MoveOn’s Phony New Campaign for ‘Protecting Whistleblowers’

In the last decade, MoveOn — which says it has an email list of 8 million “members”— has refused to do any campaigns to help Manning, Drake, Snowden, Kiriakou or Sterling, writes Norman Solomon. 

Jeffrey Sterling in 2016. (Eleivy, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Norman Solomon
Common Dreams

All of a sudden, MoveOn wants to help “national security” whistleblowers.

Well, some of them, anyway.

After many years of carefully refusing to launch a single campaign in support of brave whistleblowers who faced vicious prosecution during the Obama administration — including Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden, and CIA whistleblowers John Kiriakou and Jeffrey Sterling — MoveOn.org has just cherrypicked a whistleblowing hero it can support.

Chelsea Maning in 2017. (YouTube)

Chelsea Maning in 2017. (Vimeo)

“The stakes could not be higher for the whistleblower, who took a great personal risk to defend our democracy,” MoveOn declared in a mass email Sunday afternoon, referring to the intelligence official who went through channels to blow the whistle on Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president. “We need to have the whistleblower’s back.”

I agree wholeheartedly.

But what about Manning, Drake, Snowden, Kiriakou and Sterling, who also took great personal risks on behalf of democracy? With its digital finger to the wind, MoveOn refused to engage in a campaign to help any of them. Manning, Kiriakou and Sterling were railroaded into prison and remained there for years; Snowden has been forced to stay in exile; and Drake endured years of persecution under threat of decades behind bars.

Sterling Petition Refused

I experienced MoveOn’s refusal firsthand when, in December 2015, I wrote to the group’s campaign director with a request. After a sham trial, Sterling had gone to prison six months earlier for allegedly providing information to New York Times reporter James Risen that he included in a book. “Is there a way that MoveOn could use a bit of its list to promote this petition in support of Jeffrey Sterling?” I asked.

Thomas Drake. (Flickr/Rob Kall)

The answer that I received was disappointing — merely a suggestion that the petition be put on MoveOn’s do-it-yourself platform, where it would not be supported with distribution to any of MoveOn’s email list. After pressing further, I got an explanation from MoveOn that had a marketing sound: “It looks like we have definitely done a lot of testing on Snowden and Manning in the past, but unfortunately nothing quite reached the level of member support where we were able to send it out.”

That approach has endured. In the last decade, MoveOn — which says it has an email list of 8 million “members” — has refused to do any campaigns to help Manning, Drake, Snowden, Kiriakou, or Sterling.

(Full disclosure: The organization where I’m national coordinator, RootsAction.org, has campaigned in support of all five of the above-named whistleblowers, with petitions, news conferences, protests and fundraising.)

Now, the whistleblower initiative that MoveOn has started might seem like a welcome change of direction. But it’s actually worse than problematic.

Edward Snowden. (Laura Poitras/Praxis Films, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The organization that MoveOn just teamed up with — Whistleblower Aid —explicitly does not support people such as Snowden, Drake, Kiriakou, Sterling, and Manning, or the more recent whistleblower Reality Winner. The founding legal partner at Whistleblower Aid, Mark Zaid, has maintained a vehement position against unauthorized release of classified information for many years.

“As a matter of law, no one who leaks classified information to the media (instead of to an appropriate governmental authority) is a whistleblower entitled to legal protection,” Zaid wrote in a Washington Post op-ed piece in 2017. “That applies to Winner, Snowden, and Chelsea Manning, no matter what one thinks of their actions. The law appropriately protects only those who follow it. Anyone who acts contrary does so at their own peril.”

According to Zaid and his organization — which MoveOn is now avidly promoting and helping to subsidize — if the White House whistleblower’s memo had been bottled up via official channels and then had been leaked to a news organization, the whistleblower leaking the memo would not be, and should not be, “entitled to legal protection.”

But, as Snowden has often emphasized, the official scenario of going through channels is a dangerous myth for “national security” whistleblowers. The reason Snowden didn’t go through channels is that he saw what happened to whistleblowers who did —  such as Drake, who was targeted, harassed, and then prosecuted on numerous felony counts. Snowden clearly understood that going through channels would achieve nothing except punishment, which is why he wisely decided to go directly to journalists.

Former CIA officer John Kiriakou (right) receiving 2016 Sam Adams Award for Integrity from Elizabeth Murray (left) and Coleen Rowley on Sept. 25, 2016, in Washington, D.C. ( Linda Lewis)

MoveOn has not only refused to support courageous whistleblowers like Snowden, Drake, Manning, Kiriakou and Sterling — who’ve informed the world about systematic war crimes, wholesale shredding of the Fourth Amendment with mass surveillance, officially sanctioned torture, and dangerously flawed intelligence operations.

Now, MoveOn is partnering with a legal outfit that actually contends such brave souls don’t deserve any protections as whistleblowers. Despite its assertion that “protecting whistleblowers is critical for a healthy democracy,” MoveOn is now splitting donations with an organization that supports the absence of legal protections for many of them.

Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death and Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State.” He is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

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26 comments for “MoveOn’s Phony New Campaign for ‘Protecting Whistleblowers’

  1. Antonia Shouse
    October 5, 2019 at 09:18

    Norm Salamon WHERE is your support or even mention of Julian Assange? Stunning, you go on about others’ lack of courage and leave Julian alone at Belmarsh……

    • October 7, 2019 at 00:16

      Assange is not a whistleblower. He’s a journalist and publisher. As the headline reflects, this article is about “protecting whistleblowers.” (The organization where I’m co-founder and coordinator, RootsAction.org, has petitioned in support of Assange’s rights as a journalist and publisher many times.)

  2. October 5, 2019 at 05:55

    MoveOn is part of the elaborate apparatus of empire.

    To expect any genuinely motivated acts from it is naive at best,

    Very much like the White Helmets in Syria,

    Americans are immersed in a world of deception because they are at the center of empire.

    • Mary
      October 8, 2019 at 13:26

      Right on!

  3. Hide Behind
    October 4, 2019 at 23:52

    In a lawless nation where the corrupt legalize their once illegal actions, what can one expect from those who travel within those halls of corruption?.
    Break apart all the political organizations that act as conduits of cash by wealthy donors who recieve tax breaks and favors from each kindred spirits and favors from those elected and Bureaucrats that infest our political processes.
    Non Governmental Organizations, NGOs’, that pose as charities with paid staffs over seeing the naive and perform services aiding political parties and US intelligence services, all “volunteers making high 6 and 7 figure yearly incomes, a corruption of morals and ethics, while millions die, wherever they Intervene ?
    No this nation has had little followers of ethics and of elected or political appointees with ethical behavior.
    Our police are the greatest abusers of Civil Rights with our judicial systems dual levels, rich and connected versus poor and unknown, forms of punishment from town to municipality to county, to state to Federal Officers and employees, it is hard to figure out where the heck country whistleblowers think they live in.

  4. Thomas H
    October 4, 2019 at 20:50

    Here in Mn where I live, a former compliance officer in the Dept of Human Services, was reprimanded for continually showing her immediate superior that contracts that were under consideration were not in compliance. She had been warned previously to allow non compliant contracts to pass muster. She was eventually fired before filing a whistleblower complaint. So it doesn’t happen only on the federal level.

  5. John Hawk
    October 4, 2019 at 16:14

    A couple of years ago I reported to an appropriate governmental agency a clear act of embezzlement of 100K$ from a government agency. The ‘appropriate governmental agency’ was said agency’s Inspector General’s office. Still waiting to hear from someone. Not holding my breath. I ditched supporting MoveOn years ago, so I’m not surprised that they have a warped sense of decency when it comes to governmental criminality. Keep up the good work Norman Solomon and Consortium News!

  6. October 4, 2019 at 15:33

    I see a difference between a whistleblower who makes public through the media wrongs committed by our government and someone who manages his information to bring down a political enemy. That the media has managed to elevate an attempt to uncover corruption whether he be a candidate or not to a level where the political party thinks they can impeach the person who made the attempt is a marvel. Then I suppose it will see the impeachment process where the Democrats to go through all the stuff Mueller looked at and we will see yet another circus lasting likely until the next presidential election.

    Throughout all of this it is hard not to notice the media’s lack of interest in looking at Biden and his son regarding the charges being made. If asked, the main pundits, in the main, will of course reply that ground that has been plowed before. With a plow set to skim the surface and not create a furrow.

    • Litchfield
      October 4, 2019 at 18:19

      And what about JULIAN ASSANGE?

  7. Jim Nelson
    October 4, 2019 at 12:24

    While I find this deeply disappointing, I’m not a bit surprised.

  8. Annie
    October 4, 2019 at 11:45

    I use to belong to Move On and was a democrat for many years. No more. During Trump’s campaign in 2016 Move On called me up and wanted to know if I was willing to contribute money to disrupt his campaigns. My response was absolutely not. Further victimizing a candidate who is appealing to those who feel victimized in this society, and justifiably so, will only gain him more support. It made no sense to me. Move On plays dirty and needs on many levels to get it’s priorities straight, as do the democrats, who are by no means liberal. Both are a sham.

  9. Tony
    October 4, 2019 at 08:11

    You would have thought that MoveOn would have mobilized its supporters to help save the INF treaty and the New START treaty.

    If you did think that, you would be quite wrong.

  10. jmg
    October 4, 2019 at 04:22

    With whistleblowers who act in defense of the law, constitution, and human rights, the usual process is as follows:

    1. Unlawfully, the government commits crimes.

    2. Then, unlawfully, the government classifies its crimes. This is explicitly outlawed by US Executive Order 13526, Classified National Security Information.

    3. Then, unlawfully, the government boycotts the official whistleblower process and protection, forcing honest citizens to leak government crimes to journalists.

    4. And then, unlawfully, the government charges whistleblowers — and now investigative journalists and publishers as well — with not obeying the unlawful classification of unlawful government actions.

