Patriot Acts: Whistleblowers Defending Our Freedom

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A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it. ” – Henry David Thoreau from ‘Civil Disobedience’

Daniel Ellsberg called Edward Snowden’s revelations of government spying, “the most important leak in American history.” As the public learns more and more about secret government programs to spy on U.S. citizens, it is tempting to believe that it is all about Edward Snowden and his startling disclosures. This is far from the truth. In fact, almost a decade ago, conscientious employees of United States government spy agencies such as the National Security Administration (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began reporting on abusive and seemingly unconstitutional government polices including torture and deliberate spying on innocent U.S. citizens.

Abby Martin interviewed three former employees of government spy agencies with a combined total of over 40 years experience in government positions. These interviews revealed that torture is official U.S. government policy, and that spying on innocent U.S. citizens is much more pervasive than the federal government’s response to Edward Snowden’s disclosures would seem to indicate. Taken together with Snowden’s revelations, these interviews paint a picture of an out of control federal government that has slipped the reins of morality and the US Constitution, and is determined and able to do whatever it desires without regard to legality or the Constitution.

Russell Tice, a satellite systems specialist, worked over 20 years in various government agencies including the NSA and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). In 2004, while performing his government assigned duties, Tice was shocked to learn that the U.S. government was spying on innocent U.S. citizens. Tice revealed what he knew to reporters for the New York Times and the Austin American-Statesman, and the story was published. Tice hoped the exposure would help put an end to what he considered to be illegal and unconstitutional activity on the part of the government.

NSA Blackmailing Obama? Abby Martin Speaks to NSA Whistleblower Russ Tice 

Thomas Drake is a former NSA senior executive and NSA Chair at the National Defense University. He worked on the Trailblazer Project, another program that intercepted cell phone, email and internet communications, and was a predecessor to the PRISM project revealed by Edward Snowden. Convinced that Trailblazer was illegally violating innocent Americans’ privacy, Drake and several others reported their concerns through proper government channels including the Department of Defense Inspector General. In 2007, all those involved were raided by the FBI. Drake was charged with violating the Espionage Act. Meanwhile, he continued to reveal waste, fraud, abuse, and violations of privacy perpetrated by the NSA to reporters, including those from the Baltimore Sun and The New Yorker.

 Advice on Trusting Your Government from NSA Whistleblower Thomas Drake

John Kiriakou is a former CIA analyst and case officer, a former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former CIA Chief of Counterterrorist Operations in Pakistan. He resigned from the CIA in 2004 after being recruited to supervise a program of water boarding and other “enhanced interrogation” methods. He refused to participate because he felt the methods to be immoral and equivalent to torture. In December 2007, while being interviewed on ABC News, Kiriakou stated his opinion that water boarding was torture and that he knew through personal experience that it was official U.S. government policy. From that day on, Kiriakou states that all his activities have been monitored and investigated by the Justice Department. Eventually, in 2012, he was charged and convicted under the Espionage Act and sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison. This made him the first and only CIA officer ever to be convicted under the Espionage Act.

CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou: ‘If I Tortured, I’d Be Free’

It’s a lot worse than you think.

On being briefed on Snowden’s revelations, Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Loretta Sanchez, said:

What we learned in there is significantly more than what is out in the media today… I can’t speak to what we learned in there…but I will tell you that I believe it is just the tip of the iceberg

In their discussions with Abby Martin, Tice, Drake, and Kiriakou all related their knowledge that illegal government activity is a great deal more intrusive and pervasive than even Snowden’s revelations illustrate. Russell Tice described a computer program known as ECHELON that allows the government to spy on innocent American’s phone calls, emails, and other internet activity. He personally witnessed a number of alarming examples of government abuse of this system including warrantless spying on:

– News organizations and journalists
– U.S. companies that do business internationally
– Financial institutions
– State Department personnel including Colin Powell
– 3-star and higher Admirals and Generals including David Petraeus
– Prominent law firms and lawyers
– Supreme Court Justices including Judge Alito
– United States Congressmen including Barak Obama when he was a Senator
– Friends, family members and personal residences of all of the above

A high level NSA source told Tice that orders to spy were coming from Vice President Cheney, himself.

Both Tice and Drake stated that they had personal knowledge that the government did look into the contents of the information they obtain and not just the “metadata” as President Obama now claims. Thomas Drake noted that the PRISM program revealed by Edward Snowden had taken the violations of privacy he objected to in the Trailblazer Project much further. “PRISM demonstrates that there is collusion between the U.S. government and the most powerful, largest internet service providers, not only in the country, but in the world. The government is essentially given direct access or the equivalent of direct access to subscriber information on a very large scale, including the content of their information.”

