‘If we can only live once, then let it be a daring adventure that draws on all our powers. Let it be with similar types whose hearts and heads we may be proud of. Let our grandchildren delight to find the start of our stories in their ears but the endings all around in their wandering eyes.’
― Julian Assange, Founder/Editor, Wikileaks
‘In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised. And it should be.’
― Edward Snowden, NSA Whistleblower
‘Rights are a protection from society. But only by fulfilling their obligations to society can the individual give meaning to that protection.’
― John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilization
‘The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering—a world of steel and concrete, of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons—a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting—three hundred million people all with the same face.’
― George Orwell, Author, 1984
‘All politicians assume a necessity of control, the more efficient the control the better. All political organizations tend to function like a machine, to eliminate the unpredictable factor of affect—emotion. Any machine tends to absorb, eliminate, Affect. Yet the only person who can make a machine move is someone who has a motive, who has Affect. If all individuals were conditioned to machine efficiency in the performance of their duties there would have to be at least one person outside the machine to give the necessary orders; if the machine absorbed or eliminated all those outside the machine, the machine will slow down and stop forever. Any unchecked impulse does, within the human body and psyche, lead to the destruction of the organism.’
— William Burroughs, U.S. writer, iconoclast, fly-in-the-ointment, occasional misanthrope. On ‘political control’ (1961).
Brief: The increasing readiness—via their dutiful, unquestioning watchers and enforcers in the legal system, the national security, surveillance and police states, and through other controlling entities and mechanisms—of the power elites within and across the bureaucratic, corporate, political, and financial realms, to ruthlessly delimit at all costs and by whatever means any challenge to them presented by leakers, investigative journalists, whistleblowers, assorted dissenters, or anyone else speaking truth to power, is a disturbing, freedom-negating, out-of-control trend. In this companion piece to last week’s post, we ruminate further on these developments and consider their future implications.
— They Shoot Whistleblowers, Don’t They? —
There can be little doubting the ever-increasing, envelope pushing promiscuity of our ruling elites toward abusing the power invested in, or accessible to, them, and acting accordingly in the knowledge they are able to do so with contemptuous disregard for any semblance of public accountability, integrity, responsibility and transparency.
Power once acquired, then misused and abused with reckless impunity, metastasizes malignantly and exponentially across time and space in the body politic, where it is garrisoned and protected by its ‘acquisitors’ with unsentimental, merciless vigor. That this power is said to be wielded in the interests of our security and safety is a ‘custom’ more honour’d in the breach than [in] the observance. Whilst we might say it was ever thus, never moreso has this been the case in our purportedly democratic milieu.
Herein we might add as a corollary that the biggest challenge for said elites—that most indigestible of truths—is any (even) implicit suggestion their acquired and expanded powers are not irrevocable, are not sanctioned by our democratic institutions, or for that matter [might not be] acceptable to our democratic sensibilities, is therefore on that basis, illegitimate, and not theirs to wield.
As William Burroughs put it succinctly, ‘hell hath no vociferous fury like an endangered parasite’.
There seems little coincidence the rise of leakers and whistleblowers, and others willing to speak truth to power in some form is directly linked to the abrogation of social responsibility of the corporate (or mainstream) media to accurately, objectively, fairly and effectively report on in the broad public interest the important news issues of the day so as to provide the checks and balances necessary to curb these flourishing and flagrant abuses.
The whistleblowers and their ilk are in the ascendancy it would seem, doing much of the work of investigative journalists and even more to the point, taking most of the risks in doing so. Yet the perils for both have never been greater, with the rules of engagement for both changing constantly. As Thom Hartmann reminds us in the ‘promo’ trailer for his RT program The Big Picture, the only industry mentioned in the Constitution is the press. Hartmann, one of America’s most measured and incisive of political commentators, is not whistling Dixie here: the implications of this observation are as stark as they are obvious, and not just for aficionados of Freedom™, Democracy™, Liberty™, Truth™, Justice™, and the unique and exceptional, American Way™.
Completing this vicious cycle is the evident decline in authentic, hard-hitting investigative journalism within and across the traditional news and information mediums, a profession itself whose occupational hazards for those with such ambitions and the ideals they might bring to the task, are now as great as those of their sources, and which by any measure, are now legion. This is a direct outcome of a number of factors, not least here being the level of ownership and control of almost all the established MSM brands by monolithic corporate entities—almost all of whom are in some form or another symbiotically connected to, or have strategic vested interests in the maintenance and continued growth of the military, intelligence, national security and surveillance state—along with the evident (albeit largely unseen by the broad news consuming public), conflicts of interest that are concomitant with that.
