Who has been worse for whistleblowers and the public, the Bush or Obama administration? I posed that question and received different answers Sept.18, the first of three days of meetings by watchdog groups in Washington, DC.
Obama has been better than Bush "because of the quality of his appointments," responded Government Accountability Project (GAP) Legal Director Tom Devine, an eloquent advocate with three decades experience. Devine did not mention any names in his remarks to the International Whistleblowers Association. Mark Cohen, GAP's executive director until earlier this year, became deputy special counsel to Carolyn Lerner at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. The agency's job is to protect federal whistleblowers and investigate disclosures.
However, OpEd News (OEN) Publisher Rob Kall, another speaker, has a different view. "Since Obama has taken office," Kall reported in RoughTime for Whistleblowers, "most whistleblowers say his administration and his DOJ treat whistleblowers worse than any previous president."
Kall (below) quoted GAP Homeland Security and Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack. a well-credential ethics advisor in 2001 at the Bush Department of Justice. It promptly ousted her from her job and tried to inflict harsh reprisals in her later career after she provided to superiors her opinion that FBI personnel committed an ethics violation in questioning American John Walker Lindh after he was caught with the Taliban in Afghanistan. "Obama," she told Kall, "has brought more prosecutions against whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than any previous president and all presidents combined."
Whatever the resolution of the "who's worse" debate, we in the public need to rally behind these courageous protesters against fraud, waste and civil rights violations. As part of that, we all need to demand from both Democrats and Republicans much more effective protections to replace the lip service they now provide.
Kall, left, has many more insights from his coverage of the conference. It includes the dramatic story of James Murtaugh, MD, founder of the International Whistleblower Association. Murtaugh is a Georgia physician who believes he was poisoned with arsenic for reporting mammoth fraud at a Georgia hospital. Read more of Kall's column below, as well as excerpts from other recent news clips about injustices and misconduct by authorities in the United States and around the world.
I'm attending three days of whistleblower conferences and activities... I learned what it takes to become a whistleblower. You see something wrong, dishonest, corrupt, criminal, unjust. You go to your supervisor. He or she ignores you. Maybe one out of two or four would do that. After you are ignored you go back a second time. Maybe one out of five would do that. You're still ignored, or worse, are told to mind your own business, that you could lose your job.
Maybe one out of a hundred, by then, will go to a higher-level supervisor. The same process happens again -- ignored, rebuffed, threatened. Maybe one in a thousand, maybe 10,000, finally go all the way down the road of the whistleblower to blow the whistle to a level where waves are really made.
Becoming a whistleblower is often, perhaps usually, a life-devastating decision and experience. Once you take the big step, the powers that be align their forces against you. They try to ruin your life, threaten you and your family, do all they can to destroy you, your future ability to work, to hold a job, to have credit. I have heard accounts of this experience again and again from the whistleblowers I've met.
Below are columns referenced in the column above.
OpEd News, Rough time for Whistleblowers, Rob Kall, Sept. 19, 2011. Yesterday, a panel at the International Whistleblowers Association meeting (one of the few organizations run and operated by whistleblowers,) had four empty chairs. They represented whistleblowers who were dead or jailed, who could not appear themselves.
OpEd News, Punishment for NSA & DOJ Overclassification in Drake Case, Jesselyn Radack, Aug. 2, 2011. Today's New York Times reports that former classification czar J. William Leonard filed a formal complaint with his former office -- the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) - requesting punishment for the National Security Agency (NSA) and Justice Department officials who improperly classified documents in the Espionage Act case against NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake. Leonard articulates the significance of his complaint in the Times: “If you’re talking about throwing someone in jail for years, there absolutely has to be responsibility for decisions about what gets classified.”
Daily Kos, Drake's First Op-Ed Since Sentencing, When The Judge Slammed The Justice Department, Jesselyn Radack (left, photo via Wikipedia), Aug. 1, 2011. The Espionage Act was meant to help the government go after spies, not whistle-blowers. Using it to silence public servants who reveal government malfeasance is chilling at best and tyrannical at worst. This administration's attack on national-security whistle-blowers expands Bush's secrecy regime and cripples the free press by silencing its most important sources. It's a recipe for the slow poisoning of a democracy.
