I took a plea to a lesser count. I had to choose between spending up to 30 months in prison and rolling the dice to risk a 45-year sentence. With five kids, and three of them under the age of 10, I took the plea. Tom Drake — the NSA whistleblower who went through the agency’s chain of command to report its illegal program to spy on American citizens — was thanked for his honesty and hard work by being charged with 10 felonies, including five counts of espionage. The government eventually dropped the charges, but not before Drake had suffered terrible financial, professional, and personal distress. This is an ongoing theme, especially in government. Chelsea Manning is serving 35 years in prison for her disclosure of State Department and military cable traffic showing American military crimes in Iraq and beyond. And Edward Snowden, who told Americans about the extent to which our government is spying on us, faces life in prison if he ever returns to the country. The list goes on and on. Baltimore Police Department whistleblower Joe Crystal knew what he was getting into when he reported an incident of police brutality to his superiors after witnessing two colleagues brutally beat a suspect. Crystal immediately became known as a “rat cop” and a “snitch.” He finally resigned from the department after receiving credible death threats. It’s not just government employees either. Whistleblowers first brought attention to wrongdoing at Enron, Lehman Brothers, Stanford International Bank, and elsewhere. And what’s their reward? Across the board, whistleblowers are investigated, harassed, fired, and in some cases prosecuted. That’s the conclusion of author Eyal Press, whose book Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times documents the struggles of whistleblowers throughout history. Press’s whistleblowers never recover financially or professionally from their actions. History seems to smile on them, but during their lifetimes they remain outcasts. This is a tragedy. Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing should be the norm, not the exception. I recently visited Greece to help the government there draft a whistleblower protection law. The Greek word for “whistleblower” translates as “guardian of the public trust.” I wish our own government’s treatment of whistleblowers could reflect that understanding. Yet even legal guarantees of protection from prosecution and persecution aren’t enough — especially if, as in the case of existing law, national security employees are exempt from these safeguards. Instead, society must start seeing things differently. Like the Greeks, all of us need to start treating whistleblowers as guardians, not traitors. And if we value what freedoms we have left, we should demand that our government do the same. The post The Sad Fate of America’s Whistleblowers appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies. John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.
(Image: Wikipedia) Barack Obama was, in 2008, the anti-torture candidate. It’s a sad comment on the state of U.S. democracy that such a thing ever existed. After all, it would be startling to hear appeals from a pro-oxygen or an anti-apocalypse candidate (though, of course, if the Republicans field a climate-change denier who uses the Book of Revelations as a policy guide, such a future scenario is not entirely beyond the realm of possibility). Still, it was refreshing in 2008, after eight years on the “dark side,” to hear a presidential aspirant make a clear moral statement. “We need a commander in chief who has never wavered on whether or not it is acceptable for America to torture, because it is never acceptable,” Obama said in a back-and-forth with Hillary Clinton during the primary. Obama also promised to end extraordinary rendition (sending suspects to countries that specialize in torture), close the Guantanamo detention facility, and rebuild America’s international reputation. At first, it seemed as though the new president was fully prepared to take the high road. He immediately signed an executive order banning torture and detention by the CIA. This move effectively shuttered the secret prisons the CIA was running to conduct its own foreign policy. And, with a stroke of the pen, he closed Guantanamo, the very not-secret place where all manner of abuses have taken place. Unfortunately, Congress pushed back against the Guantanamo closure, forcing the administration