Obama’s Normalization of Neo-Conservatism Part 4 of 4: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers. Read Part 1 of Obama’s Normalization of Neo-conservatism: Drones. Read Part 2 of Obama’s Normalization of Neo-conservatism: Continuing Coverup of Torture Read Part 3 of Obama’s Normalization of Neo-conservatism: Obama Evokes State Secrets
MEDIA ROOTS – “Protect Whistle blowers: …Such acts of courage and patriotism….should be encouraged rather than stifled. Barack Obama will strengthen whistle blower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistle blower claims and whistle blowers have full access to courts and due process.” – from the official Obama / Biden campaign website posted in 2008.
In 1917, during World War I, the Espionage Act was passed in the United States. Since the inception of the Espionage Act up until 2012, this law has been used on 9 people, 6 of whom were charged between 2008-2012, all under the direction and oversight of President Obama.
How has something so seemingly draconian and Bush-like been used so excessively by an administration that promised change and an end to “Scooter Libby justice”? Is the Obama administration simply trying to ‘plug all the leaks’? After all the research for Media Roots’ series of ‘Obama’s normalization of neoconservatism,’ it is clearer than ever that Obama has gone above and beyond any other president in US history to protect a prior administration from investigations, repercussions and criminal punishment.
Amidst the Watergate scandal, Nixon resigned after being faced with criminal charges and impeachment. He was later pardoned by Gerald Ford, who ascended unelected to the presidency in the wake of Nixon’s resignation before he went to trial. A president, even an unelected one, always has the legal right to pardon someone for any reason he deems necessary. In the case of Obama, he would not and could not allow the justice system to function organically as he put up road blocks at every opportunity so that no one from the Bush administrations could face prosecution or charges. Worse and even more insulting to the law than even a pre-emptive pardon was blanket retroactive immunity for any and all blatant crimes committed by Bush and his administration
In a few of the cases against whistle blowers, the government has dropped most of the charges long after making a public spectacle of the event. One might think that the government was simply trying to get to the bottom of the the matter and dropped charges in certain instances once no evidence of guilt was found. Studying each whistle blowing investigation individually, it becomes clear that intimidation was the primary goal regardless if the charges stuck or not. Sucking mainstream journalists into a vortex of potential litigation and prosecution, the government sends a message to all interested in true investigative journalism in the United States.
The writer of the infamous NSA wiretapping story in the NY times was subpoenaed over three times in an effort to reveal his sources. The delay in the NY times releasing the article (almost a year after they got the scoop) could possibly be explained by their fear of disrupting the 2004 election results with negative press. Perhaps if they caused too much of a ruckus, the governments’ intimidation would have been much worse, possibly resulting in the journalist’s arrest. Interestingly, this scandal was leaked four years before Obama came into office. When Obama took office and the investigation went into full force, his Justice Department went after the journalists and government employees involved in the leak.
The US government claimed that former Justice Department lawyer, Thomas Tann, was the source of the leak, and was under investigation for over five years until the charges were eventually dropped. One may say ‘no harm no foul’ without taking into account that during this investigation the US government made a point to drag his name through the mud in the form of a public smear campaign.
Thomas Drake is another NSA employee who found out about an NSA no bid contract of 1.2 billion dollars when the same services could be provided in house for merely 2 million. When he leaked this information, he was fired and investigated then subsequently charged with espionage. “It is now apparently a federal crime to report illegalities, malfeasance, broad waste and abuse perpetrated by our own government, but now government is making whistle-blowing a crime. They are making dissent a crime, especially when it embarrasses the government and calls the government to account.”…”speaking truth to power makes one the enemy of the state” – Thomas Drake. Under Obama’s new law, reporting extreme government waste is seen as one of the highest threats against national security, espionage. Eventually all charges were dropped except “exceeding authorized use of a computer” for which he pleaded guilty and received a misdemeanor.
Jeffery Sterling is a former CIA agent who is alleged to have told the New York times about the identity of an ‘asset’ who was involved in an embarrassing botched covert attempt to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. The reporter who wrote the article, James Risen, was subpoenaed to reveal his source. Risen refused to give up his sources and later revealed in court via his lawyers that the US government under the authority of Eric Holder and Michael Mukassey (effective continuity between Bush’s and Obama’s Justice Department) spied on him and gained personal information such as bank records and airline travel schedules. For what purpose? The government will not say. Acts like this, regardless of the official reasoning, can again be seen as acts of intimidation. If a journalist knows a whistle blower wanting to reveal a juicy story about government negligence, crimes, waste or just outright ineptness, they should be very careful because the government might start spying on them if they even consider publishing the information. The Espionage Act was also used against dual US-Israeli citizen and FBI translator, Shamai Leibowitz, who was sentenced to twenty months in prison for leaking information to a blogger about a proposed disastrous Israeli strike on Iran. The blogger in response to the charges told the New York Times that Leibowitz was an “American Patriot”.