Washingtonian, William Welch: Obama Administration’s Point Man to Stop Leaks, Shane Harris, July 20, 2011. The prosecutor has been called a tenacious and tough-as-nails lawyer, but also overzealous. On June 10, one of the biggest cases in the Obama administration’s campaign to stanch leaks of sensitive government information to the press collapsed when the Justice Department dropped espionage charges against Thomas Drake, a former senior official at the National Security Agency. But just three days before the trial was scheduled to begin, the lead federal prosecutor, William M. Welch II, told the judge that he couldn’t proceed without revealing details in court about classified systems that NSA uses to eavesdrop on global communications. Welch is now the administration’s point man in its historic anti-leaks campaign. He is prosecuting a former CIA officer, Jeffrey Sterling, and he has subpoenaed James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter, to testify about whether Sterling was the source for the journalist’s book State of War, which revealed that the CIA may have botched classified operations against Iran.
Washington Post, Judge: Government’s treatment of alleged leaker Thomas Drake was ‘unconscionable’, Ellen Nakashima, July 29, 2011. A federal judge ripped into U.S. prosecutors’ treatment of a former spy agency official accused of leaking classified material, calling delays in the now-closed case “unconscionable” and comparing it to British tyranny in the colonial era. In 2007, FBI agents raided the house of Thomas Drake, then an official at the National Security Agency, but it took another two and a half years for officials to indict him.
OpEd News, Whistleblower Says: Obama's DoJ Declares War on Whistleblowers, Justice Integrity Project, Jan. 10, 2011. Dana Jill Simpson, the Alabama attorney who stepped forward in 2007 to provide sworn evidence on how her fellow Republicans were framing Democratic former Gov. Don Siegelman on corruption charges, today released a statement saying that President Obama's Department of Justice has declared a "war on whistleblowers."
Below are significant articles for this two-week period on legal reform and related political, security and media factors. The articles, including a strong representation from independent blogs and other media, contain a sample of news. See the full article by clicking the link.
Italian Sex-Business Scandal Alleged To Involve Prime Minister
Associated Press / Taiwan News, Italy scandal: Did state planes fly prostitutes? Frances D’Emilio, Sept. 17, 2011. Opposition leaders on Saturday demanded an inquiry to see if Italian government aircraft flew a bevy of young escorts to Premier Silvio Berlusconi's private parties. Concern in the country was also growing over whether the billionaire media mogul who allegedly boasted in an intercepted phone conversation that he "did only eight" women one night could concentrate on rescuing Italy from its economic woes.
Italian newspapers filled pages with excerpts from transcripts of intercepted phone conversations of jailed southern businessmen, Gianpaolo Tarantini, who is being investigated for allegedly arranging and paying for women to prostitute themselves with the premier at parties at Berlusconi's private residences. Tarantini is jailed for allegedly extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from Berlusconi. The premier says he gave Tarantini and Tarantini's wife, who was also arrested, money because he is a generous man who was trying to help a "family in need."
Torture Victim Receives Extra Time
Salon Unclaimed Territory, Jose Padilla and how American justice functions, Glenn Greenwald, Sept. 20, 2011. The story of Jose Padilla, continuing through the events of yesterday, expresses so much of the true nature of the War on Terror and especially America's justice system. In 2002, the American citizen was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, publicly labeled by John Ashcroft as The Dirty Bomber, and then imprisoned for the next three years on U.S. soil as an "enemy combatant" without charges of any kind, and denied all contact with the outside world, including even a lawyer. As usual, the Obama DOJ cited national security imperatives and sweeping theories of presidential power to demand that Executive Branch officials be fully shielded from judicial scrutiny (i.e., shielded from the rule of law) for their illegal acts.
New Jersey Corruption Follow up
Newark Star-Ledger, N.J. medical marijuana center official booted over ties to con man Solomon Dwek, Amy Brittain, Sept. 18, 2011. Kenneth Cayre, a wealthy Monmouth County entrepreneur, was set to become an influential player at one of the state’s new nonprofit medical marijuana centers: a potential landlord, member of the medical advisory board and, through his foundation, a beneficiary. Cayre was removed from the Compassionate Care Centers of America Foundation, a planned medical marijuana clinic in Central Jersey, last week after The Star-Ledger inquired about his connection to Solomon Dwek, scam artist and the star informant in the massive 2009 sting that led to charges against 46 defendants in New Jersey and New York.
Citizen Surveillance Growing?