to opt for Plan B by releasing the detainees in dribs and drabs. The Senate eventually voted to ban torture earlier this year, codifying the president’s order. But because the president didn’t fully repudiate the legal memorandum that authorized the torture programs — the “gloves come off” Memorandum of Notification (MON) of September 17, 2001 — he left open the possibility that the United States could again use such extreme tactics. Indeed, the administration hasn’t revised or removed Appendix M, which authorizes a variety of abusive techniques and which the Bush administration added to the Army’s interrogation manual. Also, exploiting the same arguments used in the notorious MON, the administration expanded drone strikes, which eliminated the need for torture by eliminating the suspects altogether. Plus, given the secrecy enshrouding the national security complex, no one could be entirely certain — including our elected representatives — whether the intelligence agencies were complying with these orders. In 2011, for instance, the administration authorized the secret detention and interrogation of a suspected Somali terrorist on a U.S. vessel in international waters. We’ll just have to take Washington’s word that the interrogators went by the book (the U.S. Army Field Manual, in this case). There were also reports of the United States handing over detainees to Afghan authorities despite evidence of human rights abuses. But one of the most perplexing paradoxes of the administration has been its attitude toward whistleblowers. Surely if Obama the candidate was willing to take these moral positions on torture and secrecy, he would embrace all the people in government who risked their livelihoods to do the right thing. And yet the Obama administration has been ruthless in its prosecution of whistleblowers. I recently had an opportunity to ask a trio of America’s bravest whistleblowers — John Kiriakou, Jesselyn Radack, and Tom Drake — to explain why the president came into office like a civil liberties lion and has behaved instead like a national security sheep (albeit one with very sharp teeth). Their responses were both revealing and depressing. Airbrushing the Past 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. 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 were all on hand for a screening of Silenced at the Goethe Institut in Washington, DC last week. That’s when I had an opportunity to ask them about the apparent paradox of the Obama administration’s permissiveness toward government officials who committed crimes and vindictiveness toward the civil servants who called them out on it. They 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 can 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 his fiscal commitment to keeping the national security state flush with a trillion dollars of annual funding. The administration has upped the “black budget” for non-military intelligence agencies from $50.4 billion in 2015 to a proposed $53.9 billion for 2016. It would be nice to be able to tell you how that money is apportioned to the NSA, the CIA, and so on. But the Obama administration has refused to disclose that information. It also explains why the Obama administration has not only gone after whistleblowers but also the press. It targeted both James Rosen and James Risen, attempted to smear USA Todayjournalists 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 is still holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. Chelsea Manning is in prison, serving a 35-year sentence. Jeremy Hammond, Jeffrey Sterling, and Barrett Brown all face years of jail time. Indeed, under Obama, whistleblowers face a total of 751 months behind bars — compared to 24 months for all other whistleblowers combined since the American Revolution. As Barack Obama tries to nail down his legacy in the next year, he’ll make many references to foreign policy victories like the deal with Iran and the opening with Cuba. He’ll hold up domestic successes like the Affordable Care Act. But 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 are quietly toasting the president for a very different legacy: his fierce defense of a lawless and destructive fraternity that has only grown more powerful on his watch. The post Mouth Wide Shut appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies. John Feffer is directs Foreign Policy in Focus, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.
