The permanent US national security state has
used extreme secrecy to shield its actions from democratic
accountability ever since its creation after World War II.
But those secrecy powers were dramatically
escalated in the name of 9/11 and the War on Terror, such that most of
what the US government now does of any significance is completely hidden
from public knowledge.
Two recent events - the
sentencing last week of
CIA torture whistleblower John Kirikaou to 30
months in prison and the
invasive investigation to find the New York Times’ source for
its reporting on the US role in launching cyberwarfare at Iran -
demonstrate how devoted the
Obama administration is not only to maintaining, but increasing,
these secrecy powers.
When WikiLeaks published hundreds of
thousands of classified diplomatic cables in 2010, government defenders
were quick to insist that most of those documents were banal and
uninteresting. And that’s true: most (though by no means all) of those
cables contained nothing of significance. That, by itself, should have
been a scandal.
All of those documents were designated as
“secret”, making it a crime for government officials to reveal their
contents - despite how insignificant most of it was.
That revealed how the US government
reflexively - really automatically - hides anything and everything it
does behind this wall of secrecy: they have made it a felony to reveal
even the most inconsequential and pedestrian information about its
This is why whistleblowing - or, if you
prefer, unauthorized leaks of classified information - has become so
vital to preserving any residual amounts of transparency.
subservient the federal judiciary is to government secrecy claims,
it is not hyperbole to describe unauthorized leaks as the only real
avenue remaining for learning about what the US government does -
particularly for discovering the bad acts it commits.
That is why the Obama
administration is waging an unprecedented war against it - a war that
continually escalates - and it is why it is so threatening.
To understand the Obama White House’s
obsession with punishing leaks - as evidenced by its
historically unprecedented war on whistleblowers - just consider how
virtually every significant revelation of the bad acts of the US
government over the last decade came from this process.
Unauthorized leaks are how we learned about,
In light of this, it should not be difficult
to understand why the Obama administration is so fixated on intimidating
whistleblowers and going far beyond any prior administration - including
those of the secrecy-obsessed Richard Nixon and George W Bush - to plug
It’s because those methods are the only ones
preventing the US government from doing whatever it wants in complete
secrecy and without any accountability of any kind.
Silencing government sources is the key to
disabling investigative journalism and a free press.
That is why
the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer told whistleblowing advocate Jesselyn Radack
“when our sources are prosecuted, the
news-gathering process is criminalized, so it’s incumbent upon all
journalists to speak up.”
Indeed, if you talk to leading investigative
journalists they will tell you that the Obama war on whistleblowers has
succeeded in intimidating not only journalists’ sources but also
investigative journalists themselves.
Just look at the way the DOJ has
pursued and threatened with prison one of the most accomplished and
institutionally protected investigative journalists in the country -
James Risen - and it’s easy to see why the small amount of real
journalism done in the US, most driven by unauthorized leaks, is being
Washington Post article on the DOJ’s email snooping to find the
NYT’s Stuxnet source included this anonymous quote:
“People are feeling less open to talking
to reporters given this uptick. There is a definite chilling effect
in government due to these investigations.”
authoritarians who view assertions of government power as inherently
valid and government claims as inherently true, none of this will be
mentality, if the government decrees that something shall be secret,
then it should be secret, and anyone who defies that dictate should be
punished as a felon -
as a traitor.
is typically accompanied by the belief that we can and should trust our
leaders to be good and do good even if they exercise power in the dark,
so that transparency is not only unnecessary but undesirable.
the most basic precepts of human nature, political science, and the
American founding teach that power exercised in the dark will be
inevitably abused. Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power. That’s why
those who wield political power are always driven to destroy methods of
About this fact, Thomas Jefferson wrote in
an 1804 letter to John Tyler:
“Our first object should therefore be,
to leave open to him all the avenues of truth. The most effectual
hitherto found, is freedom of the press.
It is therefore, the first shut up
by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”
About all that, Yale law professor David A
“For Jefferson, a free press was the
tool of public criticism. It held public officials accountable,
opening them up to the judgment of people who could decide whether
the government was doing good or whether it had anything to hide...
A democratic and free society is dependent upon the media to
There should be no doubt that destroying
this method of transparency - not protection of legitimate
national security secrets- is the primary effect, and almost certainly
the intent, of this unprecedented war on whistleblowers.
Just consider the revelations that have
prompted the Obama DOJ’s war on whistleblowers, whereby those who leak
are not merely being prosecuted, but threatened with decades or even
life in prison for “espionage” or “aiding the enemy”.
Does anyone believe it would be better if we
remained ignorant about,
the massive waste, corruption and
illegality plaguing the NSA’s secret domestic eavesdropping
the dangerously inept CIA effort to
infiltrate the Iranian nuclear program but which ended up
assisting that program (Jeffrey
the overlooking of torture squads in
Iraq, the gunning down of journalists and rescuers in Baghdad
the pressure campaign to stop
torture investigations in Spain and Germany (Bradley
the decision by Obama to wage
cyberwar on Iran, which the Pentagon itself
considers an act of war (current DOJ investigation)?
Like all of the Obama leak prosecutions -
see here - none of those
revelations resulted in any tangible harm, yet all revealed vital
information about what our government was doing in secret.
As long-time DC lawyer Abbe Lowell,
who represents indicted whistleblower Stephen Kim,
what makes the Obama DOJ’s prosecutions historically unique
is that they,
“don’t distinguish between bad people - people who spy for other
governments, people who sell secrets for money - and people who are
accused of having conversations and discussions”.
only doesn’t it draw this distinction, but it is focused almost entirely
on those who leak in order to expose wrongdoing and bring about
transparency and accountability.
the primary impact of all of this.
report last October on this intimidation campaign
summarized the objections this way:
“the president’s crackdown chills dissent, curtails a free press and
betrays Obama’s initial promise to ‘usher in a new era of open
The Obama administration does not dislike
leaks of classified information.
To the contrary, it is a
prolific exploiter of exactly those types of leaks - when they can
be used to propagandize the citizenry to glorify the president’s image
as a tough guy, advance his political goals or produce a
multi-million-dollar Hollywood film about his greatest conquest.
Leaks are only objectionable when they
undercut that propaganda by exposing government deceit, corruption and
As FAIR put it this week,
whatever else is true:
only person to do time for the CIA’s torture policies appears to be
a guy who spoke publicly about them, not any of the people who did
the actual torturing.”
Despite zero evidence of any harm from his
disclosures, the federal judge presiding over his case - the reliably
government-subservient US District Judge Leonie Brinkema - said she,
“would have given Kiriakou much more time if she could.”
As usual, the only real criminals in the
government are those who expose or condemn its wrongdoing.
Exactly the same happened with
revelations by the New York Times of the illegal Bush NSA warrantless
eavesdropping program. None of the officials who eavesdropped on
Americans without the warrants required by law were prosecuted. The
telecoms that illegally cooperated were retroactively immunized from all
legal accountability by the US Congress.
only person to suffer recriminations from that scandal was
the mid-level DOJ official who discovered the program and told the New
York Times about it, and then had
his life ruined with vindictive investigations.
whistleblower war has
nothing to do with national security. It has
nothing to do with punishing those who harm the country with espionage
has everything to do with destroying those who expose high-level
It is particularly
devoted to preserving the government’s ability to abuse its power in
secret by intimidating and deterring future acts of whistleblowing and
impeding investigative journalism.
This Obama whistleblower war continues to
escalate because it triggers no objections from Republicans (who always
adore government secrecy) or Democrats (who always adore what Obama
does), but most of all because it triggers so few objections from media
outlets, which - at least in theory - suffer the most from what is being