Attorney Jesselyn Radack is a Director of the Government Accountability Project, and the attorney who represents both Drake and Kiriakou. She explained that the PRISM program expands wiretapping without a warrant, like that which occurred in the Trailblazer Project under the Bush administration. Now, with PRISM, the government has direct access to the nine largest internet service providers in the world, including Google, Microsoft, and Apple. Radack stated that this is in direct violation of a number of federal laws as well as the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In addition to PRISM and the other spying efforts brought to light by Snowden, Drake believes that, “there are additional orders and there are additional programs that have not been revealed…I think that once those come out, several other shoes will drop. I think the government is desperate to protect the deepest of the secrets.” Drake believes that what will be revealed is that government spying treats U.S. citizens no differently than foreign nationals. He believes that the “Foreign” in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is irrelevant. The act might be more accurately called the Surveillance Act. He feels that all citizens in the U.S. and other countries are virtual subjects of one large surveillance state.

On the issue of torture, John Kiriakou emphasized that torture was not just a rogue activity carried out by isolated U.S. government agents. Kiriakou knew from personal experience that torture, during his time in the CIA, was an official U.S. government policy authorized from the President of the United States on down.

Russell Tice summarized the feelings of the group: “Every means of communication in this country, everything, is being watched by the federal government, and that is Orwellian, and that is the trademark of a police state.”

Why is the government doing this to us?

Thomas Drake gave the most succinct explanation for the rogue actions of the U.S. government. When asked by Abby Martin why he felt the government was doing this, he answered, “Because they can. They have the power.” “ Information is the currency of power,” Radack added. “More and more information is the name of the game.”

There is nothing to stop the intelligence agencies from doing this. So called oversight of intelligence activities is no oversight at all, explained Drake. The FISA court operates in complete secrecy. Congressional oversight committees are being briefed in secret, and those present are sworn to secrecy regarding what they learned. Even taking oversight into account, there is only a very small number of people who know what is going on, explained Drake. The FISA court virtually never denies a request to spy. In 2012, the FISA court approved nearly 2,000 requests for surveillance and turned down none. “This is unprecedented,” Drake said. “How can such deep secrets exist in a democracy, a constitutional republic, without something giving – and what’s giving is our fundamental rights and liberties.”

Drake further explained that this spying serves what he refers to as the “surveillance state.” “It serves a very, very large contractor base. Staggering amounts of money are being made off the fear mongering since 9/11. You now have an entire industrial scale mechanism. A number of contractors are feeding off of it, and it’s a lot of money. You also have those in congress who are supporting and enabling it. This has become normalized.” Drake believes that this process has now taken on a life of its own. “They are not going to give up the secret power willingly,” he said.

Russell Tice suggested that the spying was a means of control. He believes that the upper echelons of the intelligence community collect compromising information on individuals in order to influence their future behavior. In this sense, the executives of the intelligence community comprise a sort of shadow government that has the power to vet candidates for leadership positions in government, and put leverage on the three branches of government to get what they want. As evidence of this theory, Tice pointed out that U.S. government intelligence agencies were not affected by the sequester, but nearly all other government agencies were.

Tice describes how candidate Obama pledged to stop National Security Letters and other forms of abusive government surveillance and to support whistleblowers. Even though Tice was a lifelong Republican, he supported Obama for that reason. Once he was elected, however, Obama changed. Those promises never materialized. Obama continues to lie about and cover up the extent of U.S. government spying, and he has prosecuted whistleblowers more zealously than any President before him. “Is it because he is being controlled?” Tice wonders. Tice notes that before Edward Snowden presented the world with incontrovertible proof of unconstitutional government spying, the media neglected to report on the issue. This was true even though Tice and others exposed this activity years ago. Tice suggests that “another interest” making use of compromising information obtained through illegal spying was applying leverage to the media to keep them quiet.

There is debate as to whether or not all this government spying is even effective or helpful. In light of the Boston bombing and the underwear bomber, internal government reports suggested that perhaps intelligence agencies were getting too much information to effectively analyze and predict attacks. Nonetheless, the government makes ample use of fear mongering to defend their actions. Drake and Radack, debunked the government claim that NSA spying programs have stopped at least 50 terrorist attacks. Drake posed the question, “How many of those “terrorist plots” were stopped, disrupted or prevented solely on the basis of secret surveillance programs and not by other means.” Radack added, “Even if we got that answer, there is no way to verify it. The government has told huge lies, and yet we are just supposed to trust them to tell us how many terrorist plots they have foiled.” It does not make sense. “They say they can only tell us so much, but this administration has not been at all shy about bragging about the “terrorist plots” that it disrupts,” she said. “Or that it manufactures then disrupts,” Abby Martin quipped.

If the US government does it, it’s not illegal.

There is a two tiered justice system operating in the U.S. today. There is one system of justice for those who do the government’s bidding without question, and another system of justice for those patriots who hope to improve the government by pointing out its flaws.

No one responsible for the illegal warrantless wiretapping that took place during the Bush administration is in jail. In fact, the government made it all legal after the fact. No one responsible for the unconstitutional surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden is being prosecuted or is in jail. The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who lied to Congress about the extent of NSA surveillance, is not being prosecuted and is not in jail.

John Yoo, Alberto Gonzalez, Donald Rumsfeld, and others who conceived of, authorized, implemented, and oversaw torture are not in jail. None of the attorneys who papered over torture with tortuous legal analysis are in jail. Former CIA agent, Jose Rodriguez, the man responsible for destroying the tapes showing evidence of CIA torture, is not in jail. In fact, he is on a book tour discussing the great benefits of torture.

