In recent decades, information — the lifeblood of democracy — has often been cut off from the American body politic on “national security” grounds or because insiders feel it wouldn’t be “good for the country.” To counter that benighted view, a group of ex-U.S. intelligence officials honors brave whistleblowers, this year Thomas Drake and Jesselyn Radack.
By Ray McGovern
Our country’s need for courageous whistleblowers is now. That is mostly why Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII) publicly honors people who have spoken truth, and suffered the consequences, as Sam Adams, my former analyst colleague at CIA, did on Vietnam.
So that is why, this year, we are honoring Thomas Drake, who was a senior official at the National Security Agency where he observed serious waste, fraud and violations of the constitutional rights of Americans, and Jesselyn Radack, a Justice Department lawyer who objected to the abusive treatment of John Walker Lindh, dubbed the “American Taliban” during the early days of the Afghan War. [See details below.]
We want to encourage people with integrity to blow the whistle, preferably with documents, when circumstances dictate this course of action as the correct moral choice. There are, in other words, what ethicists call “supervening values” that dwarf non-disclosure promises, and SAAII’s annual award for integrity is an excellent reminder of that reality, and of its relevance to today.
It is well known, for example, that serious CIA analysts have never bought Gen. David Petraeus’s repeated assurances that we are making “progress” in Afghanistan. As commander of U.S. forces there, what else, pray tell, was he going to say?
Now Petraeus is commander of CIA analysts who know better than most that the “progress” is illusory, and the modifier “fragile but reversible” is as disingenuous as similar formulae recited by Gen. William Westmoreland in Saigon during the Vietnam War.
How long will it take one of those honest analysts to summon the courage to let the country know that the repeated incantations that we are making “fragile” progress in Afghanistan are hogwash?
Some have risen to the occasion in the past and blown the whistle, but often too late, at the cost of squandering thousands more lives. Dan Ellsberg has often said he wishes he had not waited until 1971 to reveal the entire official fraud on Vietnam, known as the Pentagon Papers.
(Actually, as you will see below, in early 1968, in his first such leak to the media, Dan did give the New York Times, then an independent newspaper, Sam Adams’s honest, and correct, estimate of Communist strength just in time to prevent President Lyndon Johnson from acceding to Westmoreland’s secret request for 206,000 more troops.)
Dan has spoken at our annual events in the past, but is on deadline to finish a book and will not be with us this year. We have, nonetheless, a good line-up for the award ceremony and discussion on Monday, Nov. 21 at American University.
Below you will find the flyer SAAII and American University are using to promote next Monday’s event, and also a short description of the origins of SAAII and its previous annual award winners.
You and your friends are cordially invited to join us.
Truth & Consequences: Blowing the Whistle on Government Abuse
Ward Circle Bldg, Rm. 2, American U; Mon., November 21 at 8:10 pm; free
Keynote Speakers: Thomas Drake and Jesselyn Radack, winners of this year’s award from Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence
Thomas Drake was a senior official at the National Security Agency where he witnessed widespread waste, fraud, and violations of the 4th Amendment rights of U.S. citizens. He blew the whistle, and the Justice Department tried him for espionage, and lost. The extraordinary charges against him are symptomatic of the rising power of the military-industrial-congressional-intelligence-surveillance-cybersecurity complex.
Jesselyn Radack was the Justice Department attorney who stood up for the Constitutional rights of John Walker Lindh, a young U.S. citizen captured in Afghanistan and widely denigrated as the “American Taliban.” She was dissed. And Lindh became the first American to be tortured by Americans during the early days of the Afghan War. “Justice” then made her a target of a criminal investigation and put her on the “No-Fly” List. She is now with the Government Accountability Project and was one of the lawyers representing Tom Drake under circumstances closely resembling her own.
Col. Larry Wilkerson (USA, ret.), SAAII awardee in 2009 and former chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell (2002-2005), will speak on how the national security state and big corporations are ruining our country.
Coleen Rowley, Former special agent and legal counselor, Minneapolis FBI, who called the FBI director’s attention to serious shortcomings before the attacks of 9/11; Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2002
Peter Kuznick, Professor of History; Director, American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute; Co-writer (with Oliver Stone) “Untold History of the U.S.” (coming in 2012 on Showtime & in print)
Ray McGovern, Veteran CIA analyst, whose duties included preparing and briefing the President’s Daily Brief; Co-founder, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS); colleague of Sam Adams
The late Sam Adams, estimating the number of Vietnamese Communists under arms, came up with twice the number Gen. William Westmoreland would allow the Army to acknowledge. Sadly, the countrywide Communist offensive in January-February 1968 proved Sam right.
Sponsored by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence and American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute
Background on the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence
Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence is a movement of former CIA colleagues and other associates of former intelligence analyst Sam Adams, who hold up his example as a model for those in intelligence who would aspire to the courage to speak truth to power.
Sam did the best he could and in honoring his memory, SAAII confers an award each year to a member of the intelligence profession exemplifying Sam Adam’s courage, persistence, and devotion to truth, no matter the consequences.
It was Adams who discovered in 1967 that there were more than a half-million Vietnamese Communists under arms, roughly twice the number that the U.S. command in Saigon would admit to, lest Americans learn that claims of “progress” were bogus.
Gen. William Westmoreland had put an artificial limit on the number Army intelligence was allowed to carry on its books. And Gen. Creighton Abrams specifically warned Washington that the press would have a field day if Adam’s numbers were released, and that this would weaken the war effort.
A SECRET/EYES ONLY cable from Westmoreland’s deputy, Gen. Creighton Abrams on Aug. 20, 1967, stated: “We have been projecting an image of success over recent months,” and cautioned that if the higher figures became public, “all available caveats and explanations will not prevent the press from drawing an erroneous and gloomy conclusion.”
The Communist countrywide offensive during Tet (January/February 1968) made it clear that the generals had been lying and that Sam Adams’ “higher figures” were correct. Senior intelligence officials were aware of the deception, but lacked the courage to stand up to Westmoreland. Still, Sam remained reluctant to go “outside channels.”
A few weeks after Tet, however, Daniel Ellsberg rose to the occasion. Dan learned that Westmoreland was asking for 206,000 more troops to widen the war into Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam, right up to the border with China, and perhaps beyond.
Someone else promptly leaked to the New York Times Westmoreland’s troop request, emboldening Ellsberg to do likewise with Sam Adams’s story. Dan had come to the view that leaking truth about a deceitful war would be “a patriotic and constructive act.” It was his first unauthorized disclosure. On March 19, 1968, the Times published a stinging story based on Adams’s figures.
Six days later, on March 25, President Johnson complained to a small gathering, “The leaks to the New York Times hurt us. … We have no support for the war. This is caused by the 206,000 troop request [by Westmoreland] and the leaks. I would have given Westy the 206,000 men.”
On March 31, 1968, Johnson introduced a bombing pause, opted for negotiations, and announced that he would not run for another term in November.
Sam Adams continued to press for honesty and accountability but stayed “inside channels”, and failed. He died at 55 of a heart attack, nagged by the thought that, had he not let himself be diddled, many lives might have been saved. His story is told in War of Numbers.
The annual Sam Adams Award has been given in previous years to truth tellers Coleen Rowley of the FBI; Katharine Gun of British Intelligence; Sibel Edmonds of the FBI; Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan; Sam Provance; former US Army Sgt; Maj. Frank Grevil of Danish Army Intelligence; Larry Wilkerson, Col., US Army (ret.), former chief of staff to Colin Powell at State; and Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He and Sam Adams began serving as CIA analysts in 1963 during the administration of President John F. Kennedy.