The themes and issues explored in the forthcoming Cate Blanchett & Robert Redford film Truth—about the highly controversial, game changing 2014 Dan Rather saga dealing with George W Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service—would appear to underscore this premise. This controversy had a significant impact on the outcome of Bush’s 2004 re-election bid. That it also gave serious pause to mainstream journalists and their otherwise courageous editors/producers when contemplating going up against the Big Washington Machine with an important, ‘damn the torpedos’ type of story is also one we might explore further.
Put simply, those that do so are at serious risk of ‘trespassing’ onto ‘and you will know us by the trail of dead’ territory. When considered, is it any wonder the inner sanctuary of the secret mind—whose ‘creature comforts’ are much enamored by our power elites—has been rendered all but impregnable?
From the outset I can say the following. I know how the whistleblower feels, albeit on a less exalted, but no less personally significant level. More than simply sharing the same values, beliefs and ideals of those who seek to hold people in powerful positions to an acceptable level of transparency and accountability, by acting on such beliefs and heart-felt ideals I have first hand experience of the attendant dilemmas, fears, challenges, anxieties and the myriad costs that come with the territory when one chooses to speak truth to power in our contemporary political and economic environment.
Having been directly impacted by them, I am moreover well aware of the potential and actual economic, social and legal consequences that can—and do—manifest themselves by taking such a position. I’ve had to deal with the impact the experience has had on my own physical, financial and mental health, on the well-being and welfare of my family, and on my relationships with those same family members as well as friends. Along with the aforementioned, I have ‘paid a price’, one that inevitably accompanies these difficult decisions.
Overall, I believe then I have a very good handle on the risks and costs that accompany the decision to stand up for something you believe in, to challenge what one perceives to be unfair or [is] wrong, and to defend yourself against unwarranted attacks on your personal character and professional integrity. To use the CIA vernacular of choice in such matters, I’m well acquainted with the blowback!
Let me be emphatic here: I’m no Edward Snowden, John Kiriakou, Thomas Drake, William Binney, Julian Assange, and certainly no Sibel Edmonds or Colleen Rowley to be sure (the latter two especially for what should be obvious reasons). My experience of speaking truth to power is/was never going to make headlines, largely because it occurred in a milieu and under circumstances that did not at the time—nor are they likely to anytime soon—lend themselves to attracting that kind of attention.
— Skin in the Game —
But there is no doubt that at my own level, I ran the same gauntlet that many whistleblowers and leakers do, even if the stakes weren’t nearly as high. I endured as it were ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous’ power-mongers. For these reasons alone then my empathy—experientially derived—is unquestionably authentic. I’ve had skin in the whistleblowing game! Or to put in that uniquely American vernacular, I had ‘a dog in that fight’.
That my dog lost is something we will now explore, and not just for posterity! To underscore this assertion, when I first chose to go up against the Big Machine, the ‘operators’ ignored me. When that failed to discourage me, they adopted a ‘best from of defence is attack’ strategy and tried to trash my character and impugn my professional integrity. When that didn’t work to their satisfaction, they tried to shut me up. After that also failed, they eventually devised a pretext to shut me down and shut me out.
This of course is standard operating procedure for any Big Machine! It has its praetorian guard-dogs, and it is their job to protect the workings of the Machine at all costs. No-one but no-one will be permitted to throw a spanner into the works of the Machine. This is not hyperbole. This is the reality!
In that sense then, as I have since come to reflect on it, the Big Machine in my case was no less ruthlessly protective of its power prerogatives than the admittedly much ‘bigger’ Machine encountered by stateside whistleblowers such as those name-checked. Although for my part I considered legal action, it was an option that soon became unattractive because of the associated costs, along with the lack of guarantees that any ‘success’—however it may have been measured—might have justified this ‘investment’. As well, in seeking some other remedial action, although I was initially successful in bringing my story to the attention of the local media, my former employers mobilised their formidable media relations resources, their internal control mechanisms, and their political connections in portraying me as ‘just another disgruntled employee’. And that was the end of that.
Ask any whistleblower—I expect then most will identify much in the above narrative as central their own experience.
Along with my reluctance to burden readers with it, space, time and some old-fashioned ‘need-to-know’ considerations preclude a ‘blow-by-blow’ herein of what was a six-year plus ordeal. In the service though of a suitable introduction to the main themes and issues herein—and in order to infuse a deeper measure of legitimacy to any observations I might make regarding these “themes and issues”—it is sufficient to know that when they did ‘shut me down’, it was not enough to simply destroy my then career, albeit one which was pretty much already on life support because of my reputation for speaking out.
The ‘powers that be’ to whom I was speaking truth—a very large state based education bureaucracy here in Australia—then devised their own methods to arbitrarily deny me my right to earn my livelihood in my chosen profession, a situation that to this day three years later I’ve not been able to turn around in any substantive way. If for a period I was ‘the skunk on the inside of the tent pissing out’, the PTBs in question decided they could live with me being the skunk on the outside.
