A Call to End War on Whistleblowers

The post-9/11 expansion of U.S. government spying on citizens has coincided with an equally draconian crackdown on government whistleblowers who try to alert the American people to what is happening, an assault on the Constitution that seven whistleblowers say must end, writes John Hanrahan.

By John Hanrahan

Seven prominent national security whistleblowers on Monday called for a number of wide-ranging reforms, including passage of the “Surveillance State Repeal Act,” which would repeal the USA Patriot Act, in an effort to restore the Constitutionally guaranteed Fourth Amendment right to be free from government spying.

Several of the whistleblowers also said that the recent lenient sentence of probation and a fine for General David Petraeus, for his providing of classified information to his mistress Paula Broadwell, underscores the double standard of justice at work in the area of classified information handling.

Speakers said Petraeus’s favorable treatment should become the standard applied to defendants who are actual national security whistleblowers, such as Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Jeffrey Sterling (who has denied guilt but who nevertheless faces sentencing May 11 for an Espionage Act conviction for allegedly providing classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen).

In a news conference sponsored by the ExposeFacts project of the Institute for Public Accuracy at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., speakers included William Binney, former high-level National Security Agency (NSA) official; Thomas Drake, former NSA senior executive; Daniel Ellsberg, former U.S. military analyst and the Pentagon Papers whistleblower; Ray McGovern, formerly CIA analyst who chaired the National Intelligence Estimates in the 1980s; Jesselyn Radack, former Justice Department trial attorney and ethics adviser, and now director of National Security and Human Rights at the Government Accountability Project; Coleen Rowley, attorney and former FBI special agent; J. Kirk Wiebe, 32-year former employee at the NSA.

Several speakers warned that the Constitution, since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has been shredded under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and that Obama’s unprecedented “war on whistleblowers” is part of the effort for the government to, as NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake put it, “unchain itself from the Constitution.” Drake said he and other national security whistleblowers were “the canaries in the Constitutional coal mine” to warn of the NSA mantra “to collect it all.”

Drake said he personally was “throwing my weight behind” passage of H.R. 1466, the Surveillance State Repeal Act, which was introduced by the bipartisan duo of Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, and Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky.

According to its sponsors, the measure would remove NSA’s claimed justification for its bulk phone metadata accumulation, but would also repeal the FISA Amendments Act through which the government claims the right to spy on Internet users. The issue is coming up now because three key provisions of the Patriot Act expire later this month. Responding to a question from a reporter, the other six whistleblowers said they also supported passage of H.R. 1466.

Petraeus’s recent favorable treatment from the Justice Department and a federal court judge came in for pointed comments from several speakers. In his deal with the government, Petraeus was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor for turning over classified materials to Paula Broadwell, who was writing an admiring biography of the general. Also, as part of the plea deal Petraeus was not even charged with the felony of lying to the FBI.

This stands in marked contrast to as many as nine individuals, including whistleblowers such as Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, Edward Snowden, John Kiriakou (CIA) and the soon-to-be-sentenced Jeffrey Sterling, who have all been charged under the Espionage Act since Barack Obama became president.

Until the Obama administration came into office, the Act had only been used three times since its passage in 1917, which means Obama has used it three times as much as all of his predecessors put together since the law’s passage. But General Petraeus somehow gets to skate free.

“We all owe a debt of gratitude to General David Petraeus for showing us what a farce (the Obama administration’s) war on whistleblowers and leaks more generally really is,” said Jesselyn Radack.

She said she personally had represented seven whistleblowers “charged under the draconian Espionage Actthe weapon of choice for the Obama administration except in the case of General Petraeus who was allowed to enter a plea on a minor misdemeanor charge,” which subjected him to two years probation and a $100,000 fine.

Drawing on Petraeus’ favored treatment despite the seriousness of his offense and his lying to the FBI about it, Radack said probation and a fine, such as Petraeus received, was “a more appropriate response” to unauthorized disclosure or leaks of classified information, rather than prison sentences.

