“It’s really the silence about truth that is the goal and the ongoing imposition that is coming from the surveillance state and the warfare state and among the silencing is the refusal to acknowledge that the surveillance state and the warfare state are the same state known to you who live in the UK as the government of the UK, and to those of us who live in the United States as the government of the United States,” Norman Solomon, director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, told a London audience on June 1.
By Mary Beaudoin Women Against Military Madness Newsletter
Volume 33 Number 4 Summer II 2015
Wars cannot be planned and waged without an enormous amount of government secrecy. But some courageous individuals have refused to be silenced. The band of five whistleblowers who embarked on a speaking tour of Europe this summer are among them. What they had to say has important implications, not just for whistleblowers and potential whistleblowers, not just for government agency or defense contractor employees, but for all of us who oppose war and want to know what’s really going on and be able to act on it.
“It’s really the silence about truth that is the goal and the ongoing imposition that is coming from the surveillance state and the warfare state and among the silencing is the refusal to acknowledge that the surveillance state and the warfare state are the same state known to you who live in the UK as the government of the UK, and to those of us who live in the United States as the government of the United States,” Norman Solomon, director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, told a London audience on June 1. He spoke at one of the events he had organized as part of the Stand Up for Truth speaking tour this past June with whistleblowers Daniel Ellsberg, Thomas Drake, Jesselyn Radack, and Coleen Rowley. The tour took them not only to London but also to Oslo, Stockholm and Berlin.
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In the wake of revelations about cooperation between the NSA and German intelligence, the Stand Up for Truth whistleblowers participated in a discussion with German officials and researchers who were investigating the scandal. The whistleblowers also met with Scandinavian officials working with the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights for the Council of Europe, which had just completed their “Draft Report on Improving the Protection of Whistleblowers.” In Norway, they spoke at a freedom of speech and debate institution that had just awarded the Bjørnson Prize, named after a Norwegian Nobel laureate, to Edward Snowden, whom they were urging their government to protect so that he could receive it in person in their country. In Stockholm, they met with sponsors of their tour who were pushing their government to ensure safe passage to Snowden to accept the Right Livelihood Award, an alternative to the Nobel Prize. And in London, they spoke before allied civil liberties and freedom of speech organizations.
During panel presentations, Coleen Rowley, a former special agent and legal counsel for the FBI who had taught ethics to agents, explained how she first joined the FBI in 1981, right after the U.S. Attorney General’s office imposed strict guidelines on the FBI after the Church Committee had exposed abuses under J Edgar Hoover’s long, despotic reign as director. Overall, free speech and civil liberties were to be protected.“The FBI wasn’t allowed to infiltrate the feminists or the anti-war groups,” Rowley said. It focused on criminal activity. It was not perfect but in general, the rule of law was observed.
Rowley explained to the European audiences how everything changed around 9/11. She found it inexplicable that information about a potential 9/11 hijacker was not shared and acted upon within the FBI, an issue before which she had testified in Congress and the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry. She explained: “Lack of government information sharing inside agencies is called ‘stove piping’ where information is blocked vertically. Information was also blocked horizontally between agencies. For instance, the CIA had been following two of the hijackers for over two years and did not disclose that to the FBI until it was too late. To this day no one knows why. Now there is secrecy not only inside agencies, not only between agencies, but secrecy keeping important information from the public.” In spite of the huge surveillance bureaucracy, it’s the general public who have, afterall, helped avoid catastrophes—a street vendor prevented a bomb going off in New York, and alert passengers prevented the Nigerian man, commonly referred to as the Underwear Bomber, from igniting an explosive on a plane en route from Amsterdam to Detroit.
Rowley cited the official 9/11 report conclusion stating that it had found lack of information sharing to be a root problem in the prevention of the attack. But that conclusion was drawn three years after 9/11, and “In the meantime, Vice President Dick Cheney said, ‘We’ll move to the dark side.’ A series of secret decisions were made to begin torturing; to begin kidnapping people, creating an off-site place for indefinite detention without due process; to launch war on a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and yet they were able to get 70 percent of the American public to believe that Iraq was behind 9/11. They did all this quickly…” She went on to say that eventually drone assassinations, not requiring any kind of judicial process and decided by a only few people, began. All of this was initially set in motion in the new “global war on terrorism” by attorneys like John Yoo in the president’s “Office of Legal Counsel” who wrote a series of secret memos attempting to legalize what had previously been considered highly illegal. The president was told he didn’t have to follow the Geneva Conventions. Warrantless surveillance—actually worse than mass surveillance—began.
Just two weeks after 9/11, in a memo that amounted to allowing the institution of martial law, Yoo had written: “First amendment and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” And “no court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.” Rowley said that it’s “the basis for where we are now.”
Rowley emphasized that “it’s not for your security; it’s for control. It’s topsy turvy and this is a very dangerous situation. The powerful government enjoys all privacy—nobody knows what they’re doing—yet individual citizens are subjected to complete transparency.”