And as if to drive home the message, as a result of allegations needlessly and vindictively contrived, and then formally lodged by my former employers with the state police, at one point I faced serious legal consequences of the criminal kind.
In this respect readers can be assured I did nothing wrong, a reality underscored by the later refusal, belated as it was, of police investigators to pursue the matter to the fullest extent I’ve little doubt my former employers encouraged—and would have been happy for—them to do so. I was nonetheless still forced to deal at the time with what was a very serious matter, with a potential criminal conviction for child abuse, if not actual time in the can, a very real prospect.
And if I might make one more key point to round out this anecdote—again, one with which I feel sure most whistleblowers will identify—it would be this. Out of the tens of thousands of front-line staffers working in this particular bureaucracy, I was one of only a small handful of people who deigned to go up against this Big Machine. I was someone who, to use the vernacular, was prepped to ‘stick their ass in the meat grinder’ as it were, even if at the time I did not think of it that way.
Now I say this for one reason alone, and it’s decidedly not driven by any self-serving, egocentric desire to extol virtues I may or may not possess. It is simply a cogent pointer to the ever-present quandary—with its attendant moral, ethical, legal, economic, personal and professional dimensions—faced by people who perceive some wrong and are inclined to do something about it, yet for any number of reasons agonise about whether to actually do so.
For those of us genuinely trying to make a living and support our families, as for bringing home the economic costs alone of speaking out, the following metric should do so in spades. In lost earnings alone over the duration of my campaign for accountability, transparency, change, and then justice, it amounted somewhere between $250-300K.
This amount does not include the almost three-year period ‘outside of the tent’, during which I have not been able to work at my chosen profession, one in which the annual salary for someone with my experience and background amounted—by accepted professional benchmarks—to around $95K per annum. Readers, do the math!
The above I trust conveys then a sufficient degree of empathy for the whistleblower, such that it lends a measure of authenticity to the following narrative.
Who Killed Michael Hastings, Investigative Reporter? 1980-2013
Just before his untimely and suspicious death, Michael Hastings, like many progressive journalists, felt besieged by an overreaching government. Hastings was living in LA, where he had just taken part in a panel discussion about the documentary War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State (see link below*). Interviewed in May on The Young Turks, Hastings earlier had railed against the Obama administration, which “has clearly declared war on the press”; the only recourse, he said, was for the press to respond: “We declare war on you.”
— Up Against the Big Machine (How Does it Feel, To be on Your Own?*) —
Many questions come to mind herein then in contemplating the dilemma of the whistleblower, but the following considerations should suffice to underscore the above: If the perceived wrong is so egregious, so glaring, so costly, so obviously destructive, and so lacking in justice and fairness (and not necessarily just for you), why isn’t the queue of folks genuinely chomping at the bit to act on, draw attention to, and campaign to rectify, this perceived wrong, much longer than it should be ‘in a perfect world’?
And if we do act on it, can we count on, come hell and high water (both of which in these situations usually travel in pairs and whose invariably inevitable arrival is concurrent), the unequivocal, ongoing support of our family, friends and colleagues—whose respective and collective degrees of commitment to seeing the wrong righted will vary, and whose presence may not always be detectable in the support queue—to ensure that somehow, at some point, a measure of justice (or reasonable facsimile thereof) will prevail, and that some vindication for our principled stand will reveal itself?
And last but by no means least, have we fully considered the consequences (again as predictable as they are as inevitable), of speaking truth to power, and are we prepped—worst case scenario like—to pay that price? Are we also prepared to do so in the full knowledge that in almost all cases our “principled stand” will be akin to, as they say, peeing oneself in a dark suit in a public place, to wit: It might give you a nice warm feeling all over (at least from the waist down), but is anyone ‘within your orbit’ really going to notice? This irrespective of whether our “principled stand” has achieved—for ourselves or anyone else—anything remotely resembling the goals and objectives we identified as the justification for adopting it from the off.
With this preamble in mind, the ultimately successful U.S. Justice Department prosecution earlier this year of former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) case officer Jeffrey Sterling for allegedly revealing details to New York Times (NYT) investigative journalist James Risen of one of its less-successful covert operations highlights much of what is seriously wrong with the contemporary mindset that prevails in foreign-policy circles and within and across the broader Beltway.
Along with showcasing the inequities rooted in the U.S. justice system, this quintessential ‘malice in blunder-land’ prosecution, subsequent trial, and accompanying controversy brought into sharp relief again the obsequious, yet self-serving compliance of the corporate (or mainstream) media with the agenda of the national-security obsessives that populate the neo-conservative and liberal-interventionist firmament.