John Kiriakou is the CIA’s former director of counter terrorism operations in Pakistan who was charged under the Act for allegedly leaking to reporters the names of two agency operatives involved in the interrogation of terrorism detainees under the George W. Bush Administration. Besides evoking state secrets and squelching potential investigations into one of the most egregious Bush war-crimes, torture, Obama’s Justice Department was willing to use the Espionage Act to stop one of it’s own from going public with even more incriminating information about Bush law breaking. Eventually a reporter or a blogger might need to proxy to escape criminal prosecution, just like the whistle blower in which he is basing his story. Twenty-four year old US soldier Private First Class Bradley Manning thought he had a proxy in the form of Wikileaks when he allegedly smuggled out of military intelligence thousands of diplomatic cables and classified videos, one in particular showing the US military killing two unarmed journalists and injuring a small girl from an Apache helicopter. The video later named Collateral Murder’ by Wikileaks is chilling. As the soldiers in the helicopter realize they’ve shot a young child, they callously scoff “shouldn’t of brought your kids to battlefield.”
Of all the whistle blowers under the Obama administration, Manning was the subject of the loudest public smear campaign initiated by none other than hip technology magazine Wired after an FBI informant, Adrian Lammo, turned him into the authorities for his supposed role in leaking the famous “Collateral Murder” video. Before Manning was even charged with a crime (which would later officially be the Espionage Act), President Obama proclaimed Manning’s guilt on national television. Regardless if he were guilty of the leak or not, the message was clear. A person will be thrown in jail and never heard from again if they leak something of this magnitude and the most powerful man in the country will deem you guilty to hundreds of millions of Americans. Private Manning has been kept in solitary confinement on ‘suicide watch’, forced to strip naked daily with no bed sheets for the first 200 days of his detention. To date, he has spent over 850 days in a tiny jail cell, at least 730 days longer than legally allowed in the united states. The normal legal limit is four months or 120 days until you are required to face a judge and go to trial.
Bradley Manning was inspired by the International organization Wikileaks to do what he was alleged to have done. Wikileaks is headed by an Australian citizen, Julian Assange, who up until recently has managed to continue the organization’s work unscathed. Assange argues, as does Wikileaks supporters, that to punish Wikileaks itself would be the equivalent to punishing actual mainstream journalistic outlets like the NY times or Washington Post. The reason being that once wikileaks publishes information handed over to them from insider whistle blowers, the information becomes public domain over the internet. What is technically the difference between Wikileaks publishing information given to them by whistle blowers and the NY Times for instance publishing the same information? The answer is none, that the distinction between the two acts does not exist. The real difference is that an outlet like the NY times would be far more careful in upsetting the status quo in order to be equally as unfiltered of an outlet like Wikileaks.
In a government CIA document titled “Wikileaks.org – an online reference to foreign intelligence services, insurgents or terrorist groups” (which was ironically leaked by Wikileaks itself) it states, “Web sites such as Wikileaks.org use trust as a center of gravity by protecting the anonymity and identity of the insiders, leakers, or whistle blowers. The identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistle blowers could potentially damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the Wikileaks.org Web site.” “The possibility that a current employee or mole within DOD or elsewhere in the US government is providing sensitive information or classified information to Wikileaks.org cannot be ruled out. Wikileaks.org claims that the leakers or whistle blowers of sensitive or classified DOD documents are former US government employees. These claims are highly suspect, however, since Wikileaks.org states that the anonymity and protection of the leakers or whistle blowers is one of its primary goals.”
