Targeting Whistleblowers: Truth Telling Endangered – by Stephen Lendman
On April 16, journalist John Cole wrote:
“The message is clear – you torture people and then destroy the evidence, and you get off without so much as a sternly worded letter. If you are a whistle blower outlining criminal behavior by the government, you get prosecuted.”
In fact, it’s worse. Under Bush, torture was official policy. It remains so under Obama who absolved CIA torturers, despite unequivocal evidence of their guilt. But leaking it risks criminal prosecution for revealing state secrets and endangering national security.
On June 7, New York Times writer Elisabeth Bumiller headlined, “Army Leak Suspect Is Turned In, by Ex-Hacker,” explaining that US Army intelligence analyst Specialist Bradley Manning told Adrian Lamo that he leaked the following materials to WikiLeaks:
— “260,000 classified United States diplomatic cables and video of a (US) airstrike in Afghanistan that killed 97 civilians last year,” and
— an “explosive (39 minute) video of an American helicopter attack in Baghdad that left 12 people dead, including two employees of the Reuters news agency.” Manning called it “collateral murder,” a crime he felt obliged to expose.
Lamo told the military, saying “I outed Brad Manning as an alleged leaker out of duty. I would never (and have never) outed an Ordinary Decent Criminal. There’s a difference.” He didn’t explain or how any criminal can be decent.
On June 7, the military command in Iraq arrested Manning, saying in Pentagon boilerplate:
“The Department of Defense takes the management of classified information very seriously because it affects our national security, the lives of our soldiers, and our operations abroad.”
So far, Manning is uncharged and is being held in Kuwait pending further action.
On June 6 in wired.com, Kevin Poulsen and Kim Zetter broke the story in their article headlined, “US Intelligence Analyst Arrested in WikiLeaks Video Probe,” explaining:
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division arrested Manning after Lamo outed him. The State Department said it wasn’t aware of the arrest.The FBI had no comment, then later the Defense Department confirmed his arrest for allegedly leaking classified information. According to army spokesman Gary Tallman:
“If you have a security clearance and wittingly or unwittingly provide classified information to anyone who doesn’t have security clearance or a need to know, you have violated security regulations and potentially the law.”
“Everywhere there’s a US post, there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed. It’s open diplomacy. World-wide anarchy in CSV format. It’s Climategate with a global scope, and breathtaking depth. It’s beautiful and horrifying. (The documents describe) almost criminal political back dealings. (They belong) in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark corner in Washington, DC. (Our government is involved in) incredible things, awful things.”
He exposed cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians and reporters, the perpetrators laughing on video like it was a game – the public unaware that Pentagon rules-of-engagement (ROEs) target Iraqi and Afghan civilians as well as alleged combatants.
On June 11, New York Times writer Scott Shane headlined, “Obama Takes a Hard Line Against Leaks to Press,” saying:
“In 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions,” citing actions against Thomas A. Drake (discussed below), and Times columnist James Risen, subpoenaed (by Bush and Obama) to disclose his sources for his book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”
Lucy Dalglish, executive director for Reporters Committee for Freedom, explained:
“The message they are sending to everyone is ‘You leak to the media, we will get you.’ As far as I can tell there is absolutely no difference (between Bush and Obama), and (he) seems to be paying more attention to it. This is going to get nasty.”
Attorney General Eric Holder approved the subpoena, his Justice Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, saying: “As a general matter, we have consistently said that leaks of classified information are something we take extremely seriously.”
Risen’s lawyer, Joel Kurtzberg, explained that the subpoena relates to his report about covert CIA measures to subvert Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. “We will be fighting to quash” it, he said. “Jim is the highest calibre of reporter and adhered to the highest standards of his profession. And he intends to honor the promise of confidentiality he made to (his) source or sources.”
Risen’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, is handling the matter, but a Times statement said:
“Our view, however, is that confidential sources are vital in getting information to the public, and a subpoena issued more than four years after the book was published hardly seems to be important enough to outweigh the protection an author needs to have.”
First brought in 2006 by Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the grand jury session expired without resolution. Holder will impanel a new one. Risen faces possible prosecution and jail time for honoring his confidentiality commitment, what no reporter should ever violate.
WikiLeaks – What It Is, How It Operates
Calling itself “the intelligence agency of the people,” WikiLeaks says it’s “a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblower, journalist and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public” that has a right to know.