Now, with the call by Sterling’s wife Holly last month for president Obama to grant her husband a pardon, it is timely to revisit the backstory of this case and consider its broader implications. The Sterling case involved Risen’s own efforts in 2006 to publish a story in the NYT detailing the CIA’s convoluted and ultimately botched attempt during the Clinton administration to provide Iran with flawed nuclear-device schematics.
The objective of this operation was to sabotage Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, one that reportedly the CIA chaps weren’t even sure existed at the time or for that matter whether the Iranians really had ambitions in that respect. To this day, this doubt remains.
In fact herein we might cast the Iranian nuclear weapons program as the Lock Ness Monster of geopolitics; it has oft been talked about, [and] imagined then reimagined in numerous iterations over the years with a mixture of head shaking incredulity, scepticism and fascination as to its origins.
Yet there is no hard evidence the program has ever existed other than in the fevered imaginations of folks whose reasons for creating and perpetuating the myth may not be completely clear, but we would have to be highly suspicious nonetheless, given the Beltway Bedlamites’ well-documented predisposition for self-serving fear mongering, sabre-rattling and crying wolf. Now in the case of ‘Old Nessie’ herself, we might assign generally innocuous motivations as to that myth’s origins. But for the Iranian nuke program and its ardent proselytes, it would be much more difficult—even for the most naive of individuals—to assign same!
Codenamed Operation Merlin, this ill-fated, misadventure in Spy v Spy subterfuge is one of the most bizarre, cockamamie plots ever genetically modified, planted and harvested down on the Langley Farm. And in the annals of The Company’s heroic exploits in the defence of Freedom™, Democracy™, Truth™, Justice™ and the American Way™, that’s a ‘call’ for which there’s some serious competition. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine master spy storyteller John Le Carre would’ve risked challenging his readers’ devotion devising such a scheme as a remotely plausible plot device.
Of course the Iranians’ purported efforts to develop a nuclear-weapons program has been for some time—and remains—one of the defining and divisive strategic issues of our time, an observation evidenced earlier this year by the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu‘s unprecedented dog ‘n pony show presented for the U.S. Congress.
(If it wasn’t for the fact Russia itself has its own formidable nuclear-weapons arsenal, prior to the recent deal negotiated with the Iranian government regarding its alleged program, in geopolitical terms this issue might have rivalled in significance the portentous standoff between the U.S. and its former Cold War nemesis over the Crimea, the Ukraine, the MH-17 disaster, the Syrian situation, ISIS, the ABM treaty, and any other gripe, whinge or bitch Washington has with that country, of which there appears to be no shortages, with new ones being invented and fashioned and then making their debut daily. In fact, if some Republicans have their way, the Iranian nuke issue—like ‘Old Nessie’ herself reportedly does from time to time—may still raise its ugly head going forward.)
What’s not “difficult to imagine” though is why the CIA folks would want to keep the specifics of this murky little black-op debacle from receiving wide-lens exposure. And although many CIA insiders would have us believe otherwise, it has little if anything to do with national security. It rarely ever does. This is the stock-standard coded response from the security boffins which in almost all cases indicates someone is covering their own ass and/or someone else’s regarding revelations of hidden agendas and the cock-ups that frequently come with the territory when those agendas are rolled out.
We might even opine herein that if America’s protection from strategic threats is determined at least in part by the frequency and zeal with which its government plays the “national security” card, the overall threat index might only ever fluctuate between 0—1.5 on a Richter-type scale of 10 and no further on any given day. And the iconic numerical signifier “911” might still be the phone number to ring in an emergency that people think of first when they hear it!
However, I digress. Yet, such is the byzantine nature of the Merlin story that an in-depth rendering herein is not appropriate. In any event it has been well covered in the lead-up to and throughout the course of Sterling’s trial. Suffice to say the outcome of this utterly reckless operation generated double-barreled ‘blowback’—the spooks’ worst nightmare. And by pursuing at first Risen, then Sterling, in the manner in which it has done, the CIA for reasons best known to itself seemed hell-bent on shooting itself once again in the foot and shitting in its own nest.
To begin with, in handing over even flawed blueprints for the nukes, the CIA inadvertently delivered information to the Iranians they almost certainly could have used to advance any weapons program. That is of course if and/or when they do decide to get serious about it because as indicated—the Israeli PM’s Congressional bluff ‘n bluster aside—few seem really certain what their intentions are. This apparently includes key figures in Israel’s own intelligence services, who themselves appeared to be at odds with their own leader over the issue.
Second, according to Risen, after a Russian middleman (codenamed “Merlin”) handed over the information to the Iranian embassy in Vienna on behalf of the CIA, an unnamed ‘Company’ case officer, in an email to an Iranian official in the course of the operation—wait for this— “accidentally” included the identities of every CIA agent in Iran. This official—a double agent no less—did what double agents do and turned this information over to Iranian security officials with the end result several CIA folks will not be collecting their pensions.
