What Kind of Whistleblower Would You Be?

I’m not sure what to think about this Snowden guy.  I tend to think the government certainly has an obligation to hold secrets when it comes to national security and yet obviously the American people deserve to know, and I think participate in, the process by which we give up so many of our legal rights in order to acquire that sense of security.

Diane Feinstein thinks he should be tried for treason and John Boehner calls him a traitor.

Political opinion in the US was split with some members of Congress calling for the immediate extradition from Hong Kong of the whistleblower, Edward Snowden. But other senior politicians in both main parties questioned whether US surveillance practices had gone too far.

Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the national intelligence committee, has ordered the NSA to review how it limits the exposure of Americans to government surveillance. But she made clear her disapproval of Snowden. “What he did was an act of treason,” she said.

House Speaker John Boehner defended the NSA programs and their congressional oversight, saying he had been briefed on the programs and that Americans were not “snooped on” unless they communicated with a terrorist in another country.

“He’s a traitor,” Boehner said of Snowden in an interview with ABC News. “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk, it shows our adversaries what our capabilities are, and it’s a giant violation of the law.”

Daniel Ellsberg believes Snowden’s leak is the most important example of whistleblowing in history.

In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than  Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material – and that definitely includes  the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago. Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an “executive coup” against the US constitution.

For the president then to say that there is judicial oversight is nonsense – as is the alleged oversight function of the intelligence committees in Congress. Not for the first time – as with issues of torture, kidnapping, detention, assassination by drones and death squads –they have shown themselves to be thoroughly co-opted by the agencies they supposedly monitor. They are also black holes for information that the public needs to know.

Ellsberg seems to think this event will give Americans both the incentive and proof  we need to rise up against this “surveillance state”.   Ha, based on the polling I’ve seen this week and comments from both government officials and public forums I’ve been reading, most people don’t really care that much or simply accept it’s the trade off  for being safe.

And it seems to me we have two different kinds of justice being handed out for whistleblowers.  Thanks to Dodd/Frank (don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a crappy bill) the SEC has newly enacted protections for financial whistleblowers and the government has reaped the benefits to the tune of   millions of dollars.

In just its first year, the whistle­blower program already has proven to be a valuable tool in helping us ferret out financial fraud,” then-SEC Chairman Mary L. Schapiro said in November 2012. “When insiders provide us with high-quality road maps of fraudulent wrongdoing, it reduces the length of time we spend investigating and saves the agency substantial resources.”

The SEC’s Investor Protection Fund awarded the Commission’s first Whistleblower Award Program recipient in 2012, but the case and individual haven’t been made public. The Fund represents monetary sanctions received from settlements of SEC cases, including penalties, disgorgement, and interest. The balance at the end of fiscal 2012 was $453 million.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum Obama appears to undermine his own support of protections for whistleblowers, at least in the area of National Security.

The federal appeals court granted another hearing on May 24, and the Obama administration rushed out a memo asking the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of Personnel Management to quickly come up with a litmus test for deciding which federal positions can be classified as being “sensitive,” citing a 2010 OPM proposal that aimed to dramatically expand the number of national security employees.

Whistleblower advocates say the court ruling and the president’s memo spell a major rewiring of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. “It’s not that OPM and DOJ are arguing that whistleblowers in sensitive positions shouldn’t have access to protections. It’s an unintended consequence that they have not tried to prevent,” says Angela Canterbury, public policy director at the Project on Government Oversight, where I used to work. “The Obama administration is undermining the same protections they [formerly] supported.

There are at least five whistleblowers who’ve come up against the heavy hand of the Obama Administration via the DOJ recently.

The Obama administration has waged a war on government whistleblowers. So here are 5 whistleblowers who have been under attack by a president who once said that official whistleblowers were “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.

Check out the Thomas Drake case:

4. Thomas Drake

A former executive at the National Security Agency, Thomas Drake exposed details about the agency’s Trailblazer Project. For this, he was charged under the Espionage Act, though the government’s case against him spectacularly failed.

Drake became concerned about the Trailblazer Project’s cost–at $1 billion, it was way more than the NSA should have been paying for a program they could have instituted in-house. He was also concerned it would violate the privacy of Americans. But Trailblazer, which was supposed to analyze intercepted communications, was chosen to be the NSA’s vehicle for surveillance anyway. Drake disclosed details about the NSA’s wastefulness to a Baltimore Sun reporter.

The government initially threw the book at him, but their case collapsed. As Marcy Wheeler explained in The Nation: “The Department of Justice had been pursuing Drake for alleged violations of the Espionage Act that might have sent him to prison for up to 35 years. But the government withdrew the evidence supporting several of the central charges after a judge ruled Drake would not be able to defend himself unless the government revealed details about one of the National Security Agency’s telecommunications collection programs.” Drake was eventually convicted on the misdemeanor charge of exceeding authorized use of a computer.

