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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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Whatever your opinion of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, he was right when he called for an end to the war on whistleblowers in his speech outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London yesterday:
The U.S. administration's war on whistleblowers must end. Thomas Drake, William Binney, John Kiriakou, and other heroic whistleblowers must be pardoned or compensated for the hardships they have endured as servants of the public record.
While my clients' stories differ greatly from Assange's, the Obama administration has threatened to criminally prosecute all of them with the same draconian Espionage Act, a law meant to go after spies not whistleblowers. And the effect of the Obama administration's policy – if not the goal – is the same for my clients and Assange - to silence dissent.
Despite that Assange is often attacked for only looking out for himself (who could blame him considering London police were waiting outside the Ecuadorian embassy to arrest him?), he took time in his minutes-long speech to reach out to others who have been prosecuted. He also correctly identified the Obama administration's war on whistleblowers as a war on journalists and the media, a connection made by myself, Glenn Greewald, and the US main stream media itself.
The United States must pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful.There must be no foolish talk about prosecuting any media organisations, be it Wikileaks or the New York Times.
Assange calls for an end to U.S.'s "witch hunt" against Wikileaks called to mind Supreme Court Louis Brandeis:
Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women.
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Glenn Greenwald wrote yesterday about "secrecy creep" – the retaliation against whistleblowers that has crept down from the White House into Executive branch agencies.
Whistleblowers have always been subjected to retaliation, but the retaliation used to be focused on marginalizing the whistleblower, shifting or eliminating the whistleblower's job duties, firing her, or yanking her security clearance. Now, with the Obama administration's war on whistleblowers, whistleblower retaliation includes polygraphs, systematic monitoring of whistleblowers' electronic activities, and prosecution under the Espionage Act – even at Executive agencies beyond the intelligence community.
Intelligence community whistleblowers like former National Security Agency (NSA) officials Bill Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe were targeted with criminal investigation and subjected to armed FBI raids. Even more severe, whistleblowers like former NSA official Thomas Drake and former CIA officer John Kiriakou were indicted under the Espionage Act.
Now Executive branch agencies outside the intelligence community are using the secrecy and surveillance tactics to punish whistleblowers.
Greenwald provides concrete examples of the secrecy creep resulting in increased whistleblower retaliation:
 . . . McClatchy reported on a criminal investigation launched by the Inspector General (IG) of the National Reconnaissance Office, America’s secretive spy satellite agency, against the agency’s deputy director, Air Force Maj. Gen. Susan Mashiko. After Mashiko learned that four senior NRO officials whose identities she did not know reported to the IG “a series of allegations of malfeasant actions” by another NRO official relating to large contracts, Mashiko allegedly vowed: “I would like to find them and fire them.”
 It was not until 2011 that the Interior Department . . . hired . . . a hydrologist, Dr. Paul Houser, who was previously an associate professor in George Mason University’s Geography and Geoinformation Sciences Department.
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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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I've said since the collapse of the Espionage Act case against National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake that the case was built on sand and collapsed under the weight of the truth.
Since the case collapsed last summer, the more information revealed publicly about the government's evidence only confirms the flimsiness of the evidence used to prosecute Drake under the heavy-handed Espionage Act. I wrote yesterday on a Washington Post editorial asking "is the classification system dysfunctional?" after it was revealed that an Espionage Act count was based on a completely innocuous and obviously unclassified e-mail.
Now, Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists reports on the release of NSA's supposed justifications for the clearly incorrect classification designations and former G.W. Bush administration classification czar's J. William Leonard's scathing critique of the NSA's after-the-fact decisions. All of the allegedly-classified information found in Drake's home underwent a "forced classification review" after which NSA experts claimed it was classified.
Props to Aftergood for using FOIA to get the information publicly released. It should give any American pause to consider the fact that not only will the government consider such bland and unremarkable information as "classified," but use that banal information as the basis to prosecute a whistleblower under the Espionage Act.
Leonard's complaint articulates how damaging it is to the classification system to over-classify information and use that wrongly-classified information to aggressively prosecute a whistleblower under the Espionage Act:
Nonetheless, when deciding to apply the controls of the classification system to information, government officials are in-turn obligated to follow the standards set forth by the President in the governing executive order and not exceed its prohibitions and limitations. Failure to do so undermines the very integrity of the classification system and can be just as harmful, if not more so, than unauthorized disclosures of appropriately classified information.
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In its third editorial about the Espionage Act prosecution against National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake, the conservative Washington Post (WaPo) editorial board opines that the Drake case demonstrates how dysfunctional the classification system has become.
Just before the Justice Department's case against Drake collapsed in spectacular fashion days before trial last summer, WaPo ran two editorials critical of the prosecution (here and here).Then, 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.
In the year since the prosecution fell apart, WaPo obtained one of the documents that formed the basis of an Espionage Act charge against Drake, which prompted WaPo to opine again - this time sarcastically - on the flimsy evidence the government used to threaten Drake with spending "the rest of his natural life" behind bars:
A document at the center of the Drake case was a classified e-mail summarizing an agency meeting. The e-mail was titled “What a Wonderful Success.” It is an innocuous, self-congratulatory message to a team for its presentation to the director, Gen. Keith Alexander. Two paragraphs were classified “secret.” Now that the e-mail has been released, everyone can see what was so sensitive. One of the paragraphs included the hush-hush fact — be careful if you finish reading this sentence — that Gen. Alexander left a conference room and greeted people in a lab who had worked to make sure the demonstration was a success.
Last summer, WaPo articulated the chilling effect the Drake case has on potential whistleblowers:
Mr. Drake’s prosecution smacks of overkill and could scare others with legitimate concerns about government programs from coming forward.
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Adding to the leak hysteria in Washington, the Senate Intelligence Committee advanced legislation purportedly to limit "leaks." WaPo reports:
The legislation, which has yet to be considered by the full Senate or House, would require the White House to notify Congress whenever it plans to share classified information with the public and would curb an increasingly common arrangement in which top national security officials take jobs as commentators on cable-television shows.
What Congress completely neglects to address in their apparent frustration that the White House leaks to the press before leaking to Congress, is that whistleblowers who are sources for Congress end up getting burned and monitored by the Executive branch.
If the Senate Intelligence Committee really wanted to stop media leaks and preserve its oversight abilities, it would enact meaningful whistleblower protections so that employees who bring concerns to Congress are adequately protected from retaliation. Such a measure would certainly give Congress more information than a head's up from the White House that the White House is planning to make public information that will no doubt benefit the administration.
UPDATE: For a full summary of the anti-leak measures in the Intelligence Authorization legislation see Steven Aftergood's analysis. Key quote:
And yet there is something incongruous, if not outrageous, about the whole effort by Congress to induce stricter secrecy in the executive branch, which already has every institutional incentive to restrict public disclosure of intelligence information.
National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake testified before two congressional committees and brought his concerns massive waste, fraud, abuse, and illegality at NSA to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, in accordance with the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act. However, that didn't stop the Obama administration from charging him under the Espionage Act and threatening him with spending the rest of his life behind bars. (The case against Drake collapsed under the weight of the truth last summer).