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Anonymous Whistleblower Provides Document;
Groups Send Letter as Settlement Looms
(Washington, DC) – Today, GAP and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) sent a joint letter to British Petroleum (BP) America's Ombudsman Program, seeking an explanation for a resource manual provided by an anonymous source that details health risks for Deepwater Horizon spill cleanup workers from both the five million gallons of oil, and the two million gallons of toxic dispersant.
The manual, "Deepwater Horizon MC252, Vessels of Opportunity Near Shore Oil Recovery Groups, Vessel Captains Hazard Communication" (available here) demonstrates apparent contradictions between BP's official written warnings about the oil dispersant, on the one hand, and its statements to the public on the other. The discrepancies pertain to verbal claims that exposure to COREXIT, the dispersant selected by BP and approved by the EPA to treat the oil, was safe, and the health problems actually associated with COREXIT listed in a BP manual.
The letter asserts:
To illustrate our concerns, BP has aerially sprayed or otherwise released over two million gallons of COREXIT as the primary dispersant in the spill's cleanup. BP and contractors have reassured cleanup crews that COREXIT is as safe as Dawn dishwasher soap. However, the manufacturer's Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) included in the manual indicate that the dispersants utilized contain hazardous ingredients such as 2 butoxyethanol, petroleum distillates, and sulfonic acids. The specific petroleum distillates and sulfonic acids within COREXIT EC9257A and EC9500A have never been disclosed to the public.
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Thanks to Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake, we have another example of hypocrisy and disparate treatment associated with the Obama administration's unprecedented war on whistleblowers. Hamsher analyzes an e-mail exchange that suggests that former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) official James Casey leaked to Stratfor chief Fred Burton that the Justice Department had a sealed indictment against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange:
Burton clearly felt firstname.lastname@example.org was his own little Wikileaks window into the DoJ. So on 1-26-2011 when Burton sent an email to email@example.com saying he had intelligence that the DoJ had a “sealed indictment” on Assange, you have to wonder where it came from.
Even if Casey didn't leak the indictment, someone did. Hamsher is right on explaining the disparate treatment:
Moral of the story: Bradley Manning gets charged with “aiding the enemy” for potentially leaking information that was available on the SIPRNET to hundreds of thousands of people. This guy gets a gold watch and no investigation for potentially leaking the existence of a sealed DoJ indictment of Julian Assange that I imagine almost nobody knew about.
Hamsher's article comes on the heels of hard-hitting questions from ABC White House correspondent Jake Tapper on the Obama administration's policy of using the Espionage Act to prosecute so-called "leakers," who are usually whistleblowers.
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Ellen Nakashima of WaPo reports today:
The National Security Agency has pushed repeatedly over the past year to expand its role in protecting private-sector computer networks from cyberattacks but has been rebuffed by the White House, largely because of privacy concerns. . .
The NSA-fueled hysteria about cyber-threats has yielded several privacy-threatening legislative proposals, some which would legalize massive real-time domestic surveillance by NSA. The White House deserves credit for its rejection of this latest attempt to legalize NSA domestic surveillance, and for not buying into NSA's fear-mongering.
. . . the White House and Justice Department argued that the proposal would permit unprecedented government monitoring of routine civilian Internet activity . . . White House officials cautioned the NSA that President Obama has opposed cybersecurity measures that weaken personal privacy protections.
The Obama administration certainly chose a significant issue on which to take a desperately needed stand against the powerful intelligence agency. Giving NSA additional power to conduct domestic surveillance would further erode the already disappearing privacy rights of American citizens.
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Author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and whistleblower Peter Van Buren discussed the State Department's retaliatory actions on NPR Sunday. From the NPR story:
The halls of the State Department are haunted, not by actual ghosts, but by people who might as well be ghosts. They're called hallwalkers, people who blew the whistle, people who angered someone powerful, people who for one reason or another can't be fired.
But they can be stripped of their security clearances, their desks and their duties and left to walk aimlessly up and down the halls of that massive building. Sometimes they're required to show up at the building to get paid. Sometimes they're allowed to telecommute from home.
The State Department's anti-free speech retaliation included stripping Van Buren of his security clearance, a forced transfer to a telework position after weeks of paid administrative leave, and banning him from entering State Department facilities. Van Buren explained:
There are procedures in the State Department to fire someone or to discipline someone. There are rules that the State Department claims are broken. But rather than pursue those avenues, which would have allowed me to defend myself, the State Department instead followed a different path where they used bureaucratic tools, unofficial ways of doing business that pushed me out of the village, sent me into the wilderness.
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The New York Times reports today on White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's dodge ball non-response to ABC's Jake Tapper on the hypocrisy of promoting an aggressive free press abroad while criminally prosecuting a record number of "leakers" a.k.a. sources a.k.a. whistleblowers in the U.S. under the Espionage Act, a World War I era law intended to go after spies, not whistleblowers. (I blogged about the exchange on Friday). The Times notes something important I've been saying all along, but that the MSM has been slow to recognize:
. . . the majority of the recent prosecutions seem to have everything to do with administrative secrecy and very little to do with national security.
In case after case, the Espionage Act has been deployed as a kind of ad hoc Official Secrets Act, which is not a law that has ever found traction in America, a place where the people’s right to know is viewed as superseding the government’s right to hide its business.
Tapper deserves credit for pushing the White House on the glaring hypocrisy of the self-proclaimed "most transparent administration in history" using the Espionage Act to criminally prosecute whistleblowers. The larger implications were not lost on the Times, which specifically referenced the now-failed Espionage Act case against my client, National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake:
These kinds of prosecutions can have ripples well beyond the immediate proceedings. Two reporters in Washington who work on national security issues said that the rulings had created a chilly environment between journalists and people who work at the various government agencies.