Although there are a few insightful commentators in the mainstream and alternative media who were watching this trial closely and reporting on it with a measure of objectivity and veracity (albeit with variable degrees of concern regarding the implications), one such individual who did provide us with a cogent, useful analysis of the Sterling case at the time was former CIA analyst turned activist Ray McGovern, a man as we will see is no ‘slouch’ when it comes to dissenting, speaking truth to power, and generally standing up to be counted where and when it counts to do so.
We’ll return to McGovern’s insights shortly for more context and perspective in this discussion. But first…..
A 36-year veteran of the Intelligence Community, William Binney resigned from his position as Director for Global Communications Intelligence at the National Security Agency (NSA) and blew the whistle, after discovering that his efforts to protect the privacy and security of Americans were being undermined by those above him. Binney voices his call to action for the billions of individuals whose rights are currently being violated. In this feature-length interview with Tragedy and Hope‘s Richard Grove, he discusses the ever-growing Surveillance State in America.
— The Truth Might Set you Free (or Not) —
When the NYT caved under pressure from the Bush administration and declined to publish the Merlin story (predictably citing the catch-all “national security” canard as their rationale), Risen off his own bat published a book called State of War – The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. It was herein amongst other choice snippets of ‘under the counter’ intrigues of the Washington crypto-statists, he gave up the ‘skinny’ on the whole Merlin enchilada.
It was only then the NYT belatedly decided to publish the story, a decision doubtless driven by its resolve to preserve its status as the first to print without fear or favour all the news that’s fit to print and add further burnish its standing as the “paper of record”.
For its part the CIA have always maintained it was Sterling who leaked this information to Risen, yet the evidence was always thin. Although for several years the CIA/DOJ had Risen himself on their ‘prosecute with extreme prejudice’ radar for refusing to reveal his sources, they then backed off on the NYT journalist himself and in lieu placed Sterling in the legal crosshairs. This was despite compelling evidence Risen’s source(s) could have been any number of people.
At all events in the case of Sterling, the prejudice, indeed malice, was extreme indeed, and it’s difficult to escape the conclusion the dearth of evidence was overshadowed by such feelings. We can only assume from all of this the powers that be aren’t quite ready to go the ‘full monty’ and prosecute and jail journalists of Risen’s stature and profile for refusing to reveal their sources. In this respect one suspects Sterling represented much easier prey. For now at least!
That aside though, given the “prevailing mindset”, it remains a mystery as to how Risen has been able to hold onto his job at the NYT over this imbroglio. This is after all the self-anointed first repository of the historical record, a MSM brand that feels little embarrassment or shame about shackling itself and its journalistic ethics to the agenda of all those folks—especially again the Potomac straddling neo-conservatives and their ‘offsiders’ the so-called liberal interventionists—driving U.S. national security and foreign policy.
Moreover, from this we can also safely surmise that notwithstanding the agency’s positioning statement, “the truth shall set you free”—famously etched in marble in the foyer of its former Washington ‘digs’ so everyone got the point —the “truth” as most of us have come to know it in this case clearly has limits. It’s either that or the CIA—and the mainstream media (MSM) itself —long ago developed its own definition of said “truth” and is keeping that to itself for a ‘rainy day’.
Put simply, the Langley ‘farm hands’ don’t like having alternative realities to their own singularly versioned, genetically modified “truth” aired anywhere in the broad public domain.
And given the factors leading to Sterling’s incarceration, along with the commensurate time he has had now to reflect on it as a result, the supreme, bitter, Orwellian irony of the phrase must surely make him gag when he does! Again with space precluding an in-depth exposition of the complex legalities of the Sterling case itself, it is the implications of the outcomes of this Kafkaesque ‘kabuki’ show for legitimate leakers, genuine whistleblowers and investigative journalists of all stripes that are of greater interest. Of greater significance though is the broader consideration of what is aptly called the ‘criminalisation of dissent’, including even what we might call ‘conscionable’ dissent.
That such implications should also be of great interest to discerning news consumers, freedom-of-speech advocates and defenders of democracy in general, is a given. It is moreover crucial that such understandings reach critical mass if there is any hope of preserving the integrity of the civic culture of the republic and everything it supposedly stands for. It seems though unfortunately for the vast majority—who might accurately be termed the political ‘walking dead’—all of this will continue to go unnoticed for the foreseeable future.
As noted earlier, Ray McGovern offered some cogent insights into the Sterling ‘show-trial’, which recently concluded with the jury returning a verdict of guilty. In McGovern’s view, the trial had “multiple purposes” beyond simply proving that Sterling “leaked some secrets” to a journalist. For the CIA it was a chance, he says, to ‘…contest the widespread impression that it [the CIA] is some bumbling intelligence agency that comes up with harebrained schemes.’