Perhaps the best known speaker on the tour was Daniel Ellsberg, renowned as the RAND corporation military analyst who was called “the most dangerous man in America” in 1971 by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, for leaking the Pentagon Papers—the 7,000-page classified document describing facts previously unreported in the mainstream media about the extent of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War; this exposure was a turning point in helping to bring an eventual end to that war. He told the audience that “the fear of being called weak, cowardly, unmanly, weak on terrorism, weak on communism” has kept many in Congress from voting against funding wars on Vietnam, Iraq, and other countries. He went on to say that many people have died as a result of that fear and because of that fear many in Congress are also “willing to tear up constitutional freedoms of all sorts.” “It is up to us to basically demand—to put another kind of fear in them—that they will lose their jobs if they don’t live up to their responsibilities to protect our freedom and to protect us in more effective ways that are compatible with democracy.”
Ellsberg has been a strong supporter of Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers.
Thomas Drake, who was a senior executive with the National Security Agency, was the first whistleblower to be charged with espionage since Daniel Ellsberg and was considered the centerpiece case for President Obama’s War on Whistleblowers. Drake was retaliated against for blowing the whistle on fraud, waste and the widespread violations of the rights of citizens through secret mass surveillance programs after 9/11, and faced a possible 35 years in prison. He told audiences: “I never imagined that I would be considered an enemy of the state and that is precisely what happened and all I did was take an oath to support a piece of paper called the Constitution.” Throughout an ordeal that lasted years, he steadfastly refused to admit to disclosing classified information and in 2011, the government’s espionage case against him collapsed amid widespread public support and subsequent judicial rulings in his favor.
Jesselyn Radack, director of National Security and Human Rights at the Government Accountability Project, is an attorney who represents seven national security and intelligence employees who are being investigated, charged or prosecuted under the Espionage Act for allegedly mishandling classified information. Her clients include Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, and former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Previously, she served on the D.C. Bar Legal Ethics Committee. The legal issues of her clients are something she can understand well. While working at the U.S. Department of Justice as a legal ethics advisor, she, herself, had come under scrutiny after she leaked to the media that the FBI was in violation of ethics and suppressing information about it. This was in regard to the 2001 interrogating of John Walker Lind (known as the American Taliban) without a lawyer present. In addition, she said that she had advised that torturing him would be unethical. After blowing the whistle, she was put under criminal investigation and, though seven months pregnant, placed on a no-fly list.
Now, as a defender of whistleblowers, she commented: “This war on whistleblowers has an incredibly chilling effect and I believe, in the grand scheme of things, it is really a backdoor war on journalists and I believe even further it’s a way of creating an official Secrets Actwhich our country has been able to live without for more than 200 years, so this is very pernicious. People talk about amending the Espionage Act. I don’t think it needs to be amended. I think it needs to be ended. There are already a couple of dozen laws dealing with leaks.” She said that The New York Times reported that President Obama has been worse than President Nixon when it comes to free speech and transparency. Radack concluded by stating that she appreciates people are now paying more attention to the issues and hence Congress is finally having a debate.
Norman Solomon said that an informed citizenry is a prerequisite for democracy and if we don’t have it: “What is uninformed consent of the governed? It’s absolute ignorance of what is being done in our names and with our tax dollars. It is soliciting from us the passivity that is the requirement for tyranny and we are on the precipice from some vantage points, from some perspectives we are already tumbling over the precipice. We all like to think that we’re sophisticated at this point—we’ve been around the block and around the barn but I find it shocking what is coming out of the top hierarchies of the U.S. and UK governments. I find it shocking what the prime minister of this country is saying—the assault on the very concept of a free press, the idea that lawful activities must be thoroughly monitored and perhaps countermanded by covert and overt government action. And in the United States, we lived with the continuous degradation of the very concept of an independent press and if that press is going to survive we’re going to have to organize.
Without independent media we will only hear the official story—which will be
half-truths, outright lies, and what Aldous Huxley described as even more powerful [than] lies and that is silence about truth.”
During the European tour, word came in that President Obama had passed the USA Freedom Act. Solomon gave this analysis for a German audience, “We are told that this is a step forward against the surveillance state. I would say that is a deception. You might even call it a lie. What can we say about a law that was supported by the National Security Agency that purportedly reins in the National Security Agency?”
He concluded: “I’m especially excited about the grassroots organizing that’s going on in many countries. That’s where the action is, that’s what those in power most fear—our willingness and capacity to organize effectively. I think it’s fair to say that our adversaries who are imposing on us this oppression of whistleblowing and independent media, they want us to be silent, they want us to be quiet, they want us to be overly polite. They want us to not call things by their true names. They want us to not acknowledge—much less speak out loud the reality that the very core of our freedoms are in danger. Our struggles ahead will determine whether that suppression is going to be successful.”
© 2015 Women Against Military Madness.
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