On the war on surveillance state whistleblowers


Two must-read articles and a must-see documentary for putting current developments in the war on surveillance state whistleblowers in perspective:

[Climate Science Watch is a program of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.]

Jesselyn Radack, National Security and Human Rights Director at GAP, writes in Salon:

How to trap a whistleblower

Tell them that going through “proper channels” will provide meaningful redress to their concerns, not injure them

Last week, President Obama misled the public when he told comedian Jay Leno that protected legal channels exist that Edward Snowden could have used to challenge government misconduct:

I can tell you that there are ways, if you think that the government is abusing a program, of coming forward. In fact, I, through Executive Order, signed whistleblower protection for intelligence officers or people who are involved in the intelligence industry.

This message is false. And the President repeated it at his press conference a few days later. Obama is referring to Presidential Policy Directive #19. If the President had bothered to read his own Executive Order, he would have known that it was not implemented at all when Snowden blew the whistle on the National Security Agency. Further, it fails to provide protected legal channels to contractor positions such as Snowden’s.

Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the NSA, is living proof of how insidious the “channels” argument is. …

Radack concludes:

Drake’s story puts the lie to the notion that internal channels serve as anything other than a trap for unwitting whistleblowers. What is so revealing is that if Snowden had gone through internal channels, the outcome would have been worse: the United States would have charged him with espionage and he’d be in jail for, in essence, spying on his own country on behalf of the public. It should not require martyrdom for a free citizen to challenge government abuses of power. It should not require choosing one’s conscience over one’s career, citizenship, or freedom.

Author Andrew Bacevich, political scientist and historian at Boston University, writes in a penetrating analysis in the Washington Post (“How Manning and Snowden made secrecy impossible”, August 18 print edition; August 16 online with the title “Are Manning and Snowden patriots? That depends on what we do next.”):

… To whom do Army privates and intelligence contractors owe their loyalty? To state or to country? To the national security apparatus that employs them or to the people that apparatus is said to protect?

Those who speak for that apparatus, preeminently the president, assert that the interests of the state and the interests of the country are indistinguishable. …

But what if the interests of the state do not automatically align with those of the country? In that event, protecting “the homeland” serves as something of a smokescreen. Behind it, the state pursues its own agenda. In doing so, it stealthily but inexorably accumulates power, privilege and prerogatives.

Wars — either actual hostilities or crises fostering the perception of imminent danger — facilitate this process. …

Bacevich says:

Here is the mechanism that confers status on insiders: the control of secrets. Their ownership of secrets puts them in the know. It also insulates them from accountability and renders them impervious to criticism. …

In the realm of national security, dissent matters only when it penetrates the machine’s interior. Only then does the state deem it worthy of notice.

To understand this is to appreciate the importance of what Manning and Snowden have done and why their actions have produced panic in Washington. Here is irrefutable evidence of dissent penetrating the machine’s deepest recesses. …

The Radack and Bacevich articles should be read in their entirety.

And the first-rate new documentary War on Whistleblowers, produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker Robert Greenwald, really deserves wide distribution. The film tells the stories of four major whistleblowers, including Thomas Drake (National Security Agency), Thomas Tamm (Justice Department), Franz Gayl (Defense Department), and Michael DeKort (Coast Guard), with strong and illuminating commentary by an array of journalists (Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian, Seymour Hersh, David Carr and Bill Keller of the New York Times, Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, Michael Isikoff of NBC, and others) and experts (Daniel Ellsberg, Jesselyn Radack and Tom Devine of GAP, Danielle Bryan of the Project on Government Oversight, and others).

There’s a good review by Rick Perlstein in The Nation: The War on Whistleblowers: On the Sin of Being Correct.

“I have found all too frequently the government claims the publication of certain information will harm national security,” we read onscreen in an affidavit from The New York Times’s James Risen, “when in reality, the government’s real concern is about covering up its own wrongdoing.” In fact, former Times executive editor Bill Keller says, “I think these stories have helped more than they’ve hurt national security”—and the Times’ David Carr notices a correlation between how secret information is supposed to be and how bad it is for the reputations of the people involved. Or their profits: “We talk about a national security state that’s interested in security,” Seymour Hersh says, ‘but in fact it’s interested in the security of corporate interests.”

You can get a free copy on DVD at Greenwald’s Brave New Foundation’s site—or donate what you can. The DVD is also available at Amazon.

Earlier posts:

NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake at the University of the District of Columbia

Thomas Drake NSA whistleblower victory: government’s case implodes

Thomas Drake: 2011 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling

Thomas Tamm: 2009 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling

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