Put crudely, the world’s premier spy marque was smarting over the damage to its brand image, and instead of letting sleeping dogs lie, it wanted someone—anyone—to pay for said “damage”. Can’t get Risen? OK, the next best thing will have to do!
Insofar as its image and reputation is concerned, it’s no secret (sorry) the CIA has suffered numerous ‘setbacks’ over the decades, a frequently self-inflicted outcome that we can safely say is mostly a product of its own deep-rooted, ‘law-unto-itself’, ‘we can do no wrong’ hubris. These included not least, most recently, the revelations about extraordinary rendition, torture, black sites and various other extra-legal initiatives in and around the responses to dealing with suspected terrorists in the wake of 9/11.
Compounding this then is the litany of monumental intelligence failures going way back beyond 9/11 and the non-existent ‘slam-dunk’ WMDs, to the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, to the Aldrich Ames spy scandal, to the notorious Nosenko case, and even to the Cambridge spy-ring days of the Sixties.
And that’s just some of the “failures”, to say nothing about the “family jewels”, themselves well documented by many including in author John Prados‘ book The Family Jewels, the CIA, Secrecy, and Presidential Power. These include its links to various assassination, drug-running, gun-smuggling, and money-laundering activities being only a part of the mosaic of misdeed and malfeasance, the designation “family jewels” both ironic and euphemistic in equal measure.
For his part, Prados highlights the central importance of the rule of law in a democracy and the “special tensions” this creates with respect to intelligence activities, who “[by nature] work to or at the edge of or beyond the law”. This situation, he adds,
‘… makes public confidence vital. The uneasy relationship between secret agencies and public order requires that intelligence maintains the highest standards of discipline and accountability. Anything that challenges public confidence is harmful.’
This being the reality, we might reasonably determine then that the CIA does not get ‘it’, “it” being the “public-confidence” thing. In pursuing the Sterling case to its limits and with the resulting publicity that comes with doing so, most objective observers would say the CIA is further undermining that “public confidence”, or without placing too fine a point on it, doesn’t give a shit. By drawing even more attention to its history of highly questionable “standards of discipline and accountability”, it is fuelling the blowback, albeit “blowback” of a different kind.
— “Dude, where’s our reputation?”—
With all this in mind, to paraphrase an indelible slice of popular culture, one might say all this is a case of, ‘Dude, where’s our reputation?’ Where indeed, one might well ask? One might even be tempted to ask in response, ‘What reputation was that?’
As McGovern points out, another key purpose of the Sterling (mis)trial is that it was something of a test case. Although a loss for the USG/CIA/DOJ prosecutorial axis would doubtless have been an embarrassing setback, win or lose, it was still nonetheless an opportunity to ‘intimidate… other potential whistleblowers’ who would dare expose to the public more evidence that the CIA is ‘just such a bumbling intelligence agency, the spy world’s own version of the Keystone Kops, its very own iteration of Spy v Spy.
To cap this withering assessment off, McGovern observes the following — for the USG/CIA/DOJ, the trial:
‘… [P]rovides some protection for the next time the government needs some made-to-order ‘intelligence’ to justify another conflict like the Iraq War. In that way, the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling is a deterrent to future officials, who might be tempted to commit the unpardonable sin of putting loyalty to their conscience and the Constitution ahead of the non-disclosure contract they signed earlier as a condition of employment.” [My emphasis]
For additional commentary on the Sterling trial as it was progressing, see here, here, here, and for further commentary on his conviction, see here. Sterling is also the subject of a DemocracyNow interview, called the Invisible Man by Judith Ehrlich. See here.
The Sterling case provides a stark counterpoint to that of Golden Boy of the military and national security elites, MSM and neo-con ‘centrefold’, and former DCI General David Petraeus no less, who provided hard copy classified information to his lover and biographer Paula Broadwell. Petraeus, who was effectively forced to resign over his affair with Broadwell, eventually received what can only be described as a ‘rap over the knuckles’ for this serious breach of security, and from a CIA chief no less.
In short Petraeus got to ‘walk’, an outcome that for many Washington observers was as inevitable as it was inequitable. The early twentieth-century American columnist and political satirist Ambrose Bierce once mischievously defined “amnesty” as the state’s magnanimity toward those offenders whom it would be too ‘expensive’ to punish, and it is with Petraeus that this definition really comes into its own.
Along with considering whether Petraeus’ breach of security came before or after he dropped his own breaches for Ms Broadwell’s ‘benefit’, we might also ponder whether the General’s sordid, covert little romp with his much-younger and not unattractive biographer was overshadowed by his own pathetic attempts to impress her with such disclosures in the first instance, after which he then proceeded to cover up this breach by (deep breath here) lying to FBI investigators.