Daniel Ellsberg commented in the same vein that, “I don’t think General Petraeus should go to prison” for providing classified material to Broadwell, but neither did he think true whistleblowers in the public interest should go to jail. He added, though, that “it would be wonderful for once to see a public official” go to jail for lying to Congress, or the courts, or the FBI, and for that I’d be willing to see him go to jail.”

As for the Obama administration’s overuse of the Espionage Act, Ellsberg said, “nobody but spies” who provide classified information to foreign governments should be tried under the Espionage Act.

Ellsberg prodded the mainstream press not only to protect whistleblower sources, but also to recognize that such sources are “the grist of investigative journalism.” Too many in the mainstream press, Ellsberg said, seem to regard whistleblowers the way police officers regard their informants, as “snitches” and “law-breakers.” He warned that Obama has “set the precedent” for dealing with whistleblowers, and the press needs to be more supportive of whistleblowers.

Ellsberg, Radack and Ray McGovern also said the Espionage Act, which prohibits whistleblowers from presenting their motives for disclosing classified information as part of their defense, needs to be amended to allow for “a public interest defense.” Illustrating the need for reform, McGovern said that in the Manning court-martial and the Sterling trial, as soon as defense attorneys started to raise the issue of motive, there was an immediate government objection and an immediate ruling of sustained from the judge.

McGovern said Sterling was convicted on “the vaguest of circumstantial evidence” in a “case that was not proven” against him. The government showed that Sterling had had telephone conversations with New York Times reporter James Risen, who had previously written about Sterling’s workplace discrimination lawsuit against the CIA, and prosecutors apparently convinced the jury that they were not discussing Sterling’s discrimination suit, but rather his knowledge of a CIA plan to provide flawed nuclear weapons blueprints to Iran .

What was the lesson any intelligence agency employee might draw from the flimsy evidence used in the Sterling case? Said McGovern: “Do not speak to journalists.” And, especially, “don’t speak to James Risen.”

Contrasting Sterling’s situation (facing a possible long prison sentence) with Petraeus (walking free, with a $100,000 fine, which McGovern noted was three-fourths of a one-hour speaking engagement fee for the general), McGovern said: “Equal justice? Forget about it.”

Coleen Rowley centered her remarks around a statement Obama made last week in apologizing for the deaths of two hostages, an American and an Italian, in a drone strike in Pakistan. Obama, she said, opined that “one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”

“I wish that were true,” Rowley said. “That would be nice if we learned from our mistakes,” but instead the government is going in the opposite direction in areas such as the drone program, as witness the accidental killing of the hostages.

Gathering an accurate assessment of intelligence is inherently going to happen at the bottom levels of intelligence agencies, Rowley said, so employees in the lower positions have to resist someone at the top stating a desired outcome and asking people at the bottom to tailor the intelligence accordingly.

She said that government officials and employees’ “highest loyalty is to the rule of law itself.” That is where whistleblowers come in.

Kirk Wiebe said that the public and political response to the NSA surveillance disclosures has not been encouraging, and painted a dire picture of civil liberties abuses, the militarization of local police forces and the “de facto destruction of the Constitution.”

“I am now entering the phase where I am becoming frightened,” Wiebe said. “People have asked me, are we going to be able to get out of this mess to turn the Titanic around? I don’t see the way to miss hitting the iceberg.”

“We as a nation are more aware of these issues than ever before,” Wiebe said, but “we’ve become a society willing to look the other way in the face of wrongdoing,” adding: “We are no longer afraid of the police state happening. It’s here in small measures, in increasing measures, week by week, day by day”

In introducing William Binney, IPA’s executive director Norman Solomon noted that 10 months before Edward Snowden’s NSA surveillance documents began to appear in The Guardian in June 2013, Binney had already gone public in a mini-documentary by filmmaker Laura Poitras.

In that interview Binney, without documents, raised many of the spying allegations that Snowden subsequently disclosed. It was this video that apparently encouraged Snowden to contact Poitras, who in turn contacted journalist Glenn Greenwald, to give them the NSA documents.

Binney said the NSA since 2002 had managed to use “terrorizing and fear-mongering” as a way to manipulate and “co-opt Congress and a senior judge at the FISA court,” while keeping the public in the dark about “violating the Constitutional rights of everybody in the country.”