“None are in prison, none will ever be prosecuted,” says John Kiriakou.

Uncle Sam to the conscientious – proceed at your own risk!

John Kiriakou refused to take part in torture, and exposed torture by the U.S. government in hopes of putting an end to it. He is going to jail for 2 ½ years, convicted under the Espionage Act. Kiriakou was convicted even though the author of the law he supposedly violated testified on his behalf. He is in jail even though he demonstrated no mal intent. He is in jail because the presiding judge disregarded and disallowed legal precedent regarding mal intent. John Kiriakou is in jail after the government prosecutors were able to meet in secret with and give secret information to the presiding judge that Kiriakou was not allowed to hear or rebut. In fact, after she alone heard the secret so-called “evidence,” the presiding judge publicly stated that she wished she could have sentenced Kiriakou to 10 years instead of 2 1/2 years.

John Kiriakou has been audited by the IRS every single year since 2007, when he stated torture was official U.S. government policy.

Thomas Drake exposed unconstitutional government spying as part of the Trailblazer program. Thomas Drake was prosecuted under the espionage act. To avoid an even worse sentence, Drake was forced to plead guilty to a misdemeanor. He lost his job and his pension and was required to serve one year of probation.

Bradley Manning exposed war crimes. He is in prison for many years. Edward Snowden exposed unconstitutional government spying. He had to flee the United States where he would certainly be in jail, to Russia where he is free.

John Kiriakou feels that this is all an intentional program of harassment on the part of the government. The government wants to punish critics in any way possible for the purpose of having a chilling effect on others other who would criticize, blow the whistle, point out evidence of waste, fraud, and abuse, or expose government crimes.

What hope do we have?

Forty years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, was not above the law. Americans hailed whistleblowers for having brought down the President for his utter lawlessness. How did we get from prosecuting the criminal to prosecuting the messenger? “We have strayed so far,” notes Abby Martin.

Today, President Obama, who was elected to office promising to shut down Guantanamo Prison, closes the office responsible for doing just that shortly after he wins re-election

John Kiriakou observes that we have had an incremental loss in our civil liberties over the years that were accelerated after 9/11, but there has been surprisingly little public outrage.

Today, the United States government is known for:

– Intercepting phone calls and emails without a warrant
– Vaporizing innocent people including American citizens with missiles from predator drones
– Mistreatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay
– Extraordinary Rendition
– Indefinite pretrial detention
– Coercive “enhanced” interrogation techniques (A.K.A. torture)
– Zealous harassment and prosecution of political dissidents (whistleblowers)

Is there no hope? Have Americans accepted this loss of civil liberties without a fight?

Russell Tice does not believe so. He is still out there speaking out against government abuse.

Thomas Drake does not believe so. He is still speaking out too. “I do believe, if the conversations, debate, and discussions that people are now having are any indication, people are growing more uncomfortable with what’s been going on,” he says.

Jesselyn Radack does not believe so. She continues to defend and advocate for the whistleblowers. She notes, “Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner who wrote the Patriot Act is coming out against all this. Senators Wyden and Udall and others you think wouldn’t have a problem with this are coming out against this too, and Republican libertarians and progressive Democrats have joined forces saying it is unacceptable for the government to have this much power hidden from the people.”

John Kiriakou does not believe there is no hope. “I’ve come to realize this case is so much bigger than I am…It is so much more important for free speech and freedom of association, it is so much more important for freedom of the press. I just hope that there is enough rage out there…that it helps someone in the future stand up to the justice department and to stand up to these infringements on our civil liberties.”

Bradley Manning has not lost hope. He is going to jail rather than ignore the injustice he wanted to stop.

Finally, Edward Snowden has not given up:

Everyone everywhere now understands how bad things have gotten — and they’re talking about it. They have the power to decide for themselves whether they are willing to sacrifice their privacy to the surveillance state.” “I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”

The rest is up to us. As Abby Martin said, “We should all be speaking up. If we don’t stop this now, who knows where we are going with it.”

Written by David Wiggins

One thought on “Patriot Acts: Whistleblowers Defending Our Freedom

  1. This is an astute analysis of what Barret Brown from behind bars has aptly termed “the cyber-intelligence complex,” where state and corporate entities have merged closer than ever in order to create a spooked atmosphere of surveillance that former Stasi agents of East Germany would kill for. Indeed, the elites on the Hill have co-opted and annexed the Fourth Estate, providing a nice little addition that’s just down the hall and around the corner from the Oval Office.

    There is much to be concerned about in regards to journalism..

    That said, I, for one, emphatically agree with Wiggins’ conclusion: that hope — even if compromised by Obama’s unrealized placards and sock-puppet platitudes — is still alive. Even though we live in dark times, we must have the audacity to cope with fascism, to counteract it by continually exposing their wrongdoings via whistleblowing and truth-telling.

    Further emphasizing Martin’s call to continue to speak up and dissent, Barrett Brown warns of the other side of the coin of silence and acquiescence: “this is the world we accept if we continue to avert our eyes. And it promises to get much worse.”

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