(Image: James R. Martin / Shutterstock) We’re now getting another taste—in our mouths, our lungs, our brains—of what the ongoing assault on the federal government’s watchdog function is doing to all of us. As we’ve just learned, Volkswagen rigged its software to fool the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) into allowing nearly 500,000 diesel cars on the road that, year after year, have been spewing 40 times the allowable level of nitrogen oxide pollutants into our airspace. Since EPA is one of the anti-government right’s favorite targets, the budget for preventing harms like this has suffered for years. As the Washington Post reported last week, an engineer at one of the agency’s labs had invented a device that could have detected the fraud more than twenty years ago. Except that in 2001 EPA decided to husband its resources by closing the lab down. The Post quotes the lab’s testing manager saying, “When this all came out in the news about VW, my first thought was, ‘Wow, we could have been all over this.’” Now let’s look at the right’s favorite agency, the Department of Defense. There the right’s attack has been focused not on waste and fraud in its budget but on the parts of the agency tasked with finding the waste. Every year DoD’s Inspector General’s office reports that it no longer has enough people to do its job adequately, and that the situation is getting worse. It would be hard to argue with the idea that buying weapons that don’t work is wasteful. So in 1983 Congress created the Office of Operational Test and Evaluation at the Pentagon to prevent this by running tests, independent of the contractors, to identify defects in these systems as they are being developed. It has been a target of DoD’s own program managers, and their allies in the defense industry, and in Congress, ever since. In the defense policy bill now sitting on the president’s desk, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the House took another jab at the Pentagon’s testing office. As Politico reported, it inserted a line requiring the Office to ensure that their work “do[es] not result in unnecessary increases in program costs or cost estimates or delays in schedule or schedule estimates.” The Senate then applied a broader brush to this warning, expanding it to include the Defense Contract Management Agency, the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the IG and “the heads of other defense audit, testing acquisition and management agencies.” Another thing we can all agree on: Don’t slow down projects and add to their costs for no good reason. So this year the Government Accountability Office was tasked with judging the DoD testing office’s work on this score. They found every case they examined to be based on “valid and substantive concerns,” and most “with limited cost and schedule impacts to programs.” And what about the costs of going ahead to build weapon systems that have to be fixed or scrapped later? There, Exhibit A is the most expensive system ever devised, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, or what Esquire magazine recently dubbed “one of the epic money pits of all time, even by Pentagon standards” and “still the worst military investment ever.” What until recently had been referred to as the trillion dollar program is now pegged at more like a trillion-and-half. The testing office has for years been finding defects in one thing after another: its landing gear tires, its ignition systems, its oxygen system, its fuel tanks and its hydraulic systems. To name a few. In May the Marine Corps tested the plane in what it called real-world conditions and declared it ready for battle. The testing office vehemently disagreed, noting that these conditions didn’t include actually carrying the weight of its bombs and missiles, or bad weather. A plane that could withstand lightning strikes, for example, would require additional fixes, i.e. more money. Congress’ response to these concerns? They ordered up six more planes for the Marines than the president requested. Think it’s these pesky testing facilities—at EPA, at DoD—that are costing us? That reining them in is the way to save money and make us safer? Think again. The post To unleash the harms, rein in the watchdogs appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies. Miriam Pemberton directs the Peace Economy Transitions Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
(Image: GongTo / Shutterstock) Hillary Clinton is wrong about Edward Snowden. Again. The presidential candidate and former secretary of state insisted during the recent Democratic debate that Snowden should have remained in the United States to voice his concerns about government spying on U.S. citizens. Instead, she claimed, he “endangered U.S. secrets by fleeing to Russia.” After accusing Snowden of stealing “very important information that has fallen into the wrong hands,” she added: “He should not be brought home without facing the music.” Clinton should stop rooting for Snowden’s incarceration and get her facts straight. First, Snowden is a whistleblower, not a leaker. Whistleblowing is the act of bringing to light evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, law-breaking, or dangers to public health or safety. Snowden did exactly that when he divulged proof that the National Security Agency was illegally snooping on all of us. Second, Snowden knew it was impossible to report this wrongdoing through his chain of command at the NSA, where he was working as a contractor employed by the consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton. I’ve written previously about whistleblower Tom Drake, who went through his own chain of command to report an earlier illegal wiretapping scheme by the NSA. Drake went to his bosses, his office’s general counsel, the NSA’s inspector general, the Pentagon’s inspector general, and congressional oversight committees — only to be charged with 10 felonies, including