Since it had the White House blessing, Binney said the NSA controlled all three branches of government before its activities came to light. Former NSA director Michael Hayden “to this day” continues to lie that the agency doesn’t collect content, only metadata, Binney said.

In raising the alarm about the sweep of NSA programs since leaving the agency, Binney said he had been painted by NSA as someone who had no credibility “because I was a disgruntled former employee.”

John Hanrahan, currently on the editorial board of ExposeFacts, is a former executive director of The Fund for Investigative Journalism and reporter for The Washington Post, The Washington Star, UPI and other news organizations. He also has extensive experience as a legal investigator. Hanrahan is the author of Government by Contract and co-author of Lost Frontier: The Marketing of Alaska. He has written extensively for NiemanWatchdog.org, a project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. [This story originally appeared at ExposeFacts.org]

11 comments for “A Call to End War on Whistleblowers

  1. Vesuvius
    April 30, 2015 at 13:01

    Thank you for this article. And special thanks to F.G. Sanford.

    To anyone critical, or hesitating, to the allegation that President John F. Kennedy was murdered by the very people who’s job was to protect him, please refer to “JFK and the Unspeakable” by James W. Douglass (2008, 2010). Dr Douglass has uncovered the whole nasty story of how this Crime of the 20th Century was orchestrated. In my opinion, the murder of JFK represents a tragic turningpoint in history, the crime and its cover-up can be seen as the starting-Point leading down to Watergate and now further down to the sordid NSA and GCHQ business etc.

    If the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee, which Awards the Nobel Peace Prize every Autumn, has real guts, it will give the 2015 Award to Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. These three people are the ones who really deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.

  2. April 30, 2015 at 10:13

    At the National Academy, the fbi trains all law enforcement leaders in the nation and in many parts of the world * to kill, beat, imprison and torture the innocent suspect, while the SCOTUS authorizes the police to kill innocent suspects fleeing in their cars. So, most of the police/fbi brutality and killings of our people is the result of a macabre culture in all law enforcement as inculcated by your beloved f b i.



  3. John
    April 30, 2015 at 09:01

    The “public interest” defense of whistleblowing seems entirely valid. The problem that actual spies would claim some public interest seems illusory, because spies would be more interested in specific information of military value, which seems unlikely to be confused with what whistleblowers reveal. For example, the Israeli spy Pollard who gave nearly all US nuclear secrets to Israel, which is alleged to have sold them also, could not have claimed a public interest defense.

  4. April 29, 2015 at 22:03

    With the support of the general population the fbi and all law enforcement in the USA (their agents / operatives & informants) cause , enhance , benefit from and enjoy extreme human suffering that they by their employment pursue 24/7/365 for all their careers and thereafter .
    See my main website and the following synopsis thereof for compelling and uncontested evidence of my assertions.


  5. Gregory Kruse
    April 29, 2015 at 20:33

    After watching him on The Real News Network, Reality Asserts Itself, I don’t think Kiriakou should be included in this group.

