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State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren writes in TomDispatch today about the escalating retaliation taken against him since he wrote a book about massive reconstruction fraud in Iraq: We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.
Van Buren writes:
For the crime of writing this book and maintaining a blog that occasionally embarrasses, State Department officials destroyed my career, even as they confirm my thesis, and their own failure, by reducing the Baghdad Embassy to half its size in the face of Iraq's unraveling.
Even as the Secretary of State rails against suppression of free speech abroad, the State Department continues to retaliate and threaten Van Buren for a book written in his personal capacity on his personal time.
Van Buren detailed some of the retaliation, which tellingly began shortly before his book's publication:
Without allowing any rebuttal or defense, State suspended my security clearance, claiming my blogging was an example of “poor judgment,” transferred me from a substantive job into a meaningless telework position, threatened felony conviction over alleged disclosure of classified information, illegally banned me from entering the building where I supposedly work, and continues to try to harass and intimidate me.
“The State Department was aware of Mr. Van Buren’s book long prior to its release,” explains attorney Jessleyn Radack, who now represents me. “Yet instead of addressing the ample evidence of fraud, waste, and abuse in the book, State targeted the whistleblower. The State Department’s retaliatory actions are a transparent attempt to intimidate and silence an employee whose critique of fraudulent, wasteful, and mismanaged U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq embarrassed the agency.”
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Courtesy of Fotopedia user jamesdale10I wrote last week about the absurdity of the Obama administration's position on the supposedly-secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) drone strikes that Obama defended publicly at a town hall meeting. Despite Obama's claims that the drone strikes are "very precise, precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates," the Washington Post reports today on a recent strike:
U.S. drone-fired missiles hit a house in Pakistan’s northwest tribal region near the Afghan border Wednesday, killing nine people, Pakistani intelligence officials said. . . .
This strike follows one in November:
Pakistan kicked the U.S. out of a base used by American drones last year in retaliation for American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani troops at two Afghan border posts on Nov. 26.
We also know that drones have killed at least three Americans – Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, his companion Samir Khan, and al-Awlaki's 16 year-old son.
If the most recent strike had killed only suspected terrorists, certainly the Obama administration would be publicizing it the way it did when Obama touted the al-Awlaki assassination as a "tribute to our intelligence community."
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A group of Korean scholars recently launched a campaign to support and vindicate a Korean-American who was indicted by the U.S. government on an espionage charge while he served as a North Korea expert for the U.S. State Department.
That Korean-American is Stephen Kim, a former State Department arms expert, and next on deck in the Obama administration's unprecedented persecution (err, prosecution) of so-called "leakers," who are usually whistleblowers.
Undeterred by its extravagantly ungraceful belly-flop in the case of former NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, the Justice Department is pursuing the Kim case with equally misguided over-zealousness. Kim, like Drake, is being charged under the heavy-handed Espionage Act, which is meant to go after spies, not public servants. His "crime" caused no harm to the United States and did not benefit a foreign nation (elements of the Espionage Act.)
Citizens of South Korea appear more transparency friendly than their government, and attuned to the free speech implications of silencing dissent. No surprise in light of South Korea government's indicting an activist just last week:
South Korean prosecutors indicted a social media and freedom of speech activist this week for reposting messages from the North Korean government's Twitter account.
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Courtesy of Fotopedia user jamesdale10The Obama administration recently continued its campaign against so-called "leakers," who are more often than not whistleblowers, with the indictment of a record-breaking sixth person under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information.
Obama's abhorrence for "leaks" apparently only applies to disclosures that expose embarrassing or negative aspects of the administration. At an online town hall - sponsored by adjust-your-privacy-expectations-downward Google – Obama defended the CIA's supposedly covert drone program:
“I want to make sure that people understand that drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” Obama replied. “For the most part, they have been very precise, precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates.”
The perception that “we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly,” Obama said, is incorrect. “This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases and so on.”
“I think that we have to be judicious in how we use drones,” Obama added.
Iran sentenced American citizen Amir Mirzael Hekmati to death for alleged spying.
The U.S. is justifiably outraged:
U.S. officials said the charges were false and politically motivated, describing them as the latest in a series of provocations by Iran’s clerical rulers.
“We strongly condemn this verdict,” said Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the State Department.
We should feel similar outrage when our own government accuses people who exposed fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement and illegality of being spies. The Obama administration has brought a record number of prosecutions against so-called "leakers" - who are more often than not whistleblowers – using the antiquated Espionage Act, a law meant to go after spies.
Iran's unjustifiable death sentence should warn against slapping a whistleblower with the toxic label "spy." The injustice for Hekmati is also a stark warning against the dangerous combination of secret courts, government overreach, and questionable prosecutorial conduct, a combination that permeates the current spate of Espionage Act prosecutions.
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The Obama administration's Espionage Act prosecutions for alleged mishandling of classified information number more than all past presidents combine, and include - as The New York Times pointed out – one target from each of the State Department (Stephen Kim), the Defense Department (Bradley Manning), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (Shamai Leibowitz), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (Jeffery Sterling), and National Security Agency (NSA) (Thomas Drake).
Prosecutor William Welch II is up to his old tricks at the helm of Obama's record-breaking Espionage Act prosecutions against so-called "leakers," who are more often than not whistleblowers. Politico's Josh Gerstein reported last week that a federal Judge took the extreme step of barring two government witnesses from testifying in the Espionage Act case against former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee Jeffery Sterling because Welch's team withheld impeachment evidence from the defense.
For those non-lawyers - Criminal Procedure 101 teaches would-be attorneys that prosecutors have a duty to provide the defense with exculpatory or impeachment evidence. It's a basic principle, which any first-year law student should know, and which, apparently, "bully" prosecutor Welch frequently forgets, or worse, ignores.
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Welch's failure to hand over exculpatory evidence is not unique to the Sterling case. In the completely-failed Espionage Act case against National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake, Welch's tactics included keeping potentially exculpatory evidence from Drake's defense team for months after the Indictment was handed down. For over six months, Welch's team failed to produce evidence that one of the allegedly classified documents Drake was charged with improperly retaining was declassified two months after the indictment. Welch waited ten months to turn over evidence that another document that formed the basis of an Espionage Act charge against Drake had been – in the words of Drake's criminal defense team –
. . . published as 'unclassified' and had never been deemed 'classified' until after it was recovered from Mr. Drake's home. (Emphasis added).
Let's just look at what's in today's news. After first threatening to veto the National Defense Authorization Act because of a freedom-offensive provision allowing the indefinite detention of American citizens without a single shred of due process, President Obama has now flip-flopped. This is just one of many items in today's news that cause me to question what country I'm living in.
A military court sentenced a prominent Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil to two years in jail yesterday on charges that included insulting the military on his blog. The Washington Post notes that
this is a disturbing reminder of how much power the military leadership maintains.
Yet Shamai Leibowitz, an American FBI translator, was tried under the Espionage Act and sentenced to 20 months in prison for information he gave to a blogger.
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What, specifically, did Leibowitz provide to the blogger? In the judge's own words:
I don't know what was divulged other than some documents, and how it compromised things, I have no idea.
(Quoting U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr.)