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United Arab Emirates' English-language newspaper The National ran a significant piece by Peter Muir criticizing the U.S. government's hypocrisy in declining to criminally prosecute government officials who authorized, orchestrated and committed torture during the G.W. Bush-era while prosecuting John Kiriakou – a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) whistleblower who helped expose torture – under the heavy-handed Espionage Act.
If those responsible for torture - either committing the act, sanctioning it, providing dubious legal advice that encourages it or wilfully destroying evidence of it- are not held accountable, while those within the US government, like Kiriakou, who take a stand against it are persecuted, it may only be a matter of time before we once again see grinning soldiers shamelessly posing for souvenir photos with the shrink-wrapped remains of "enhanced interrogation" victims.
I've long pointed out that the government's war on whistleblowers (a.k.a. selective and record-breaking use of the Espionage Act against whistleblowers) has a tremendous chilling effect on potential national security whistleblowers, creates a terrible precedent for targeting and silencing jouranlists, and is a back-door way of creating an Official Secrets Act. Considering that a commentator for UAE's The National can grasp the dangerous consequences of letting the architects of torture off the hook while charging whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, the government ought to reconsider its attack on whistleblowers for one more reason.
There are dangers of the Obama administration's record-breaking six Espionage Act prosecutions beyond imprisonment for my clients like John Kiriakou and National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake (before the case against Drake imploded). In light of the decision not to prosecute torturers or the architects of torture, the message the U.S. government's leak hypocrisy sends is that employees who break the law can get away with it while those who help expose government law-breaking risk criminal prosecution.
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Associated Press reported on the conflicting reports of suspected al-Qaeda leader Badruddin Haqqani's death:
The son of the founder of the powerful Haqqani network was been killed in an airstrike in Pakistan, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said Sunday, providing the first public confirmation of rumors that have been swirling for days about the key member of a militant group the U.S. considers one of the most dangerous in the region.
The Taliban rejected reports of Badruddin Haqqani’s death, however, saying that he was alive and well in Afghanistan.
The US has refused to comment on the reports that Haqqani was killing in an "airstrike" – read "drone strike" – in Pakistan. Ironic, considering U.S. officials had plenty to say when a US citizen (Anwar Al-Awlaki) and then his innocent American son were killed in drone strikes in Pakistan.
Now, even though it appears that - unlike al-Awlaki's son, who was by all reports innocent of terrorist activity - Badruddin Haqqani, son of terrorist network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, was actually an operational leader in the terrorist network.
Badruddin is considered a vital part of the Haqqani structure and is believed to have played an active role in kidnappings, extortion and high-profile operations in Afghanistan.
The US drone program has international relations consequences beyond even the dire constitutional consequences of killing Americans without a shred of due process, but the American public is relegated to conflicting reports from Afghanistan about the drone program because:
... the US does not comment publicly on its drone program, which is widely reviled by the Pakistani public and has been a source of tension with Islamabad.
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Reports have surfaced about a new book on the Bin Laden raid by an anonymous Navy Seal who, according to the book's publisher, "was one of the first men through the door on the third floor of the terrorist leader’s hideout and was present at his death."
This latest book (titled No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden and due out next month) did not go through the pre-publication review process. From WaPo:
Officials indicated Wednesday that neither the author nor the publisher had cleared the book’s contents with the Defense Department or the CIA, a step ordinarily required by former service members or spies seeking to write about classified operations.
The Obama administration ought to look in the mirror before expressing too much anger about the book considering the administration is the biggest "leaker" of all, especially when it comes to the Bin Laden raid, a point not lost on WaPo:
It could also raise legal and political issues for the Obama administration, which has carried out an aggressive crackdown on leaks even while it has also been accused of offering access to journalists and moviemakers to exploit the success of the bin Laden operation.
The pre-publication review processes, particularly at intelligence agencies, are notoriously favorable to pro-government publications and unfavorable toward critical writings. Worse, even authors who go through the pre-publication review process – like my clients John Kiriakou and Peter Van Buren – are not protected from retaliation for their books.
CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou submitted his 2009 book, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror, for pre-publication review and worked with the CIA for years negotiating to get his book approved. Now Kiriakou has been indicted under the Espionage Act - the sixth person to be indicted in the Obama administration's record-braking war on whistleblowers - and is facing decades in prison. One of the charges against him despite his cooperation with the pre-publication review process: lying to the CIA's pre-publication review board. More specifically, Kiriakou is charged with trying to trick the CIA's board, but being unsuccessful – meaning CIA approved the book in its entirety. The charge is based upon an e-mail Kiriakou allegedly sent not to the CIA's board, but to his co-author. (If you find it baffling that the Justice Department has used this as the basis for a felony charge, you are not alone.)