I’m really curious what all of you think of the whistleblower issue in particular, but of course I’m also wondering if anyone thinks there’s a reverse of the surveillance state possible.  Is surveillance state too strong of a descriptive?  Do you think Obama is really to blame or is it just the result of an overzealous government at all levels since 9/11?

I’m Baaack

We’re still crawling out from under the Christmas Tree around here but I read this interesting post and immediately thought of all of you.  It’s a little deep in the weeds but I found it a fascinating read for the progressive/liberal end of the political spectrum.  I guess I’m assuming I’m not the only one who thinks about these issues so we’ll see if anyone else thinks they’re important in an election year.

Last night I had a little free time and as it seemed pretty quiet around here, I went over to the Plumline to see what everyone was discussing and I thought the most interesting links in the Happy Hour thread were those relating to the “Drones”.  The discussion was launched by a piece from Greg Miller over at the WaPo and then the reaction from a few left leaning bloggers.

Other commanders in chief have presided over wars with far higher casualty counts. But no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.
The rapid expansion of the drone program has blurred long-standing boundaries between the CIA and the military. Lethal operations are increasingly assembled a la carte, piecing together personnel and equipment in ways that allow the White House to toggle between separate legal authorities that govern the use of lethal force.
In Yemen, for instance, the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command pursue the same adversary with nearly identical aircraft. But they alternate taking the lead on strikes to exploit their separate authorities, and they maintain separate kill lists that overlap but don’t match. CIA and military strikes this fall killed three U.S. citizens, two of whom were suspected al-Qaeda operatives.
The convergence of military and intelligence resources has created blind spots in congressional oversight. Intelligence committees are briefed on CIA operations, and JSOC reports to armed services panels. As a result, no committee has a complete, unobstructed view.
With a year to go in President Obama’s first term, his administration can point to undeniable results: Osama bin Laden is dead, the core al-Qaeda network is near defeat, and members of its regional affiliates scan the sky for metallic glints.
Those results, delivered with unprecedented precision from aircraft that put no American pilots at risk, may help explain why the drone campaign has never attracted as much scrutiny as the detention or interrogation programs of the George W. Bush era. Although human rights advocates and others are increasingly critical of the drone program, the level of public debate remains muted.
Senior Democrats barely blink at the idea that a president from their party has assembled such a highly efficient machine for the targeted killing of suspected terrorists. It is a measure of the extent to which the drone campaign has become an awkward open secret in Washington that even those inclined to express misgivings can only allude to a program that, officially, they are not allowed to discuss.

Judging from the comments I’m not actually convinced that everyone read the Miller piece, or the other commentary, but that’s neither here nor there.  I’m finding it fascinating that there is so little outcry from left leaning pundits and citizens and when I read the following piece it crystallized for me that we’re becoming either immune or unconcerned or maybe just apathetic to the most important issues of our time.  Over at America Blog they’ve been tracking viewer hits through Blogger and have put together what appear to be the top three issues based upon stories on their website.  Granted these are issues that matter to the left, I’m not even going to pretend to understand the issues through a conservative lens, but I think Obama and Company have quite possibly undercut liberal ideals to a pretty remarkable extent.  And I also believe the whole “drone” story will become issue number four.

1. There’s an interest in these subjects (NDAA, PIPA, & mortgage fraud) that’s deep and persistent. All of our site’s regulars have weighed with their “views” a long time ago. As near as I can tell, the driver to all three posts is Google (search terms: PIPA, NDAA, “whistleblower found dead”) as new people search on these subjects. If so, Google is telling us something.

2. Message for the left — If this really is a clue to the mind of left-leaning voters, it would be smart to hit these subjects hard, starting now. There are far more listeners, I suspect, for whom the PIPA, NDAA, and mortgage fraud messages resonate, than anyone appreciates.

I’d suggest taking advantage of this opportunity. If our small indicators are right, the time to plant seeds is now, not months from now. The soil is ready, so to speak. Let’s not lose the chance.

3. Note to Obama & his merry band — I would not underestimate the extent to which these issues, especially NDAA, are a bridge too far for your base. It seems you’ve been playing a game of “how low can we go” — how far can we stoop to the demands of the money-soaked property rights and national security establishments and not lose our dependable triangulated base. 

NDAA=Indefinite Detention 

PIPA=Kill the Internet Bill

Mortgage Fraud=Whistle Blower Death in Nevada

Maybe it’s just me but I’d rather spend more time discussing these kinds of issues than the GOP primaries and their merry host of actors.  Just in case no one reads the original story in America Blog, the point is that the three stories linked just above keep popping up in the Best of the Week and Best of the Month categories long after they should have disappeared from the forefront.  My contention is that the “Drone” story may be another one.

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