Greetings, Vigilant Ones!
In a previous post, I dared to ask "Who Watches The Watchmen?" and now I can confidently identify at least one rarefied group of individuals who are still at the vanguard of truth. Collectively, these people are known as "whistleblowers".
In this age of mutable digital information it's probably even easier to expose crooked politicians and evil corporations. All you really need is a certain amount of tenure, a flash drive, an email account and a healthy dose of conscience and courage. Imagine if this sort of data fluidity and ease of transmission was available back around 1938.
In November of that year, during the terrifying events of Kristallnacht, at least ninety Jews were killed and another thirty-thousand were summarily rounded up and interred in concentration camps. Although this pogrom was widely reported by foreign journalists at the time it still didn't galvanize the entire world against the Nazis.
But surely there must have been a few well-placed Germans who were horrified what they'd seen. Decent citizens who saw the homes and businesses of innocent people vandalized. Good Germans who watched as their Jewish neighbors were forced to immigrate en masse to North America or the U.K. in order to avoid further persecution. Surely there must have been a small klatch of high-ranking German officials who were alarmed by the overnight disappearance of their neighbors and whispers about a "Final Solution" to the "Jewish Problem".
What if a rogue German officer, sympathetic to the plight of the Jews became privy to sensitive documents which foreshadowed the Holocaust? If this shocking information could have been disseminated all over the world perhaps history would have played out differently. Nazi appeasement might have been curtailed, a World War might have been avoided and six million European Jews might have been spared.
In lieu of a healthy climate of investigative journalism, the stones of conspiracy and abuse can only be lifted by whistleblowers. Historically, these brave and self-sacrificing people have been viewed as ballsy, socially-conscious heroes who risk their reputations, careers and even their lives in order to expose the hidden truth.
Now that mainstream media has been reduced to a house organ for political and corporate interests, only whistleblowers remain as the last resolute guardians of our democracy. Unfortunately, the powers that be also know this and they're doing their darnedest to demonize these people as "traitors" and "spies".
In order to get a feel for this we need to look at how whistleblowers were treated back when the press was still independent and how they're cast in the public eye now.
Here's the before:
A highly decorated veteran of the U.S. Marine Corp, Major General Smedley Butler was approached by Wall Street thugs who wanted to shit-can President Roosevelt and his "socialist" New Deal and then install a fascist-leaning government in his place. Although a New York Times editorial tried to write this off as a "gigantic hoax", the paper was forced to support Butler after a two-month investigation proved "that General Butler's story of a Fascist march on Washington was alarmingly true".
This open coup failed because these corporate criminals picked the wrong man to confide in. To their surprise, after Butler told them to go kick rocks, he went public with their treasonous offer and his shocking allegations were upheld. Although the conspirators were never ferreted out, the General was vindicated by the press when all the evidence finally came out.
A year later, in a effort to clear his heavy conscience, General Butler went public about his own role in military war profiteering. Here's his most damning statement, made in an issue of the magazine Common Sense:
"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."
Pretty meaty stuff. Unfortunately, in the long run, America was still co-opted by corporate interests. In much the same way Hitler gained power slowly and methodically through political channels after his abortive Beer Hall Putsch, the white collar gangsters eventually got their way.
Until he went public in 2005, Mr. Felt was better known as the pornographically-dubbed "Deep Throat". Felt leaked information regarding President Nixon's close ties to the Watergate Affair to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post. Nowadays, such a story would probably be deep-sixed by corporate and political wrangling or ignored by a distracted public, but back in 1972 that shit went viral. The press latched onto the story like a pack of rabid wolverines, Nixon eventually resigned in disgrace and and investigative journalism scored a major win.
I really do believe that the effectiveness of the media in this case prompted future governments to sponsor deregulation, encourage mass mergers, and defang the press. Trust me when I say this: there have been many Presidents since Nixon who have concealed lies that are just as big and destructive as Watergate. For example, Reagan had Iran/Contra, Obama's got the whole NSA (see below) / Fast and Furious / IRS / Benghazi / drone thing rockin' and honestly, George W. Bush's rap sheet is waaaaay too long to catalog here. If the media was as tenacious and as rogue as it was back in the early Seventies all of these clowns would have been driven out of Washington with torches and pitchforks.
And, yes, I'm fully aware that Bill Clinton lied under oath about a certain oral-happy intern, but at least no one died over that one.
Speaking of dying...
A few years after Dr. Wigand became the R&D Vice President for tobacco giant Brown & Williamson in 1989 he discovered that the company's executives had given their blessing to add addictive and carcinogenic properties to their cigarettes. When the higher-ups discovered that Wigand was in the know they promptly sacked him. Three years later he appeared on the venerable new program 60 Minutes and his story shocked the nation.