Only when they’re told “the true plans and behavior of their governments” can they decide whether or not they deserve support, or as Jack Kennedy said on April 27, 1961:
“The very word secrecy is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers, which are cited to justify it.”
WikiLeaks believes that “Principled leaking has changed the course of history for the better; it can alter the course of history in the present; it can lead us to a better future.” It can expose abuses of power by “rel(ying) upon the power of overt fact to enable and empower citizens to bring feared and corrupt governments and corporations to justice,” and help make nominal democracies real ones.
Secrecy and Targeting Whistleblowers and Journalists Under Obama
More than ever under Obama, we live in a secret society, in which whistleblowers and journalists are targeted for doing their job – why Helen Thomas, unfairly pilloried by the pro-Israeli chorus, last July said his administration was “controlling the press,” during a White House Robert Gibbs briefing, then afterward added:
“It’s shocking. It’s really shocking….What the hell do they think we are, puppets? They’re supposed to stay out of our business. They are our public servants. We pay them.”
In a July 1, 2009 interview with CNSNews.com, she said even Nixon didn’t exert press control like Obama, saying: “Nixon didn’t try to do that. They couldn’t control (the media). They didn’t try….I’m not saying there has never been managed news before, but this is carried to (a) fare-thee-well for town halls, the press conferences. It’s blatant. They don’t give a damn if you know it or not. They ought to be hanging their heads in shame.”
In February 2009, the Free Flow of Information Act was introduced in the House and Senate. In March, the lower body passed it overwhelmingly, after which it stalled in Senate Committee.
At the time, the Obama administration weakened it in opposition to strong congressional support – on the pretext of national security considerations over the public’s right to know, to let prosecutors judicially force reporters and whistleblowers to reveal their sources. Though the bill never passed, the administration uses it to prevent exposure of information it wants suppressed, more aggressively than any of his predecessors, another measure of a man promising change.
Thomas Drake was an Obama administration target, a former National Security Agency (NSA) “senior executive,” indicted on April 15, 2010, on multiple charges of “willful retention of classified information, obstruction of justice and making false statements,” according to Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division.
The 10-count indictment alleges he gave Baltimore Sun reporter Sibohan Gorman classified NSA documents about the agency. In fact, she wrote about waste and mismanagement in its “Trailblazer” project (a program analyzing data on computer networks), and illegal spying activities, saying on May 18, 2006 in her article headlined, “NSA Killed System That Sifted Phone Data Legally” that:
“Once President Bush gave the go-ahead for the NSA to secretly gather and analyze domestic phone records – an authorization that carried no stipulations about identity protection – agency officials regarded the encryption as an unnecessary step and rejected it.”
Her stories, however, focused mainly on the Trailblazer $1.2 billion initiative that one insider called “the biggest boondoggle going on now in the intelligence community,” what the public had every right to know.
Drake’s leaks exposed illegal NSA spying, its enormous amount of waste and fraud, and the formation of a public/private national security/surveillance state, incentivizing profiteers to hype fear for their own bottom-line self-interest.
As a candidate, Obama promised transparency, accountability, and reform of extremist Bush policies. As president, he usurped unchecked surveillance powers, including warrantless wiretapping, accessing personal records, monitoring financial transactions, and tracking emails, Internet and cell phone use to gather secret evidence for prosecutions. He also claims Justice Department immunity from illegal spying suits, an interpretation no member of Congress or administration ever made, not even Bush or his Republican allies.
As a result, his national security state targets activists, political dissidents, anti-war protestors, Muslims, Latino immigrants, lawyers who defend them, whistleblowers, journalists who expose federal crimes, corruption, and excesses who won’t disclose their sources, and WikiLeaks, cited in a 2008 Pentagon report as a major US security threat, important to shut down by deterring, discouraging or prosecuting its sources. More on that below.
At a time of extreme government secrecy, lawlessness, and betrayal of the public trust, exposes and public debate more than ever are vital – whistleblowers, WikiLeaks, and courageous reporters essential to an open society, one endangered without them.
WikiLeaks March 15, 2010 Release: “US Intelligence planned to destroy WikiLeaks”
The group’s founder, Julian Assange, described a 32-page February 2008 counterintelligence investigation “to fatally marginalize the organization.” However, after two years, without success, at least so far.