(To be fair to the General, lying to the G-Men dressed up as a ‘crime’ in any context would appear to be something of a stretch, one which we might define the same way we would baseball, to wit: it’s a veritable national pastime. Yet lying to the FBI is also one for which there are few comparable ironies in the Grand American Narrative, given the FBI’s own history of lying to the long-suffering American public, the oft neglected collective of folks to whom that august bastion of the American justice system is purportedly pledged to serve, presumably accompanied by some measure of honesty and integrity. This, to say nothing of its somewhat patchy record adhering to the spirit and letter of the Constitution.)
And although doubtless Mrs P herself must have felt somewhat surplus to marital requirements throughout this ordeal once fully apprised of it, it’s uncertain how much she—having then grappled with her errant husband’s embarrassing mid-life crisis/ego-fuelled indiscretions and then reminded of it daily via the prurient media attention given to it—was all that forgiving and understanding of his behaviour. Yet either way, insofar as we can gather though his wayward ways did little to dim the good general’s lights on Capitol Hill, even it would seem, with female members of Congress. No surprises there then of course. In the rarefied Washington milieu, this was never going to happen.
This is after all the Iraq ‘surge hero’, the man who with all the humility he could beg, borrow or steal all but claimed to have won the war in Iraq, an assertion that given the current state of play in the former cradle of civilisation is one that either calls into question the very definition of what constitutes a military victory, or Petraeus’ own deluded, distorted sense of reality, or more likely, both.
In the Washington troposphere once again though, this notion would not get a lot of oxygen. On the banks of the Potomac and its proximate hinterland, Petraeus’ ‘deluded, distorted sense of reality‘ is hardly unique, where such mindsets are ensconced in their true comfort zone. The Petraeus myth was—and it would appear, remains—as rock solid as the reality of it is built on sand.
Space herein precludes a complete retelling of Petraeus’ putative fall from grace. But it is the contrast between how Sterling and others of a similar ilk (Snowden, Manning, Assange et. al.) are treated by the same legal system for their alleged crimes and misdemeanors, and the leniency, if not outright exoneration, provided by the criminal-justice system for folks like Petraeus, which is of considerable importance. As Steven Nelson has reported, in view of the Petraeus decision, supporters of Snowden have since been calling for a similar deal for the ‘star’ of “Citizen Four”. Nelson placed the situations of both men in sharp relief and virtually challenges readers to argue against Snowden being accorded similar treatment.
After noting that one man (Petraeus) leaked to his mistress ‘secret information for use in a biography about himself and then lied about it’, the other (Snowden) openly shared secrets, “…. to stop what he saw as improper mass surveillance, spawning Supreme Court-bound lawsuits, presidential policy pivots and global concern about privacy.”
— ‘How much does [the] government want?’ —
It’s clear also that the folks on Capitol Hill assign stark differences between the two mens’ situations, yet possibly not in the same vein as Nelson’s piece might indicate. In the same article the journalist observed that there appeared no shortage of folks in Congress—again tellingly, across the political spectrum—’circling the tanks’ around the general. It is here that the hypocrisy and double standards at play become so obvious and so thick one would struggle to cut through it all with an 18″ McCulloch 400T chainsaw operating on full revs.
By the same token though those defending or supporting a deal for Snowden in the wake of the Petraeus decision are few and far between, including most of those of a more principled or moderate political persuasion.
In the former category Nelson cites the estimable Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.), an individual who previously had no compunction effectively labeling Snowden a modern-day Benedict Arnold, virtually pleading that Petraeus had been “persecuted enough”, and [that he] should not be prosecuted. Part of Feinstein’s plaintively pathetic plea went along the following lines: ‘He’s retired. He’s lost his job. How much does [the] government want?’
“How much does [the] government want?” indeed is a good question from any number of perspectives. It is also one I expect people like Snowden, Assange, and others are also asking themselves as they face highly uncertain futures at best, and possibly years or even decades in prison or in exile.
And for what? Standing up for the defence and preservation of the spirit and letter—and one expects, the integrity—of the once fabled and now decidedly shop-soiled U.S. Constitution. Most folks one suspects would think this sounds like a good cause then. Yet others might say it is tantamount to closing the gate after the nag has bolted.
On the other hand, as Nelson notes, Feinstein’s Democratic colleague Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) was one of the few in Congress whose moral compass appears to be pointing north. He stood up to oppose the NSA-surveillance programs Snowden exposed—programs that insofar as we can gather are still ‘Johnny Walker’ despite the brouhaha, and probably will continue to be so despite a recent decision by a New York judge the spying is in fact unconstitutional and should be stopped—and “bristled” at the notion of equating the “criminal conduct” of Petraeus with Snowden’s efforts at informing the American public of information to which they had a right to know.