The heat against Wikileaks peaked in late 2010 when the ‘Collateral Murder’ video made them a household name in the United States. Many independent civil liberties focused media outlets and reporters such as Glenn Greenwald (one of wikileaks earliest and most high profile supporters) encouraged people who strongly believed in freedom of the press and the 1st amendment to donate money to Wikileaks using Paypal or credit card. The next noteworthy leaks by Wikileaks included thousands of internal diplomatic cables from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Again Wikileaks was dominating the news and Julian Assange had become so well known at this point that they parodied him on Saturday Night Live. Then the government unexpectedly announced that they have a suspect who they knew provided the classified snuff film about the Iraq murders to Wikileaks, namely Bradley Manning. At this point, the reality of the situation was undeniable, that Wikileaks was generating a serious threat against the PR apparatus of the United States. As clearly stated in US government documented about Wikileaks, “The disclosure of sensitive or classified information involving a foreign government or corporation will eventually result in the increased accountability of a democratic, oppressive, or corrupt the government to its citizen.” Shortly after Bradley Manning was arrested, Wikileaks’ web host suddenly discontinued service. Amazon.com, their web provider, pulled the site within 24 of hours of an apparent phone call from the chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Joe Lieberman. The day after Amazon pulled the plug, its domain-name service provider, EveryDNS, stopped resolving WikiLeaks.org, after the DNS provider was battered by the DOS attacks.
On December 7th, 2010, Forbes Magazine wrote that Visa suspended payments to WikiLeaks… MasterCard told Cnet that it would also attempt to block payments to WikiLeaks, arguing that its “rules prohibit customers from directly or indirectly engaging in or facilitating any action that is illegal.” And only one day later Readwrite.com writes, “In the latest in a series of blows to Wikileaks, PayPal says it will no longer support money transfers to the whistle blower site.” Although these companies have said that their terms of service forbid the support or facilitation of illegal activity, such pronouncements about Wikileaks are debatable. While it is a crime to leak classified information, receiving and publishing it is not.
Whether it was actually a crime or not was of no consequence to the State Department and apparently not to the corporations who strategically blocked Wikileaks’ efforts. Over 95% of all online payments are in the form of Visa, Mastercard or Paypal. This was a genuine conspiracy of government and corporations to squelch Wikileaks from receiving funding from a now exponentially growing supportive group of donors. The US government effectively intimidated journalists, whistle blowers and now private corporations into submission. Julian Assange found ways around these problems, switching web hosts and encouraging people to donate with American Express and Bitcoin. These companies, luckily did not cave to US pressure.
If there was any doubt left that corporations and government work together to suppress the free flow of information, there is no longer. It was now right out in the open that once the US government felt threatened by a force who are technically breaking no laws, they will do anything and everything to lessen and suppress that threat. This all came to a head when Julian Assange was wanted for questioning in Sweden on suspicion of rape charges. At this point in time, it became clear to Julian that the US was going to try and find a way to take him back to the US and detain him. Mainstream media outlets were suspicious about the rape accusations and Julian Assange agreed to go in for questioning if Swedish authorities promised they would not extradite him to the US. They could not make such a promise, so he refused to go in for questioning. He now stays indefinitely inside the Ecuadorian embassy inside the UK and has been there for over 4 months. If he leaves the UK, authorities will immediately arrest him, and after that the US will do everything in their power to take him into custody. Legally speaking they would use the Espionage Act and he would suffer the same fate as Private Manning most likely never seeing the light of day in his lifetime. Most legal experts warn that if Assange can be charged under the act, that any US journalist who also shared Wikileaks information could be charged as well. This is a legal slippery slope that sends an immense chilling effect to working journalists. It sends the message if sensitive information is published, even information available publicly on the internet, criminal charges could proceed.
Most average citizens might feel totally unaffected by the US government’s battle to stop whistle blowers and journalists from revealing embarrassing information, just as most Americans feel unaffected by the marginalization of Muslims and Arabs in this country in the wake of 9/11 but there is a dangerous trickle down effect as a result of these intimidation tactics. When the US government goes after suspicious Muslims, whistle blowers, journalists, activists or political radicals, it affects us all whether we realize it or not. The next time a journalist receives private information that might be in the public interest, they may not want to act on it out of fear of aiding a criminal. The next time someone wants to say something controversial on the internet about the US government, they might think twice out of fear. If someone feels compelled to donate to Wikileaks or another outspoken human rights organization like the ACLU, they might think twice out of concern of ‘showing up on some government list’. This is the chilling effect which insidiously sneaks up on all Americans. Unfortunately, this has been historically the best deterrent for keeping a populace in check, stopping citizens from even thinking about challenging the power structure. The strategy is to eliminate potential challenges to the power structure through the power of fear and intimidation. Since the war on terror has already been waged for over a decade, and the recently revealed ‘disposition matrix’ reveals it will go on for at least another two decades, is there a chance that American journalists, activists and average citizens will stand up and seize whatever power the 1st amendment still grants them? Let us all hope so.
Written by Robbie Martin for Media Roots
Photos provided by Dick Swanson, White House photographer used under public domain based on works by the US government