five counts of espionage. CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling, who reported wrongdoing in a CIA operation related to the Iranian nuclear program through his chain of command, was similarly charged with multiple counts of espionage. Now he’s serving 42 months in prison. The sad fact is that many national security chains of command are overtly hostile to people who report wrongdoing. I learned this firsthand when I spent nearly two years behind bars for denouncing the CIA’s use of torture years after I left the agency. And I didn’t go to any country club. I went to a real prison. Indeed, one of my former supervisors at the CIA called whistleblowing “institutionalized insubordination.” In other words, employees should just “follow orders,” even if those orders are illegal. Didn’t Nazi war criminals say that they were just following orders, too? To me, their compliance was criminal. Third, Clinton claimed that Snowden would have enjoyed protection from the Whistleblower Protection Act if he’d remained in the United States to make his revelations. I’m disappointed, frankly, that somebody running for president of the United States doesn’t know that the Whistleblower Protection Act exempts national security whistleblowers. There are no protections for you if you work for the CIA, NSA, or other federal intelligence agencies — or serve them as a contractor. You take a grave personal risk if you decide to report wrongdoing, and there’s nobody who can protect you. Even the federal body that’s supposed to protect whistleblowers, the Merit Systems Protection Board, got itself in trouble in October for suspending and retaliating against its own whistleblower, who revealed that the agency had a huge backlog of cases and was taking far too long to adjudicate them. That certainly doesn’t inspire confidence. Finally, let’s get this straight: Snowden didn’t “flee to Russia.” Snowden stopped in Moscow on his way from Hong Kong to South America when Secretary of State John Kerry revoked his U.S. passport. Snowden never intended to move to Moscow. Kerry made that decision for him. Of all people, Hillary Clinton — Kerry’s predecessor at State — should know that. I get that Clinton doesn’t like Snowden. I doubt he’s too upset about that. But Clinton should get her facts straight if she’s going to take a stand against those federal employees and contractors who take their oaths to uphold the Constitution seriously enough to report crimes against it. She should be celebrating whistleblowers, not vilifying them and suggesting they waltz into the nearest penitentiary. The post What Clinton Got Wrong About Snowden appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies. John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Editors say that a recent expose was interesting but did not warrant a full Times story.
Newly leaked government documents have provided an unprecedented window into the secret US drone assassination program across the globe. In “The Drone Papers,” The Intercept reveals drone strikes have resulted from unreliable intelligence, stemming in large part from electronic communications data, or “signals intelligence,” that officials acknowledge is insufficient. The documents also undermine government claims that the drone strikes have been precise. In Afghanistan, strikes on 35 direct targets killed at least 219 other people. Among other revelations, they also suggest the strikes have hurt intelligence gathering and that unknown male victims have been labeled as “enemies killed in action” unless evidence later proves otherwise. The documents were leaked to The Intercept by an unnamed US intelligence source. TRANSCRIPT: This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form. AMY GOODMAN: Newly leaked government documents have provided an unprecedented window into the secret US drone assassination program across the globe. In “The Drone Papers,” the website The Intercept reveals drone strikes have resulted from unreliable intelligence, stemming in large part from electronic communications data, or “signals intelligence,” that officials acknowledge is insufficient. The documents also undermine government claims that the drone strikes have been precise. In Afghanistan, strikes on 35 direct targets killed at least 219 other people. This is Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept, which just published an eight-part series on the leaked documents. JEREMY SCAHILL: But the fact that this is the first time that primary source documents have been published that detail the chain of command for assassinating people around the globe. The banality of the bureaucracy of assassination is so clear in these documents – the cold corporate words that they use to describe killing people. The “basics of manhunting” is one of the terms that they use. The “tyranny of distance” is another term that they use. “Arab features,” you know, to describe people that they’re looking at from thousands of feet above. The corporate coldness of the way that these documents reflect what is actually a process of systematically hunting down and assassinating human beings should send chills through the spine of people who care about democracy in this society. AMY GOODMAN: That’s The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill. The documents were leaked to The Intercept by an unnamed US intelligence source. The source told The Intercept, quote, “It’s stunning the number of instances when I’ve come across intelligence that was faulty, when sources of information used to finish targets were misattributed to people. And it isn’t until several months or years later that you realize that the entire time you thought you were going after this target, it was his mother’s phone the whole time. Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association – it’s a phenomenal gamble,” the source said. We will link to The Intercept’s exposé on “The Drone Papers” on our website.