  6. F. G. Sanford
    April 29, 2015 at 20:21

    On November 22, 1963, an American President was murdered by the National Security apparatus because he tried to stop a war. Today, his critics deny this claiming he was “soft on communism” and flaunted the morals of a three-balled tomcat. It is helpful to examine what the ‘Pentagon Papers’ were in light of what they attempted to obfuscate. They were a history of the Vietnam War commissioned by McNamara and written by Leslie Gelb. Pertinent National Security Action Memoranda (NSAM’s) served as the framework. NSAM 111 issued 22NOV61 limited assistance to Saigon’s regime to political and diplomatic support. NSAM 249 issued 25JUN63 suspended all covert action pending policy review. NSAM 263 issued 11OCT63 affirmed phased withdrawal of troops to create political incentive on the part of the failing regime to negotiate reforms that might preserve its unlikely viability. Kennedy requested an estimate regarding troop withdrawal from McNamara and Taylor which came on 02OCT63; the decision to withdraw was finalized on 05OCT63 and formalized in NSAM 263 on 11OCT63. On 20NOV63, the JCS and NSC agreed on accelerated troop withdrawal and issued a press release to that effect which was published in the NYT on 21NOV63. NSAM 273 was drafted on 24NOV63 and issued on 26NOV63. It nullified previously mentioned NSAM’s but was limned as ‘continuity of policy’. It was falsely sold as a reaffirmation of the ‘status quo anti’ of 05OCT63. Among other things, NSAM 273 embraced military victory in Vietnam, cancelled troop withdrawal, renewed covert activity, advocated widened hostilities, ordered senior officers not to criticize policy, and initiated propaganda to substantiate a false portrayal of the insurgency as, “an externally directed and supported communist conspiracy”. In fact, it was a home-grown revolution against a totally corrupt, detested and failing South Vietnamese regime. CINCPAC OPLAN 3463 scheduled under NSAM 273 re-authorized covert action leading to the Tonkin Gulf Incident and the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. Deployment of 500,000 troops and 58,000 casualties were to follow. NSAM 273 was in essence a declaration by the National Security apparatus of its independence from Constitutional and Presidential authority. When Johnson appeared before Congress on 27NOV63 and said, “Let us continue”, he implied that the assassination had not changed policy. That was an abject lie. The ‘Pentagon Papers’ was a ‘modified limited hangout’, and the new ‘status quo’ has persisted. Gelb, it is worth mentioning, went on to be a NYT editor. The massive edifice of deception assembled on the ruins of American democracy since then is unlikely to yield. Unless an American President or the New York Times finds the lone courage to stand before the American people and tell that story, there is little hope. Only a three-balled tomcat can save us now.

    • April 29, 2015 at 21:12

      Great summary FG Sanford, all true and, I’m convinced it is the reason we are in the fix we are in. Our condition will not improve until we deal with this…

    • John
      April 30, 2015 at 08:43

      This is an interesting thread. The assassin Oswald was a Marine who defected to the USSR and returned, whose wife was Russian, and had earlier attempted to assassinate a US General. It is very odd that the mass media made absolutely no mention of this despite the anti-communist hysteria of the times, and apparently the Warren report dismissed any USSR connection. Why would they not exploit the USSR connection if they sought to conceal a conspiracy, unless not then under the same control as National Security agencies? Are you suggesting that such a person was recruited by a USG agency?

      Also note that South Vietnam president Diem was assassinated weeks before Kennedy, because his regime was negotiating with North Vietnam. Apparently the US military mediated the plot by SV general Minh, and Kennedy discovered this later. So one might suppose that the USSR blamed Kennedy and arranged his assassination, or that US agencies plotted both so as to escalate the war. Again the USSR connection would have been tempting to the media if commonly controlled by US interests, but there was no mention of any connection in the US media.

      • F. G. Sanford
        April 30, 2015 at 10:48

        There was only one witness to the General Walker shooting: a fifteen year old kid who described two assailants; neither matched Oswald’s description. Walker had been relieved of duty for subversive activities and passing out fascist literature to his troops. Kennedy sought legal action against him. The bullet recovered in that case did not match the supposed assassination weapon. The accusation that he was involved came long after the fact and he was not a suspect at the time of the incident. Oswald’s paraffin test was negative for rifle fire on 22 November; the Dallas police chief lied to the press when he said, “I believe it was positive”. The first thing the media did was replay the taped interview Oswald gave regarding his “Fair Play for Cuba” activity in which his “defection” was discussed. It played all over the country on the evening of 22 November. Oswald has been linked as a paid informant to the CIA, FBI and U.S. Customs. He was no defector. There is no evidence linking him to the Walker shooting. There is no evidence that he fired a rifle on 22 November, 1963. Oswald was, plain and simple, a “patsy”.

        • April 30, 2015 at 13:37

          Also, Charles P. Cabell brother of Dallas Mayor Charles P. Cabell was in charge of the planning of The Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and was fired along with Alan Dulles by JFK. Jim Garrison did his very best to “connect the dots” and if they are still not connected, they should be.

          • April 30, 2015 at 13:42

            Sorry, I ment Dallas Mayor Earle Cabell.

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