In Grayson’s summation the contrasts were stark indeed, and not in Petraeus’ favour. Whereas Petraeus ‘violated the law to impress a girlfriend’, Snowden released confidential information in the public interest—to ‘bring attention to overwhelming and pervasive constitutional violations’.
In Grayson’s assessment of the respective merits of each case, at great personal costs and sacrifice, Snowden revealed,
‘… the fact that the Fourth Amendment seems to be shredded, the fact that the constitutional requirements of probable cause and particularity have been thrown out the window—these are things we never would have known but for his actions.’
And although the European Union recently voted against any extradition efforts by the U.S. to bring him back to America for prosecution, as for hopes the Obama administration might treat Snowden with even greater forbearance (or for that matter Sterling, Assange and other less-exalted leakers and whistleblowers in the crosshairs), Grayson doubts that will happen. As he notes,
‘Petraeus is part of the club and Edward Snowden is not. I don’t expect the kind of leniency that was shown to someone who is an insider will also be conferred on someone who is an outsider, particularly when you view the administration’s abysmal record regarding whistleblowers in general.’
Such are the contrasts then, and this coming from a member of Congress, one of whose main duties is to ensure the upholding of the Constitution. One rule it appears then for those on the inside looking out, and another for those on the outside looking in. If you’re a true patriot with a conscience, then your chances of receiving a fair hearing in the U.S. justice system appear to be zero.
That is the Washington “mindset”, one that shows few signs of reversing itself anytime soon.
It was once again Ray McGovern who provided us with useful insights into the inequities embedded in these “contrasts”. In fact he brings us a very personal—and one might say arresting (sorry Ray)—take on the Petraeus soap opera.
It was in October 2014 that the indefatigable activist was unceremoniously arrested in New York for attempting to ask the exalted general some probing questions at a public forum where Petraeus was due to give a speech.
McGovern not only suffered severe injuries as a result of being ‘nicked’ by the cops; further insult was added when he was charged with allegedly resisting said arrest, [and with] disorderly conduct and criminal trespass.
Now the latter charge was especially curious given that he’d purchased a ‘ticket to ride’ to the event, and was as entitled as anyone else attending to be there. It was notable although not entirely surprising that this incident was all but ignored by the MSM, but received broad exposure in the alternative media. McGovern, for his part, in his studied critique of the general, is measured but nonetheless unsparing.
To begin with he equates the outcome of the Petraeus decision to that of the “Too-Big-to-Jail” Wall Streeters, all of whom were spared Big Time in the Big House, all done so presumably according the dictates of Bierce’s earlier definition of “amnesty”.
The Petraeus/Wall Street connection didn’t end there, though. With no known experience in, or knowledge of, the financial industry and despite the ignominious departure from his former lofty heights, Petraeus was ‘rewarded’ with a partnership at KKR, a private equity firm. As McGovern observes rather matter-of-factly, ‘…. his hand-slap guilty plea to a misdemeanour for mishandling government secrets should not interfere with his continued service at the firm.’ In essence it would appear that having a disgraced, former national ‘hero’ on its employment roster, one who gave away state secrets either to get laid or in ‘appreciation’ thereof, all the while cheating on his Mrs, was not something the company viewed might be detrimental to its corporate image and reputation.
As for Petraeus’ himself, his unemployed status brought about by his indiscretion was shortlived, as was we can presume the commensurate ‘suffering’ he purportedly endured. One further imagines that he is now in good company on “The Street”, where the ultra exclusive, strictly “Members Only” Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Club has its headquarters.
In the American justice system then, in the final analysis it now appears the power elites—whether judicial, political, legislative, bureaucratic, corporate—don’t even try and justify much less apologise for the increasingly lopsided manner in which justice is dispensed or the inequitable manner in which people are treated when perceived to have done something wrong. It is what it is. Better get used to it. This doubtless is the future—the future of Truth™, Justice™ and the American Way™. This is also a contemporary reality that many right-minded Americans will have difficulty in swallowing to be sure.
That it may always have been (more or less) thus is another reality that for many other Americans may just be far too painful to contemplate, now and going forward.
And even by the time that a reasonable number do get to appreciate this “reality”, for both them and the still ‘walking dead’—to say nothing of future generations whose rights under the Constitution are now much less certain if only because so many highly dubious legal precedents have now muddied the waters of the Potomac—it almost certainly will be far too late.
© Copyright Greg Maybury – 2015
Perth, Western Australia
(*Apologies to His Bobness)
More of the same:
*War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State
This documentary highlights four cases where whistleblowers noticed government wrong-doing and took to the media to expose the fraud and abuse.
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