    Rinse and repeat.

    – – –

    Meanwhile, everyone has forgotten heroic investigative journalist and publisher Julian Assange, who is going to be subjected to disgraceful extradition hearings — for revealing crimes and corruption — on next Friday 11 and Monday 21 October in London.

    • geeyp
      October 5, 2019 at 04:01

      Yes, jmg. Apparently, Roots Action.org also disavows Julian Assange as Solomon makes no mention of him here. I used to receive all emails from them and canceled when from the get-go they petitioned impeachment of President Trump prior to the midway of his first term! That’s as pathetic as the previous President receiving the Peace award prior to his starting the office. And how many journalistic awards has Assange received? At last count, over twenty? And nominated for the Peace award the last six years! There is someone that truly deserves it in the actual meaning of peace.

    • jmg
      October 6, 2019 at 12:50

      Geeyp, I think that’s just a misunderstanding. Probably Julian Assange isn’t mentioned in this article because — technically — Manning, Snowden, etc. are whistleblowers while Assange is an investigative journalist and publisher who works with whistleblowers. Naturally, I also think he should have been mentioned because of this.

      However, RootsAction.org has often published on Assange. For example, “After Assange’s Espionage Act Indictment, Police Move Against More Journalists for Publishing Classified Material” (article by Joe Lauria), “Daniel Ellsberg On Assange Arrest: The Beginning of the End For Press Freedom” (video interview by The Real News Network), “Tell the UK not to extradite Julian Assange” (action/petition to the U.K. government), etc.

      And among the campaigns mentioned in their FAQ: “In 2012, we flooded the government of Ecuador with requests for asylum for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange – which they noted, and which they granted.”

      Assange — Search — RootsAction

    • Martin
      October 6, 2019 at 17:39

      Assange is a heroic investigative journalist and publisher, not a whistleblower. Roots Action.org is doing a petition for him “Tell the UK not to extradite Julian Assange”. It’s always good to bring up Assange though. They have a list of reasons why they call for Trump’s impeachment. I don’t think the Ukraine-Biden stuff is on there (yet).

  11. hans meyer
    October 4, 2019 at 03:20

    The fact that following legal channels is not only dangerous but absurdly useless, led to the creation of Wikileaks. Assange is seen as a threat, because his organization allows to safely release docunents. The tale of an unkept slob is a character assassination campain to discredit the creation through the creator. As far as the logic of “Whistleblower Aid” is concerned, their stand is beyond stupid. The first step to make Whistleblowers harmless is to subvert the official channels that take care of them.

  12. evelync
    October 3, 2019 at 23:27

    Thank you Norman Solomon for pointing out MoveOn’s shocking lack of courage and integrity. They remind me of Ms America testifying against Woody Allen’s character Fielding Mellish in Bananas:
    “I think Mr. Mellish is a traitor to this country because his views are different from the views of the president and others of his kind. Differences of opinion should be tolerated but not when they are too different. Then he becomes a subversive mother.” (Courtesy: law dot Indiana dot edu)

    MoveOn risks becoming irrelevant for its institutional failure to stand up for the people who risk everything to bring us the truth about wrongdoing done in our name.

  13. CitizenOne
    October 3, 2019 at 22:54

    MoveOn? Are they a thing?

    • October 4, 2019 at 17:51

      Anyone with any awareness has moved on.

  14. Jeff Harrison
    October 3, 2019 at 21:40

    Please. Your naivete is embarrassing. Move On is a wholly owned subsidiary of the DNC. They are supporting this “whistleblower” because he’s trying to sink Donnie Murdo, a notorious Republican. Consortium Live had a very good commentary from Ray McGovern on this which surprised me. And I think Ray’s right = he’s an intelligence guy stepping into policy.

    • Peter Loeb
      October 5, 2019 at 07:06

      TO JEFF HARRISON:

      My “delete” button is overworked. Like a few others, I pay no attention to MoveOn.
      have no proof that MoveOn is wholly owned, but it makes no difference.

      Peter Loeb, Boston, MA

  15. anon4d2
    October 3, 2019 at 16:53

    The name “MoveOn” very much suggests “Nothing to see here, move along!” as though intended to weaken or attack opposition. Does it have a history of real activism, or has it sought to keep the opposition under a neutralized narrative?

    • Litchfield
      October 4, 2019 at 18:22

      I think Move On started as a good idea when online activism was a new idea.
      But either it was co-opted from the beginning, or it became so.
      Move On has not been a serious alternative viewpoint for a long, long time now.

  16. Mark Thomason
    October 3, 2019 at 14:21

    There is a big difference. Those were real whistle blowers who embarrassed Democrats.

    This guy is a Democratic Party operative who is trying to correct the inadequacies of the Mueller report by leading with carefully phrased accusations, then hiding the ball so it cannot be tested.

    • LarcoMarco
      October 4, 2019 at 15:24

      My sister turned me on to MoveOn many years ago. it didn’t take long for me to unsubscribe.

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