It called WikiLeaks “a potential force protection, counterintelligence, operational security (OPSEC), and information security (INFOSEC) threat to the US Army, (jeopardizing) DoD personnel, equipment, facilities, or installations. Such information (could help) foreign intelligence and security services (FISS), foreign military forces, foreign insurgents, and foreign terrorist groups (by providing them) information (they could use to attack) US force(s), both within the United States and abroad” – typical Pentagon boilerplate to hype threats and deter whistleblowers from exposing government crimes and excesses, what the public has every right to know.
In response, WikiLeaks said protecting the identity of leakers takes high priority. It operates “to expose unethical practices, illegal behavior, and wrongdoing within corrupt (government agencies and) corporations (as well as) oppressive regimes” abroad, some in collusion with Washington.
The goal – expose wrongdoing, demand accountability, and support democratic principles in a free and open society – what governments are supposed to do, but when they don’t, organizations like WikiLeaks exhibit the highest form of patriotism, to be lauded, not spied on, pilloried, or destroyed.
Among its many accusations, DOD claimed WikiLeaks:
— has possible DOD moles giving it sensitive or classified information;
— uses its site to post fabricated and manipulated information;
— has 2,000 pages of leaked army documents with information about US and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, including on the kinds and numbers of equipment assigned to US Central Command;
— Julian Assange wrote and co-authored articles, based on leaked information, “to facilitate action by the US Congress to force the withdrawal of US troops by cutting off funding for the war(s);”
— leaked information “could aid enemy forces in planning terrorist attacks, (choose) the most effective type and emplacement of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)” and use other ways to target US military units, convoys, and bases;
— data published is misinterpreted, manipulated misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda;
— a November 9, 2007 report said US forces “had almost certainly violated the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC),” and has 2,386 low grade chemical weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan;
— the same report charged DOD with illegal white phosphorous use in the 2004 Fallujah attack;
— the Bush administration was accused of torture and denying ICRC representatives access to Guantanamo detainees;
— details were provided on DOD’s use of asymmetric tactics, techniques, and procedures in the April 2004 Fallujah assault; and
— many other accusations and concerns were listed, including whether “foreign organizations….foreign military services, foreign insurgents, or terrorist groups provide funding or material support to Wikileaks.org.”
DOD concluded that successfully identifying, prosecuting, and terminating the employment of leakers “would damage and potentially destroy” WikiLeaks’ operation and deter others from supplying information. It also stressed “the need for strong counterintelligence, antiterrorism, force protection, information assurance, INFOSEC, and OPSEC programs to train Army personnel” on ways to prevent leaks and report “suspicious activities.”
Julian Assange is a man with a mission – total transparency. WikiLeaks is a vital resource by providing key information on how governments and corporations betray the public interest. Given America’s tradition of war crimes, corruption and other abuses of power, no wonder DOD is concerned, thankfully so far without success, or according to WikiLeaks:
Its activities are “the strongest way we have of generating the true democracy and good governance on which all mankind’s dreams depend,” and may have a chance to achieve from their work and others like them – grassroots activism, power and determination, the only way change ever comes, never from the top down, a lesson to internalize, remember, and act on.
A Final Note
On June 10, Daily Beast writer Philip Shenon headlined, “Pentagon Manhunt,” saying:
“Anxious that WikiLeaks may be on the verge of publishing a batch of secret State Department cables, investigators are desperately searching for founder Julian Assange.”
In early June, he was scheduled to speak at New York’s Personal Democracy Forum, but was advised against it for his safety. Instead, he appeared via Skype from Australia.
Interviewed about Assange, famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg believes he could be in danger, saying:
“I happen to have been the target of a White House hit squad myself. On May 3, 1972, a dozen CIA assets from the Bay of Pigs, Cuban emigres, were brought up from Miami with orders to ‘incapacitate me totally.’ ” Ellsberg asked if that meant to kill him, and was told “It means to incapacitate you totally. But you have to understand these guys never use the word ‘kill.’ “
Is Assange now in danger? “Absolutely. On the same basis, I was….Obama is now proclaiming rights of life and death, being judge, jury, and executioner of Americans without due process” at home or abroad, besides non-citizens anywhere as well, the rule of law be damned. “No president has ever claimed that and possibly no one since John the First.”
Ellsberg’s advice to Assange:
“Stay out of the US. Otherwise, keep doing what he is doing. It’s pretty valuable….He is serving our democracy and serving our rule of law precisely by challenging the secrecy regulations, which are not laws in most cases, in this country. He is doing very good work for our democracy,” something Obama, like his predecessors, works daily to subvert.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.