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White House Press Secretary had an almost unbelievably lame non-response when ABC's Jake Tapper asked how the Obama Administration squared lauding freedom of the press and internet freedom abroad while engaging in a record-setting campaign to silence "leakers" a.k.a. sources a.k.a. whistleblowers.
Carney refused to answer the questions, referred Tapper to the Justice Department, and said "I'm not making the assumption" that the Espionage Act prosecutions suppress whistleblowers. The Justice Department is using the prosecutions for exactly that purpose. In the now-failed case against National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake, Justice Department prosecutor William Welch II requested a harsh sentence for Drake specifically to "send a message" to other Intelligence Community employees.
But speaking at the Conference on Internet Freedom at the Hague, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said:
[T]he right to express one’s views, practice one’s faith, peacefully assemble with others to pursue political or social change – these are all rights to which all human beings are entitled, whether they choose to exercise them in a city square or an internet chat room.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S. the Justice Department is doggedly pursuing Espionage Act prosecutions against whistleblowers, thereby labeling them spies and traitors. Not to mention the State Department's retaliation against author Peter Van Buren.
No wonder Carney had a difficult time explaining the glaring hypocrisy. For those who want the visual:
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Journalist Jane Mayer received much-deserved recognition on Monday. Mayer won the prestigious George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting for her New Yorker story on National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake.
The Polk judges called Ms. Mayer’s article “a study in prosecutorial excess that helped lead to all major charges against Drake being dropped.”
Glenn Greenwald was right when he called Mayer's article the "must-read magazine article of the month," and the award confirms that the article is a must-read of 2011. Mayer's brilliant reporting went beyond Drake's personal story.
The author ends her masterful tale with the conclusion that America’s bloated "national-surveillance state" poses a greater threat to civil liberties than ever before.
The recognition for Mayer is particularly meaningful to me personally because Mayer wrote an article nearly a decade ago exonerating me when I blew the whistle in the case of American "Taliban" John Walker Lindh. I felt the whole world was against me until she left a note on my doorstep. Her reporting (and subsequent book The Dark Side) validated my story in the court of public opinion, as she did for Drake. In fact, I have a whole chapter in my new book called "Amazing Jane."
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This weekend, University of California-Berkeley will be celebrating President's Day by celebrating whistleblowers. Seems apropos, no? After all, most government whistleblowers are patriotic civil servants who are extremely dedicated to the welfare of our country, and blow the whistle at great personal risk.
As our third president (Thomas Jefferson, if you don't recall your American history lessons) said, "There is no truth existing which I fear or would wish unknown to the whole world." The conference itself used this quote and it fits. We can only hope that more and more people start to take this view.
The university will be hosting Occupy the Truth: Whistleblowers Conference this weekend, February 17-19. It will feature well-known whistleblowers as well as a "participant-driven environment" for networking and whistleblower support strategies.
GAP National Security & Human Rights Director (and Department of Justice whistleblower) Jesselyn Radack and GAP client (and National Security Agency whistleblower) Tom Drake will be speaking on Saturday. Also featured are Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, former State Department official (and Iraq war critic) Ann Wright, and former CIA agent and intelligence activist Ray McGovern, all three of whom will be discussing the plight of Bradley Manning – the solider accused of giving classified information to WikiLeaks – in a panel this (Friday) evening.
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American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer writes in Huffington Post about the upcoming deadline in the lawsuit challenging the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which legalized unprecedented levels of government surveillance on Americans.
. . . the administration must decide by Tuesday whether to ask the Supreme Court to intervene in the ACLU's constitutional challenge to the FISA Amendments Act . . . For a full decade, the executive branch -- first the Bush administration and now the Obama administration -- has used the standing and "state secrets" doctrines to insulate its most intrusive surveillance activities from public oversight and judicial review. But . . . [t]he courts have a role to play in ensuring that government surveillance complies with the Constitution. We'll find out on Tuesday whether the Obama administration is finally willing to let the courts play that role.
[The FISA Amendments Act] . . . is scheduled to sunset in December, which means that the litigation will unfold against the background of a congressional reauthorization debate.
The congressional and legal battles on warrantless surveillance also come with a more informed public, thanks in part to Jane Mayer's extensive New Yorker story on National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) also warned that the public would be stunned and angry when we found out about the Justice Department's secret interpretation of another spy provision (PATRIOT Act Section 215) radically expanded in the aftermath of 9/11.
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As GAP Communications Director for the last seven years, I've heard about more than my fair share of travesties and wrongdoing within the federal government. But the evidence that whistleblowers relay to us involving defense, war and intelligence – the travesties that are committed, the wrongdoings and despicable behavior that is covered up – is exceptionally disappointing, considering the stakes. GAP has heard from hundreds of these federal employees over the past few years who simply don't know where to begin. Like many truth-tellers, they feel lost and isolated ... but these particular whistleblowers often reach a point where they deeply question their long-held assumptions about our government. Their very core can be shaken.
While these employees often feel alone – dealing daily with materials they cannot speak to their family about – they should (and must) understand that others have found themselves in similar situations before. And a very prominent whistleblower – GAP National Security & Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack – has just published her new memoir about her experience as the Department of Justice (DOJ) whistleblower on the treatment of John Walker Lindh.
Her new book is: Traitor: The Whistleblower and the "American Taliban"
This excellent book walks the reader through Jesselyn's experiences as an ethics adviser at the DOJ who disclosed that the FBI committed ethical violations in its interrogation of Lindh, such as interrogating him without an attorney present. She also exposed that the DOJ attempted to suppress that information, and that former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other senior government officials made misleading public statements about the case.