Ask Iris: What war on whistleblowers?

I was ensconced in a swanky hotel in our nation’s capital, where both My Amazing Lover™ and a good friend—another of my Many Tens of Loyal Readers™—happened to have some interesting business last week.  Strolling past the White House and the Treasury Department one night on our way to dinner, we spotted Rahm Emanuel.  Alas, by the time it had fully registered that we had really just walked passed the ringmaster of the odious Blue Dog circus himself, he was too far behind us:  it would have been impossible for me to run back and get into a prime position to moon him, at least not while wearing these shoes.  I still hold out great hope for one day baring my arse to Antonin Scalia, of course.  It’s pretty much at the top of my bucket list.

But a discourse on the highly underrated, First Amendment-protected act of mooning is not why I write today, beloved readers.  No.  I write because I have failed you.

As is my habit, I refer to various sites in Washington DC as “crime scenes.”  You know: the White House, the Treasury Department, the Supreme Court, and of course the Capitol dome.  These are, after all, the precise locations where our democracy has been sold off piecemeal to the highest bidders, the nation’s coffers looted for the sole benefit of the .001%, the very concept of justice turned on its head as criminal oligarchs and political elites are held above the rule of law, all with the eager assistance of our elected officials.  I would think that my “crime scene” remarks would be uncontroversial statements, at least for (a) consumers of any mainstream news media whatsoever over the past dozen years, and (b) loyal readers of this blog.  While I realize the Palace has not been focused exclusively on, say, the corrupt financial industry’s de facto capture of the United States government—we defer to the superb Matt Taibbi for that—we have certainly alluded to this unfortunate state of affairs on occasion.  For example, I related the telling admission by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), who, in a moment of candor during a 2009 radio interview, said that despite having caused a worldwide financial meltdown, the very same financial firms “are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they, frankly, own the place.”  I have also touted, over and over, the blog of one Glenn Greenwald, who writes extensively on issues near and dear to the Palace, including government crime, secrecy, lawlessness, deceit, hypocrisy, corruption and lack of accountability generally, as well as President Obama’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers specifically, i.e., those who reveal to the public fraud, waste, corruption, abuse, crime, lies, ineptitude and/or embarrassing stupidity by the government.  And so it was that I was quite taken aback last week when my two much beloved loyal readers expressed skepticism at my claim that President Obama has in fact waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers.

Now, I am a huge fan of skepticism when it comes to any and all claims, by anyone, anywhere, ever.  And of course I realize that no reader clicks through every citation I happen to link to in support of my factual statements (hell, there are a zillion of them in this post alone).  But still, I felt stung by my readers’ incredulity.  “Really?  How come we don’t know about this?” they asked.

That is a very, very good question.  And potentially, there are many good answers to it.  But I came to realize that my answer, in this particular instance, is this:  It’s because I have failed you, beloved loyal readers!  I should have informed you about Obama’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers, because it is really. fucking. important.  And so, in a sincere attempt to redress this unconscionable oversight on my part, I spent a good part of the next day assembling citations in support of my statement regarding President Obama’s unprecedented war whistleblowers, as well as some of my thoughts thereon, and then promptly emailed my treatise to them.

And now, for posterity, and as further penance for my sins, I am posting said treatise here.


From: Iris Vander Pluym
Subject: Citations re: Obama’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers
Date: August 8, 2012 1:20:56 PM EDT

Charlie Savage at the The New York Times has a breakdown of leak prosecutions here:

Leaks were rarely prosecuted before the Obama administration, which has already brought twice as many such cases than all previous presidential administrations combined.

A seminal piece I recall reading is this one by Glenn Greenwald from May 2010.  Quoth he:

The Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers — whose disclosures are one of the very few remaining avenues for learning what our government actually does — continues to intensify.  Last month, the DOJ announced it had obtained an indictment against NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, who exposed serious waste, abuse and possible illegality.  Then, the DOJ re-issued a Bush era subpoena to Jim Risen of The New York Times, demanding the identity of his source who revealed an extremely inept and damaging CIA effort to infiltrate the Iranian nuclear program.  And now, as Politico‘s Josh Gerstein reports, an FBI linguist who leaked what he believed to be evidence of lawbreaking is to receive a prison term that is “likely to become the longest ever served by a government employee accused of passing national security secrets to a member of the media.”

Then there was this piece by Jane Mayer writing in The New Yorker a year later in May 2011.  (It’s a great piece but a long read, focusing primarily on the prosecution of Thomas Drake; a shorter summary by Greenwald is here.)  From Mayer:

When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks — more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book “Necessary Secrets” (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, “Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history — even more so than Nixon.” [Emphasis added.]

Coincidentally, last night The Daily Show did a (hilarious) segment on the Drake case in which he appeared.

A more serious treatment can be seen in this segment of 60 Minutes from May 2011 (which features a cameo by my old friend [REDACTED]):

Shortly after that 60 Minutes broadcast, the government dropped all of the charges against Drake and agreed not to seek any jail time in return for Drake’s agreement to plead guilty to a misdemeanor of misusing the agency’s computer system.  He was sentenced to one year of probation and community service.

Epilogue to the Drake case:

Drake, and his fellow whistleblowers (Bill Binney, J. Kirk Wiebe, Edward Loomis, and Diane Roark), have been forced to sue the government for return of their property, which the government seized in retaliatory FBI raids over four years ago.

Most troubling to me is the case of alleged Wikileaks source Bradley Manning, his horrendous pretrial treatment, and Obama’s egregious guilty verdict before Manning’s trial:

TRANSCRIPT, OBAMA IN VIDEO: So people can have philosophical views [about Bradley Manning] but I can’t conduct diplomacy on an open source [basis]… That’s not how the world works. And if you’re in the military… And I have to abide by certain rules of classified information. If I were to release material I weren’t allowed to, I’d be breaking the law….We’re a nation of laws! We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.

Manning’s supporters are being treated abominably by Homeland Security and the FBI despite having broken no laws, and the U.S. Army just confirmed in July that it is conducting a criminal investigation into Manning’s support network.  (I am a supporter.)

Needless to say, all of this is particularly galling in light of the administration’s rampant high level leaking of classified information when it benefits them.


I hope this edition of Ask Iris has been helpful.

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