Although Wigand was harassed and threatened with legal retribution and physical harm, the still-autonomous media rallied behind him and by 2004 Brown & Williamson had shriveled up into R.J. Reynold's body cavity like a cancerous testicle.
And here's the after:
Although Assange is more of a facilitator and less of an actual whistleblower, he's done more to inform a blissfully ignorant public about serious issues then mainstream media has done in the past two decades. A former computer hacker and programmer, Assange has since become a vocal activist for free speech, government transparency and Lois Lane-style journalism. In 2006 Assange launched WikiLeaks, a global, internet-based, cabal intent on disseminating concealed and classified information from anonymous donors.
- The War in Afghanistan. Over the course of 91,000 separate documents, the general public finally got to see a "devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and NATO commanders fear neighboring Pakistan and Iran are fueling the insurgency".
- The War in Iraq. This time close to 400,000 reports entered the public domain, confirming the death of 66,081 Iraqi non-combatants. It also details how "US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers" while under their watch.
- Gitmo. In April of 2011 WikiLeaks dropped 779 insider documents about the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Under the guise of safeguarding Americans from dangerous militants, the reports revealed that most of the prisoners in the camp were expressly there for the purpose of information extraction, torture was endemic and many were suffering from some sort of mental illness.
Oh, and let's not forget the borderline-rabid histrionics from the mouth-breathers over at Fox News or, more recently, Michael Grunwald at Time magazine. Right-wing conservative nut-jobs are espousing this vitriol based on the false premise that WikiLeaks has put scads of innocent people in harm's way. But as the Washington Post observes, WikiLeaks "is not about the disclosure of troop movements to al-Qaeda or giving the recipe for the plutonium bomb to North Korea. This is the widespread publication of information that is important in determining the future policy of the United States, that could be very important for people in assessing how well our government is doing its job.”
Sorry, but American citizens deserve to know how their tax money is spent, especially if it's being used in such a unconscionable manner. Plus, anything that gives Tourette Syndrome-inflicted talking heads like Bill O'Reilly and Bob Beckel fits can't be all that bad.
The person responsible for giving WikiLeaks some of its biggest scoops is twenty-five-year-old U.S. Army Intelligence Officer Bradley Manning. In October of 2009, after only a month of training, Manning was shipped off to the "Hammer" Forward Operating Base just outside of Baghdad. In this position he was granted inexplicable access to some incredibly sensitive information, including video of two U.S. helicopters gunning down Iraqi civilians and killing two highly-lauded Reuters journalists in the process.
Be warned this is some pretty disturbing stuff:
Beyond the Iraq and Iran War Logs detailed above, Manning also leaked an equally powerful video of the botched Granai airstrike in 2009 as well as 250,000 US diplomatic cables that range from the moderately embarrassing to the downright scary. In May of 2010, Manning made the mistake of confiding in former rogue hacker turned corporate firewall Adrian Lamo who promised to be completely confidential.
"I'm a journalist and a minister," Lamo fibbed. "You can pick either, and treat this as a confession or an interview (never to be published) & enjoy a modicum of legal protection."
But within a few days, Lamo regurgitated their conversations to the FBI and Manning was arrested on May 27'th, 2010. The most intriguing piece of trivia in this arrangement is that Lamo himself once made a name for himself by hacking into the confidential computer files of Yahoo!, Microsoft and The New York Times. Lamo has since said that he wouldn't have turned Manning in "if lives weren't in danger" but Glenn Greenwald of Salon wrote a great article calling "bullshit" on that particular story.
After spending almost a year in conditions that human rights activist Juan E. Mendez described as "cruel, inhuman and degrading", Manning's situation only improved after nearly three-hundred legal scholars and scholars signed a statement which called his treatment "unconstitutional". In fact, his initial incarceration was so shabby that Manning's attorney described it as "pretrial punishment".
Manning eventually plead guilty to ten of the twenty-two charges leveled against him and on July 30'th he was convicted of seventeen. Proving that there's some justice still left in the world, he was acquitted of the completely ludicrous charge of "Aiding the Enemy". During his sentencing hearing on August 14, 2013, Manning made the following contrite statement:
"I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I'm sorry that they hurt the United States. I understood what I was doing was wrong but I didn't appreciate the broader effects of my actions. I only wanted to help people, not hurt people. At the time of my decisions I was dealing with a lot of issues."
Julian Assange has since weighed in about the Manning verdict and his subsequent apology, both of which decry the media's shameful complicity in this story. Again, instead of exploring the content and the implications of the leaks themselves, the press has done nothing but make hay out of Manning's troubled past or trumpeted his concilatory apology. But where were they when Manning laid out his original motivations for doing what he did in this under-reported pretrial statement from February 28, 2013?