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We here at GAP are big fans of both whistleblower rights and funny things, though, for better or worse, they don't often cross paths. Until now! We were unimaginably delighted when The Daily Show with Jon Stewart aired a segment on whistleblowers last night. GAP National Security & Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack and NSA whistleblower/GAP client Thomas Drake appeared on The Daily Show to talk to correspondent Jason Jones about how Drake was prosecuted as a spy (under the Espionage Act) for revealing massive waste, fraud and abuse at the agency. Watch the segment below!
Radack, herself a Department of Justice whistleblower before becoming a whistleblower advocate, and Drake talked about his case, highlighting the absurdity of Drake being charged as a spy.
For more on Drake's case and how it eventually backfired on the government, click here. Radack's whistleblowing was the subject of her recent book, Traitor: The Whistleblower and the 'American Taliban', which you can learn more about here.
Hannah Johnson is Communications Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.
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A Los Angeles Times editorial yesterday touted the benefits of focusing the "leak hysteria" in Washington on sources, who are often whistleblowers, rather than journalists.
But the public has been well served by a policy of focusing on leakers, not reporters. In its agitation over the latest leaks, Congress shouldn't disturb that balance.
The LA Times' position is a 180 degree flip flop from the stance the paper took just months after the indictment of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information. Back in 2010, the LA Times commendably articulated what I have been warning about since the Drake indictment – that the war on whistleblowers is really a war on the media:
In fact, this administration has pursued a quiet but malicious campaign against the news media and their sources, more aggressively attacking those who ferret out confidential information than even the George W. Bush administration did. . . . It is understandable that the administration has secrets and wants to keep them. But this campaign to flush out sources has the feel of chest-thumping and intimidation. It is one thing to protect information that might put Americans in danger or undermine national security; it is another to bring cases against whistle-blowers and others who divulge information to spur debate and raise questions about public policy.
The case against Drake consisted of trumped up charges aimed at silencing a whistleblower, rather than protecting classified information, and, almost a year after the LA Times criticized the prosecution, the case against Drake collapsed in spectacular fashion days before trial.
However, now that a few extreme members of Congress are talking about subpoenaing journalists, the LA Times has completely changed its tune on the war on whistleblowers, and willfully ignores critical facts it acknowledged in 2010.
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The Washington Post used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain one of the documents that formed the Espionage Act case against National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake. Former classification czar under G.W. Bush, J William Leonard, was slated to testify as a defense expert for Drake and called the case the most "deliberate and willful example of government officials improperly classifying a document," he had ever seen.
Leonard’s views, outlined in an affidavit, got some support with the release of a memo that formed part of the evidence against Drake.
The once "classified" document (scare quotes around "classified" as none of the information that formed the basis of the Espionage Act counts against Drake was actually properly classified) is now public. Ellen Nakashima of WaPo reported on innocuous information in the document that formed the basis of an Espionage Act charge against Drake for allegedly retaining the document improperly.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, also received the declassified memo from the NSA and said its disclosure reinforced questions raised about the prosecution.
“It’s utterly innocuous and practically devoid of meaningful content,” he said of the memo in an interview. “The idea that someone risked decades of prison over this document is an indictment of the agency and its classification policy.”
Leonard echoed those concerns in an e-mail to WaPo:
Leonard, speaking generally, said the system for classifying information is “becoming dysfunctional” and “clearly lacks the ability to differentiate between trivial information and that which can truly damage our nation’s well-being.”
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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sought asylum from the Ecuador Embassy in London. As a signatory to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Embassy has an obligation to review his application and should grant it.
Asylum eligibility has three requirements, all of which Assange meets: 1) a fear of persecution, 2) on account of a protected ground (in Assange's case, "political opinion"), and 3) a government is either involved in the persecution (in Assange's case, the United States) or unable to control the conduct of private actors.
After Britain rejected Asange's bid to reconsider extradition to Sweden to face questioning over sexual misconduct allegations (Assange has not been charged with any crime by any nation), Assange sought asylum from the Ecuador Embassy in London.
Under the criteria that even the U.S. follows, he qualifies. Few would contest that he has a valid fear of political persecution. And certainly a government, primarily the United States, is behind it. The Pentagon launched a world-wide manhunt against Assange. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote an Op-Ed stating conclusively that
Mr. Assange continues to violate the Espionage Act of 1917
, a law the United States has used in a brutal crackdown on whistleblowers, often involving trumped up criminal charges. (See the case of my client and fellow Kossack Tom Drake.)