Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Related to the preceding

Related through the idea of whistleblowing.

I have noted before that the PHC* administration, the one that came into office pledging to be the most transparent ever and ever and cross our hearts hope to die, has instead proved to be, as I called it in March, "as egregiously obsessive about secrecy as any administration in memory" and has also prosecuted whistleblowers more aggressively than any previous administration.

One example of that was the prosecution of a former NSA official named Thomas Drake, who was indicted in April of last year on a variety of charges under the Espionage Act, charges which could have sent him to prison for 35 years.

What was the heinous thing he did to produce such severe accusations? He revealed information showing that the NSA was shot through with incompetence and waste, such as a case where it outsourced work for $1 billion that it could have done in-house - and better - for $3 million (0.3% as much) and, worse in the White House view, that the NSA was engaged in a massive, illegal surveillance program. For that, the Obama administration wanted him jailed for decades.

So forthwith, some good news:
The Obama Administration’s aggressive war on whistleblowers suffered a humiliating setback on June 9 when former NSA official Thomas Drake accepted a misdemeanor plea agreement for exceeding his authorized use of a government computer.
As the date for the trial approached, the case simply fell apart. For one thing, there was no indication Drake had cause to believe the information - part of a complaint to the Inspector General about mismanagement at the NSA - would harm the US. Some charges were withdrawn because the judge ruled Drake wouldn't be able to defend himself unless the government revealed some things about one NSA program which it didn't want to. Others were dropped because some the "classified" material Drake was accused of releasing actually wasn't classified and other materials had been declassified since the indictment.
Faced with the prospect of trying to convict a man for leaking unclassified information, the government frantically crafted a plea deal in the last days before the case was due to go to trial.
Drake, however, is not the only example. For another one, former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling is being prosecuted on the basis of the claim that he was the source for the story about the agency's attempts to trick Iran into accepting bogus blueprints for a nuclear weapons facility. Again, the information is not damaging (the plan didn't work), just embarrassing - and that is enough, apparently, for the O-crowd to want to see you behind bars.

And then there is, of course, Wikileaks. There, the government isn't trying to prosecute whistleblower Bradley Manning (leaving that to the military, which after failing to break him with nine months of solitary confinement, moved him to Leavenworth) but rather WikiLeaks, the media outlet that published it. The grand jury probe is widening, spreading out from WikiLeaks itself to people associated with it and to supporters. That suggests to me that the government is not so much investigating WikiLeaks or its officers such as Julian Assange for any particular crime as it is fishing around, trying to come up with something with which it can charge someone - and also suggests for that same reason that it's proving hard to find one such.

So all of these cases may ultimately fail altogether or at worst lead to minor wrist-slaps. But ultimately, of course, that is not the point. The point of these prosecutions is not to punish those who have blown the whistle on government incompetence or criminality, it's to intimidate any others who might be thinking along the same lines, to send the message to those aware of wrongs "Keep your mouth shut, or else."

Whether the White House achieves that victory or not remains to be seen.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

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