Center for Investigative Reporting / National Public Radio, Mall of America visitors unknowingly end up in counterterrorism reports, G.W. Schulz, Andrew Becker and Daniel Zwerdling, Sept. 7, 2011. Mall of America officials in Minnesota say their security unit stops and questions on average up to 1,200 people each year. The interviews at the mall are part of a counterterrorism initiative that acts as the private eyes and ears of law enforcement authorities but has often ensnared innocent people, according to an investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting and NPR.
Murdoch Shareholders Complain
Guardian, News Corp shareholders lodge complaint against Rupert Murdoch, Ed Pilkington, Sept. 13, 2011. A prominent group of US banks and investment funds with substantial investments in News Corporation has issued a fresh legal complaint accusing the company of widespread corporate misconduct extending far beyond the phone-hacking excesses of News of the World. The legal action, lodged in the Delaware courts, is led by Amalgamated Bank, a New York-based chartered bank that manages some $12bn on behalf of institutional investors and holds about 1 million shares of News Corporation common stock. Its lawsuit is aimed against the members of News Corp's board, including Rupert Murdoch himself, left, in a Wikipedia photo, his sons, James and Lachlan, and the media empire's chief operating officer, Chase Carey.
Prosecutors Alleged to Over-Reach in Business Cases
Thomson Reuters, Settlements feed U.S. prosecutor overreach, Reynolds Holding, Sept. 16, 2011. From Google last month to tire-maker Bridgestone this week, companies have paid big money to avoid nasty fights with the government in U.S. courts. Bridgestone's bribery settlement on Thursday came despite prosecutors stretching the technicalities, and Google's $500 million payment last month over drug advertisements cost more than the money involved. Trouble is, these deals encourage prosecutors to pursue what they can punish, not what the law prohibits.
SEC Reportedly Rules Against Mark Cuban Claim of SEC Misconduct
Thomson Reuters, Mark Cuban charges against SEC unfounded,source, Sarah N. Lynch, Sept. 19, 2011. The internal watchdog at the Securities and Exchange Commission has concluded that the accusations of investigative misconduct against the enforcement division by Dallas Mavericks basketball team owner Mark Cuban have no merit, according to a person familiar with the matter. Cuban is shown at right in a photo courtesy of Wikipedia with the 2011 NBA championship trophy won by his team last spring. The SEC sued Cuban in 2008 for insider trading, alleging he had sold his 6.3 percent stake in Mamma.com in June 2004 after learning confidentially the Montreal-based search engine company was planning a stock offering. The SEC said Cuban's sale allowed him to avoid more than $750,000 of losses. The case was initially dropped in July 2009 by a federal judge who ruled that Cuban did not qualify as an insider. But last September, Cuban was ordered to face the charges by a federal appeals court, reviving the high-profile insider trading case.
Demise of the Alabama MSM Press?
Legal Schnauzer, Has Mainstream Journalism Officially Died in Alabama? Roger Shuler, Sept. 19, 2011. Bob Lowry, perhaps the last real mainstream journalist in Alabama, is out of a job. That should concern every citizen who thinks that reporting plays a critical role in our democracy. Lowry, who started his journalism career in 1977, most recently was Montgomery bureau chief for The Huntsville Times. But the Times has closed its bureau, and Lowry came to an agreement to leave the paper. That means the fourth largest city in Alabama, and one of the nation's premier centers for high-tech and space-related industry, will have no one covering the state capital. Even more alarming are signs that Lowry's ouster might have been part of a political hit.
Press Pushback In LA Against Government PR Scheme
Los Angeles Times, Water District Taps Google For Good Coverage, Sam Allen, Sept. 13, 2011. Central Basin pays for positive stories by a firm that Google considers a news site. Officials call it innovation, but open government advocates fear it blurs the line between news and publicity. Readers who type "Central Basin Municipal Water District" into Google News get a series of upbeat articles. One story hails the benefits of Central Basin's new recycled water system. Another piece praises the agency's legal battle over groundwater rights. Others catalog the successes of its conservation programs. What the average reader doesn't know is that Central Basin is paying nearly $200,000 in taxpayer money for the glowing coverage. In a highly unusual move, the water district hired a consultant to produce promotional stories "written in the image of real news," according to agreements reviewed by The Times. The articles appear on a professional-looking news website called News Hawks Review. The site is indexed on Google News, carries its own advertisements and boasts an "experienced and highly knowledgeable" staff of editors and reporters. But records show it is directly affiliated with a corporate communications firm under contract with Central Basin.aaa