"I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the [Iraq and Afghan War Logs] this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan."
In fact, uploading the information to WikiLeaks seemed to ease his burdened conscience:
"I felt this sense of relief by [WikiLeaks] having [the information]. I felt I had accomplished something that allowed me to have a clear conscience based upon what I had seen and what I had read about and knew were happening in both Iraq and Afghanistan everyday."
He also clearly unnerved by the so-called "Collateral Murder" video:
"The most alarming aspect of the video to me…was the seemly delightful bloodlust the Aerial Weapons Team seemed to have. They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life, and referred to them as quote-unquote 'dead bastards', and congratulated each other on their ability to kill in large numbers. At one point in the video there is an individual on the ground attempting to crawl to safety. The individual is seriously wounded. Instead of calling for medical attention to the location, one of the aerial weapons team crew members verbally asks for the wounded person to pick up a weapon so that he can have a reason to engage. For me, this seemed similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.
"I hoped that the public would be as alarmed as me about the conduct of the aerial weapons team crewmembers. I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan were targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare. After the release I was encouraged by the response in the media and general public who observed the aerial weapons team video. As I hoped, others were just as troubled—if not more troubled—than me by what they saw."
But perhaps the most important question the mainstream media failed to ask is why a psychologically-fragile twenty-two-year-old kid was given open access to all of this supposedly earth-shattering information in the first place?
Unlike Bradly Manning, Edward Snowden had his shit together. Working at Booz Allen Hamilton as an Infrastructure System Analyst for the National Security Agency, he was pulling down two-hundred grand a year. He was living in the tropical paradise of Waipahu, Hawaii. He had an inexplicably hot and intriguingly flexible girlfriend.
But during his time with the NSA, Snowden uncovered something so disturbingly Orwellian that he was willing to sacrifice his cushy existence for a lifetime of danger, paranoia, prosecution and scorn. So, what did he encounter that was so incendiary? In a nutshell, he discovered that the U.S. and British governments are spying on us. Not just the suspects among us, I mean, literally, all of us.
Snowden dished about a slew of charmingly-nosy and clandestine monitoring programs such as:
- PRISM - The system by which the NSA leeches data from the general populace, via social networking sites like Facebook or personal email accounts such as Gmail.
- Boundless Informant - This program can take all of the handy information gleaned by PRISM, extrapolate trends from the data and render the findings into some truly eye-catching graphics. Boundless Informant: it's not just for PowerPoint presentations anymore!
- MAINWAY - Thanks to our good friends at Verizon, AT&T, SBC, and BellSouth, MAINWAY boasts a stellar collection of our telephone calls. How many do you ask? I'll give you a clue: it's somewhere between one and 1.9 trillion.
- Tempora - This tea-and-crumpet version of PRISM is said to keep Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in more private information then even the NSA can handle.
(1) Senator and Scarlett O'Hara understudy Lindsey Graham parroting the sentiments of Joseph Goebbels:
(2) Voices of recrimination coming from the most ironic sources imaginable:
(3) Or a pointless obsession over Edward's attractive and imminently bendy girlfriend. Um, sorry...I
guess I'm a tad guilty of that, as well.
Although the concept of Snowden answering to charges of "traitor" from the likes of "Tricky" Dick Cheney is almost laughably funny, he's had several chances for rebuttal. Here is is, outlying his main motivation via a press conference held at the Moscow airport, which was published in the London Telegraph back in mid-July:
"The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. While the US Constitution marks these programs as illegal, my government argues that secret court rulings, which the world is not permitted to see, somehow legitimize an illegal affair.
"I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg in 1945: 'Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.'"
And although Obama has pledged to review these uber-creepy surveillance programs, he also recently rescinded any public pledge to safeguard whistleblowers from recriminations.
Public opinion of whistleblowers like Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden might still be mixed, but I think this is only because they've been completely and totally abandoned by the ombudsman shield of government and the duplicitous media. Whistleblowers have always had it rough, but at least they were once considered to be trusted and confidential sources during the heyday of investigative journalism.
We just can't stand idly by and watch this happen. Whistleblowers are the last bastion of accountability in this screwed-up world and if they're all written off as "spies" or "traitors" our democracy will soon be deader then disco.
EPIC OBSERVATIONS I need to make up some t-shirts that read "I'm With Noam."
I'm also a big fan of Chris Hedges. Here he conveniently encapsulates the theme of this post in just under two minutes:
EPIC ARTICLE Just to bring everything full-circle...
TRUTH FAIL Three short months before Ed Snowden dropped his truth bomb, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper blatantly lied under oath to Congress when asked about surveillance: