Former National Security Agency executive Thomas Drake warned the public March 15 at the National Press Club against the federal government's crackdown on whistleblowers.
Drake, who escaped a potential term of life in prison for communicating with a Baltimore Sun reporter, said the government has the ability to make such conduct illegal retroactively. Regarding the larger issues, he asked, “How else will the press report the real news when their sources dry up and the government becomes a primary purveyor of its own news?”
Drake's revelations and passion resembled James Stewart's iconic performance in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington protesting corruption, including during a Senate filibuster. Yet Drake, at left in a Noel St. John photo from the press club speech, focused on dangers far more important than the 1939 film's portrayal of corruption in Congress.
Drake describes pervasive surveillance on Americans by spy agencies as well as an alleged billion dollars in wasteful spending to well-connected contractors. He says taxpayers overpaid in vastly wasteful spending even if one accepts the premise that the government must secretly undertake such surveillance – regarded as illegal within the United States until secretly authorized in recent years.
Drake's warnings became all the more real this month. A top CIA executive boasted that, "We 'Try To Collect Everything And Hang Onto It Forever." Separately, a trade publication reported this week that the CIA has reached a $600 million deal with Amazon.com for the agency to hire the retailing giant to help create a better cloud computing capability. The CIA declined comment on the details.
Authorities threatened Drake with ruin in his 2010 indictment because he dared speak about such trends. In this, he resembled Stewart portraying the whistleblowing Senator Jefferson Smith, shown at right in the Senate upon receipt of huge cartons of trumped-up letters demanding that the Senate expel him on phony charges.
Drake's impressive background includes service in the Navy and Air Force, and at the CIA as well as the NSA, which is a larger and more secretive spy agency than the CIA. Early in Drake's career, he learned that "anything goes" at spy agencies regarding their offshore work, but they were strictly forbidden to use their methods within the United States on Americans.
That conduct code changed, he says, under NSA Director Michael Hayden, his boss. Drake and others describe Hayden, a former general, as a man who curried favor with the Bush-Cheney administration with his gung-ho attitude on surveillance encompassing virtually all phone calls and emails. The administration pressured news organizations such as the New York Times to avoid reporting violations of longstanding American law.
Drake was lucky to escape from life imprisonment after the government tried to railroad him on spy charges. The Government Accountability Project defended him when others dared not. Drake had the further good fortune to land before an honest judge who withstood the high-pressure government tactics that normally crush whistleblowers.
The importance of Drake's story, however, is not the drama of his case nor his revelations. Instead, the largely untold story is that Drake and a few other patriots in government stand at a pivotal juncture for the United States. Without them or their successors, the public may never again have access to those with the knowledge and courage to inform the public in credible fashion the specifics about how the Constitution and its Bill of Rights are being gutted, perhaps forever.
The column below contains video links to Drake's full press club speech, plus sample news coverage. Included also are highlights from my five-hours of follow up conversation with him afterward in the club restaurant. Drake's topic for his speech was whistleblowing and the free press. In discussions afterward, he shared an even wider and more ominous view of the impact of the national security state on civil rights and democratic procedures.
A long appendix lists relevant coverage of his case and its larger dimensions. Especially significant as context was a 2012 forum by the nation's two leading press clubs, which I covered in Press Clubs Probe Obama's War on Leakers. James Bamford, author of major books about NSA, and James Risen of the New York Times warned of dire trends reducing independent news coverage.
If authorities can imprison government officials and former officials on spy charges for discussions with reporters, Risen said, that would make it extremely difficult to obtain non-official views, even off the record. He noted that reporters themselves are threatened with imprisonment and other career ruin in a pattern that imposes fear and silence on both sources and reporters. He thus confirmed from a reporter's viewpoint the kind of message that Drake described this month from a source's perspective.
Risen co-authored the 2006 book State of War, which provided, among other revelations, a breakthrough description of massive, illegal surveillance by the Bush administration of the American public. The Times sat on the story for nearly a year at the request of authorities.
President Obama, shown in a White House file photo, then campaigned in 2008 against the immunity for telecom companies that cooperated with the government in illegal spying. Once Obama secured the Democratic nomination for the presidency in mid-2008, however, he switched his position. He joined the rest of the power structure in a bipartisan majority in the Senate voting to keep government privacy invasions secret from victims by granting telecom companies immunity from customer litigation.
The kind of vicious prosecution that Drake and other political targets experienced prompted me and four distinguished civic leaders to found the Justice Integrity Project three years ago. We observed that merely reporting on abuses without commentary had little impact. We have observed since then that advocacy cannot get at the root of the problem, either. It needs a comprehensive overview because the public is losing context of how much our underlying rights have been gutted in just a few years.
The importance of historical context became obvious during the Q&A of Drake's speech. Reporters new to the topic seemed to have difficulty grasping the full import of Drake's expertise and warnings. Several seemed incredulous that well known and widely respected officials might seek unfair retribution against critics by abusing the federal criminal process.
For such reasons, my forthcoming book, Presidential Puppetry, documents more than a century and a half of deceptive and otherwise corrupt behavior in high places. The events extend through recent developments in the Obama second term, including the hidden backgrounds of major cabinet appointee not reported even during their confirmation hearings in recent weeks.
This column today began as a news report on Drake's speech. Inevitably, it became at least in part a preview of Puppetry because the topics overlap so much.
The Puppetry foreword, for example, was written by Dr. Cyril Wecht, at left, the illustrious Pennsylvania coroner, medical school professor, and author. Wecht has authored or co-authored more 40 books and 500 professional articles. Based on his observations over a long career, he describes the utter ruthlessness of federal prosecutors willing to take any conduct, no matter how trivial, and use it to ruin a target and his or her family if deemed necessary for political or career advantage by the law enforcers.
For such reasons, my column confines to the appendix disposition of the official charges against Drake. The trial judge humiliated the Justice Department in an important pre-trial ruling by requiring open airing of the evidence. To save face, the Justice Department then reduced its case to a misdemeanor, that Drake had misused a government computer. I have reported extensively on that travesty, as have the New Yorker and CBS 60 Minutes in treatments available via the links below.
The Big Picture
During Q&A for more than 40 minutes with a small group of reporters after the Press Club lecture, Drake said he believed President Obama was "a deeply cynical man." Drake said he knows that the president was personally aware of his prosecution for whistleblowing, and decided nonetheless to proceed. The president's positive reputation includes, of course, his past as a law review editor and law school lecturer on the constitution, and his presidential advocacy for government transparency.
Most important of all, Drake told the Q&A group that he believes officials at the highest level are shredding constitutional protections on due process, press freedom, search warrants and privacy while the public is distracted by arcane disputes on other matters.
He quoted with approval a German's recent comment to him: We (in Germany) "are living in a post-fascist society," and so know how to take precautions. You (in America) "are living in a pre-fascist society" and are unaware that the legal rules have been changed to allow oppression.
The public receives no protection from the U.S. Constitution, Drake said, if neither courts nor Congress will enforce its most relevant provisions.
Later, we discussed how the leading Congressional advocate of privacy, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), admits that he has no power to call any witnesses before the Senate Intelligence Committee, even though Wyden is a three-term senator on the committee. Wyden has been protesting government abuses of American privacy.
I urged Wyden after one speech to invite Drake and two other experts before his committee to alert the public. One ex[ert would be Joseph Nacchio, the Qwest CEO who was the only leading regional Bell leader to refuse to turn over customer data to the NSA in early 2001 before 9/11. Another would be Mark Klein, the AT&T technician who learned his company was secretly delivering to the federal government billions of customer emails and phone calls. Klein served as a source to James Risen of the New York Times, but has never been invited by Congress to share what he learned.
Wyden said he had no such power. Nearly all committee hearings are in secret. Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) keeps ironclad control of the committee schedule.
As a more promising development for advocates of federal power within Constitutional boundaries, Sen. Rand Paul, left, the Republican from Kentucky, showed how even a freshman confident in his mission and with popular support (from tea party enthusiasts, in his case) can make a huge difference by such methods as a real-life filibuster. Paul's 13-hour filibuster March 11 protested the nomination of CIA Director John Brennan. Rand wanted the White House to provide a more clear-cut statement on whether it claimed the right to launch purely on Presidential prerogative lethal drone attacks against Americans on United States soil. Although the concept may seem far-fetched some drones are merely the size of hummingbirds, with a variety of potential capabilities.
Another positive sign for free speech was the Press Club's speaking invitation to Drake. As a result, C-SPAN made his talk available to the entire country. Such an invitation is far from foreordained when almost every prominent journalist or news organization seeks access -- and goodwill -- from newsmakers at top levels of government.
A memorable postscript to the Press Club speech occurred when a senior Club member stopped our table to tell Drake how much she had learned from his talk and to thank him for sharing his message in such a compelling way. She spoke so powerfully that I pulled out my pad and took notes. For several minutes, she eloquently praised Drake for what she described as an eye-opening speech. When she finished I asked her permission to quote her. She granted it and gave me her card.
Upon reflection, I'm not going to name her. The stakes and the dangers of reprisal are high. Even accomplished journalists and Washington old-timers, if they think that Drake's comments are new, clearly do not comprehend the risks even of being quoted praising him. Trust me on that.
Drake himself is proudly working in an Apple store after capping a military, CIA and NSA career in which he once reportedly directly to NSA Director Michael Hayden, right, on some of the nation's most secret operations. Many other former colleagues are undoubtedly making high incomes working for defense contractors.
Drake can experience the gratification of patriotism. But there are not necessarily easy avenues for sharing his message. The information gatekeepers who control such cable TV and similar slots largely confine commentary to partisan comments by a controlled stable of pundits who reliable slant their comments with either a Republican or Democratic spin. The power structure, which controls both corporate parties as well as the major media, can tolerate partisan quibbling. But it has little interest in enabling criticism of both parties on core Constitutional issues, especially ones that implicate major companies.
All of the major telecommunications carriers are suspected of providing confidential customer data to government for surveillance purposes. Most media companies, including newspapers and film companies, must answer to Wall Street. Even for a popular story, viewership and circulation represent only a small part of the financial calculus. The Washington Post, for example receives only about 4 percent of its income from circulation.
With that context, I am glad as a Press Club member that it showcased this issue. On a lighter note, it is redeeming itself from its Mr. Smith image. In the movie, Senator Jefferson Smith desperately sought news coverage on a visit to the Club. Aside from one tipsy reporter, he found a pack of cynics ready to believe the worst about him and otherwise take direction from the villains, one of whom was a press lord.
By contrast, recently elected Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane, moderator of the Drake speech, has underscored press freedom issues as a priority for her one-year term. In her introduction of Drake, she said his conviction “would have had a chilling effect on whistleblowers and journalists, who often receive and keep defense documents.”
The situation is far worse than that, in my study of such cases. The typical journalism source on sensitive matters is not going to be reassured simply because Drake was not imprisoned for the rest of his life on bogus charges. Instead, a reasonably prudent news source would look even at his prosecution as good reason to stay far away from a reporter probing a sensitive matter not fully approved by those in power.
To destroy Drake, the Justice Department inflicted on him one of the nation's most ruthless, powerful and notorious federal prosecutors, William Welch II, even after a federal judge had discredited Welch for leading the team that tried to frame the then-powerful U.S. Senator Ted Stevens in 2008 by withholding evidence at the Stevens trial.
The late Stevens, at left, was a Harvard law graduate and World Ar II pilot who had been Alaska's U.S. attorney 60 years ago before becoming one of the nation's most senior U.S. senators. If Justice Department officials could frame Stevens what are the limits on what they might try to get away with to imprison an ordinary government employee?
Dr. Cyril Wecht, for one, knows very well. Federal authorities indicted him in 2006 for more than 80 felonies, primarily for sending 43 personal faxes when he was part-time Allegheny County coroner for 20 years in Pennsylvania. The faxes cost the county a total of $3.86 in ink, electricity and phone bills. The world-famous medical school professor had to spend $8.6 million in legal fees in two federal trials to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison.
The Republican prosecutor and initial trial judge obviously wanted Wecht, in his late 70s, to be imprisoned as a trophy. Why? Not simply because defendant was a Democrat, and the prosecutor planned to run for Congress as a Republican.
More than likely the prosecution was also to enforce wider discipline in the criminal justice system because Wecht, as a county coroner and nationally respected expert, sometimes made findings conflicting with other official statements on cause of death in sensitive cases.
One of the larger implications of Wecht's bogus prosecution was the outrageous federal prosecution theory affirmed at the highest levels of the Justice Department: that any government employee, even on a county level, who uses a government device -- a fax, computer or a phone -- for a private message can be selectively prosecuted and destroyed. In Wecht's case spanning the Bush and Obama administrations, neither Republicans nor Democrats running the Justice Department showed proportion or common sense, much less fairness, in overseeing the case. Their efforts undoubtedly cost taxpayers far more than the $8.6 million Wecht spent on his defense.
The First Tea Party
In 1987, I wrote Spiked: How Chain Management Corrupted America's Oldest Newspaper, a case study about dangerous trends in journalism in which news stories were shaped to fit the agenda of its congomerate owners and implemented by editor/henchmen focused on their own career advancement.
By contrast, my first boss, Hartford Courant Publisher John Reitemeyer, established a news-first priority system that carried forward under his immediate successors at the then locally owned newspaper. A staunch Republican conservative, Reitemeyer nonetheless editorialized in 1952 that the pro-Stalin, Communist Paul Robeson should be able to perform a Hartford school despite the fierce pressures of the McCarthy era. When a theater owner barred a newspaper critic because of negative reviews, Reitemeyer again spoke up, decrying, "the growing, nationwide tendency to muzzle the press." The real issue," the publisher argued, "is the right of the people to know and the right of the press to tell them. It is a part of the fight for freedom of information throughout the world."
The government now treats whistleblowers against graft, waste, and corruption in the defense/security sector about the same as it did Robeson, the Communist. And those in the rapidly shrinking news and publishing sectors have good reason to fear job loss if they antagonize VIPs in government or corporate world.
For such reasons, the public seems to me over-confident, in general, that the Constitution, courts, and Congress will protect against government oppression.
Our protections were created out of struggle at the nation's founding, and need to be preserved with the same fighting spirit today, not taken for granted. For example, the Courant printed the Boston Tea Party and Constitution-signing as news, and became the country's largest newspaper during the Revolutionary War by the dedication of its publishers to news, blunt commentary, and civic betterment. The paper's owners also were major publishers of the Bible, and the McGuffey's spelling book by former Courant correspondent Noah Webster. Webster's speller and dictionary published by the Courant codified through many years of best-seller status a distinctly American language different from English.
These days, the Courant, owned by the Tribune conglomerate, remains as New England's second largest-ciculation newspaper behind the Boston Globe. It is co-managed by Connecticut's Fox News affiliate under a special deal authorized by the Federal Communications Commission to waive cross-ownership rules. The waiver was to help the politically influential Tribune Company by allowing it to run under one management the newspaper, two Fox TV stations in Connecticut, and Connecticut's three major alternative weeklies.
Striving for popularity even with such federal assistance, the Fox 61 affiliate in Hartford this month broadcast a report on "Connecticut Women's Day." The report consisted almost entirely of soft-core videos of well-endowed women, shown without heads, while they were walking along a street. A website for former Courant employees mocked the coverage as, "Boobs Behind the Camera, Too." Meanwhile the newspaper's journalism staff has been reduced from a high of 475 to 125, with the billionaire Koch Brothers rumored to be waiting in the wings to purchase key parts of the chain to advance their political goals.
Downsizing and similar job pressures have their parallels in professional standards elsewhere in the private sector and in government, with fear of job loss necessarily an important concern for anyone retaining a good job. It therefore takes serious professional commitment to stand tall on principle.
Justice Department ethics attorney Jesselyn Radack did so in late 2001 when she counseled her colleagues and superiors that they were not supposed to be lying to a federal judge in their zeal to win a conviction in a big case against John Walker Lindh, a young American who had converted to the Muslim faith. Lindh joined the Taliban at a time it was receiving American funding and otherwise a de facto U.S. ally. A U.S.-allied warlord captured Lindh in Afghanistan when war erupted in 2001. The warlord delivered Lindh to the United States, which charged him with aiding the enemy.
Radack, right, paid with her job for her advice to Justice Department colleagues against lying to a judge about trial evidence. Authorities then criminally investigated her, and sought to have her disbarred. Undeterred, she led the Government Accountability Project's successful defense of Drake under the leadership of GAP President Louis Clark, who is an ordained minister as well as an attorney and longtime non-profit leader.
Drake said, "If she hadn't spoken up he (Lindh) could have been executed."
There are many ways large and small that whistleblowers, journalists, and civic activists on a daily basis make a positive impact in creating a public affairs record. I'm grateful here, for example, for my friend Noel St. John's permission to use his Drake photos to illustrate this column. He volunteers at the Press Club in photographing its events.
During the Q&A after the speech a reporter asked Drake, "What can an everyday person do?"
"Ensure that those you have power over are held accountable." That's the civic class/boy scout answer, which he still believes, much as "Mr. Smith" and his scouts tried to believe. In accepting an annual Ridenhour "Truth Teller Award," Drake said:
My case is centered on a government prosecution bent not on serving justice, but on meting out retaliation, reprisal, and retribution for the purpose of relentlessly punishing a whistleblower. Furthermore, my case is one that sends a most chilling message to other would-be whistleblowers: not only can you lose your job, but also your very freedom.
The government made my cooperation with official investigations a criminal act. It is now apparently a federal crime to report illegalities, malfeasance, fraud, waste and abuse perpetrated by our own government. The government is making whistleblowing a crime. They are making dissent a crime, especially when it embarrasses the government and calls the government to account. What is the difference between my situation and that of the Chinese artist who was detained when trying to leave his country because Chinese authorities deemed him a threat to national security?
The fact remains that the heart of my case rests directly on whistleblowing and First Amendment activities involving issues of significant and even grave concern in terms of government illegalities, contract and program malfeasance, as well as fraud, waste and abuse, protected by the Constitution, case law and statutes. And yet the government is censoring and criminally prosecuting protected communications I made in furtherance of government investigations, and doing so under the Espionage act. Espionage is the last thing my whistleblowing and First Amendment activities and actions were all about. This has become the specter of a truly Orwellian world where whistleblowing has become espionage.
As a student of history, Drake is well aware of the nation's constant tension between authority and freedom. President Thomas Jefferson, the great free press advocate, had the Courant's two owners indicted and convicted on seditious libel felony charges for their newspaper's comment criticizing the president over the cost of the Louisiana Purchase.
After Jefferson left office the Supreme Court voided the conviction 5-4 in the court's first press freedom case, Hudson & Goodwin v. United States. The court ruled in 1812, six years after the original news article, that criminal convictions of Americans in the new country must be based on written law -- and not on such a vague, unwritten concept as executive order or what prosecutors regarded as seditious libel.
I'll leave the last word to Drake, who knows many things, including what happened after the first Constitutional convention in 1787:
“Well, Doctor," a lady asked Benjamin Franklin afterward, "what have we got — a Republic or a Monarchy?”
“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Related News Coverage
New Domestic Data-Gathering Reported
Huffington Post, CIA's Gus Hunt On Big Data: We 'Try To Collect Everything And Hang Onto It Forever,' Matt Sledge, March 13, 2013. The CIA's chief technology officer outlined the agency's endless appetite for data in a far-ranging speech on Wednesday. Speaking before a crowd of tech geeks at GigaOM's Structure:Data conference in New York City, CTO Ira "Gus" Hunt said that the world is increasingly awash in information from text messages, tweets, and videos -- and that the agency wants all of it. "The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time," Hunt said. "Since you can't connect dots you don't have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang onto it forever." Hunt's comments come two days after Federal Computer Week reported that the CIA has committed to a massive, $600 million, 10-year deal with Amazon for cloud computing services. The agency has not commented on that report, but Hunt's speech, which included multiple references to cloud computing, indicates that it does indeed have interest in storage and analysis capabilities on a massive scale. The CIA is keenly interested in capabilities for so-called "big data" -- the increasingly massive data sets created by digital technology. The agency even has a page on its website pitching big data jobs to prospective employees.
FireDogLake, CIA: We ‘Try To Collect Everything And Hang On To It Forever,’ DSWright, March 21, 2013. Ira “Gus” Hunt, the CIA’s Chief Technology Officer, gave a revealing presentation at GigaOM’s Structure: Data conference where he outlined the CIA’s approach to collecting data from the public. The approach as outlined is a recipe for a police state.
FCW/The Business of Federal Technology, Sources: Amazon and CIA ink cloud deal, Frank Konkel, March 18, 2013. In a move sure to send ripples through the federal IT community, FCW has learned that the CIA has agreed to a cloud computing contract with electronic commerce giant Amazon, worth up to $600 million over 10 years. Amazon Web Services will help the intelligence agency build a private cloud infrastructure that helps the agency keep up with emerging technologies like big data in a cost-effective manner not possible under the CIA's previous cloud efforts, sources told FCW. Amazon officials would not confirm the existence of the contract, and a CIA spokesperson likewise declined to comment on the matter. "As a general rule, the CIA does not publicly disclose details of our contracts, the identities of our contractors, the contract values, or the scope of work," a CIA spokesperson told FCW. In recent speaking engagements, however, CIA officials have hinted at significant upcoming changes to the way the agency procures software, how it uses big-data analytics and the ways in which it incorporates commercial-sector innovation.
New York Post, Military-style drones will patrol NYC: Bloomberg, David Seifman, March 22, 2013. Like it or not, the eye in the sky will soon be following your every move, according to Mayor Bloomberg, left. "You can't keep the tides from coming in," the mayor remarked when asked about drones on his weekly radio show. "We're going to have more visibility and less privacy. I just don't see how you could stop that." The NYPD already has cameras mounted at strategic locations around the city and there's no reason, by the mayor's reckoning, that they have to attached to light poles. "It's scary. What's the difference if a drone is up in the air or on a building," he said. "I mean, intellectually, I have trouble making a distinction. And you know you're going to have face recognition software. People are working on that." The mayor put the timeframe for an all-seeing society at about five years, when he estimated "there'll be cameras every place."
WhoWhatWhy, John Brennan in Grad School: Destroying Democracy Helps Save It, Douglas Lucas, March 17, 2013. In 1980, a 25-year old graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin wrote a master’s thesis called “Human rights, a case study of Egypt.” In it, he argued that the aim of achieving and maintaining political stability justifies human rights violations by apprehensive governments— including crackdowns on unbridled journalists: Since the press can play such an influential role in determining the perceptions of the masses, I am in favor of some degree of government censorship. Inflamatory [sic] articles can provoke mass opposition and possible violence. See also:Daily Caller, In graduate thesis, John Brennan argued for government censorship too much freedom is possible, Charles C. Johnson, Jan. 23, 2013. John Brennan Thesis. In his graduate thesis, John Brennan argued for government censorship: ‘Too much freedom is possible,’ In his 1980 graduate thesis at the University of Texas at Austin, John Brennan, right, denied the existence of “absolute human rights” and argued in favor of censorship on the part of the Egyptian dictatorship. “Since the press can play such an influential role in determining the perceptions of the masses, I am in favor of some degree of government censorship,” Brennan wrote. “Inflamatory [sic] articles can provoke mass opposition and possible violence, especially in developing political systems.”
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Columbia Pictures, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Directed and Produced by Frank Capra, Screenplay by Sidney Buchman, starring Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Claude Rains, 1939. Photos by Columbia Pictures, via Wikipedia. The governor of an unnamed western state, Hubert "Happy" Hopper (Guy Kibbee), has to pick a replacement for recently deceased U.S. Senator Sam Foley. His corrupt political boss, Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), pressures Hopper to choose his handpicked stooge, while popular committees want a reformer, Henry Hill. The governor's children want him to select Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), the head of the Boy Rangers. Unable to make up his mind between Taylor's stooge and the reformer, Hopper decides to flip a coin. When it lands on edge – and next to a newspaper story on one of Smith's accomplishments – he chooses Smith, calculating that his wholesome image will please the people while his naïveté will make him easy to manipulate. Junior Senator Smith is taken under the wing of the publicly esteemed, but secretly crooked, Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains, standing at left), who was Smith's late father's oldest and best friend. Smith launches a filibuster to postpone the appropriations bill and prove his innocence on the Senate floor just before the vote to expel him.
Famous quotations from the movie include:
Jefferson Smith: I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don't know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for and he fought for them once. For the only reason any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain simple rule. Love thy neighbor. And in this world today of great hatred a man who knows that rule has a great trust. You know that rule, Mr. Paine, and I loved you for it just as my father did. And you know that you fight harder for the lost causes than for any others. Yes, you'd even die for them. Like a man we both knew, Mr. Paine. You think I'm licked. You all think I'm licked. Well I'm not licked. And I'm gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause. Even if this room gets filled with lies like these. And the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody will listen to me.
Thomas Drake and National Press Club 'Sunshine Week' Lecture
National Press Club, NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake criticizes government 'secrecy regime,' Sean Lyngaas, March 16, 2013. The government is going to great lengths to shut down leaks, according to Thomas Drake, a former senior executive turned whistleblower at the National Security Agency. “In our post-9/11 world, the government is increasingly in the ‘First Un-amendment’ business, engaged in a direct assault on free speech and the very foundation of our democracy,” Drake told a National Press Club luncheon audience on March 15. Drake was indicted in April, 2010, under the Espionage Act for allegedly providing classified information to the Baltimore Sun. He was eventually cleared of wrongdoing and now minces no words in warning of the perils of government secrecy. What Drake calls “the secrecy regime” - the government protocols for securing a vast cache of classified documents - has created a “misunderstanding that if you happen to speak to a reporter…by definition, anything that you might say to them could be characterized as classified.” In a passionate plea for the sanctity of the First Amendment, Drake warned that journalists are being increasingly frozen out of government sources. “How else will the press report the real news when their sources dry up and the government becomes a primary purveyor of its own news?” he asked in one of many disturbing scenarios posed to the audience. He quoted George Orwell and John F. Kennedy to the same effect: It is a slippery slope from government secrecy to tyranny.
National Press Club, NPC Luncheon with Thomas Drake, March 15, 2013. Related Video: (63 minutes). Thomas Drake, a former Senior Executive at NSA who was charged under the espionage act after he blew the whistle on waste and fraud and illegal activity at the intelligence agency, spoke at a March 15, 2013 National Press Club luncheon. Drake's event was part of the club's celebration of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to underscore the importance of open government and freedom of information.
FireDogLake, NSA Whistleblower Thomas Drake on the US Secrecy State as Predator of the First Amendment, Kevin Gosztola, March 17, 2013. National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake March 15 addressed the “long shadow of government secrecy” that increasingly “obscures the view of democracy in our constitutional republic or what’s left of it.” Video of the entire speech given during the luncheon appears at the top of the post. The speech focuses explicitly on free speech and the First Amendment. Drake, right, was indicted under the Espionage Act and threatened with the potential of serving the rest of his life in prison for exposing fraud, waste, abuse and illegality related to warrantless wiretapping by the NSA.
National Press Club, Club: Where Sunshine Happens, John M. Donnelly, March 8, 2013. The National Press Club's Press Freedom Committee has a full slate of activities planned for Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote a dialogue on the importance of open government and freedom of information. This non-partisan, non-profit initiative is celebrated in mid-March each year to coincide with James Madison's birthday on March 16. On March 12, the Press Freedom Committee hosts a moderated panel discussion on how laws enacted globally after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are being used to crush press freedom. On March 13, the Press Freedom Committee joins the D.C. Open Government Coalition in cosponsoring a "D.C. Open Government Summit," a panel discussion on the state of government transparency in the nation's capital. On March 14, the Club's Press Freedom Committee and the Professional Development Committee of the National Journalism Institute are joining forces to present a panel on practical help in using the Freedom of Information Act. And on March 15, the Club's luncheon speaker is Thomas Drake, a former National Security Agency official who was charged under the espionage act after he blew the whistle on waste and fraud and illegal activity at the intelligence agency.
Thomas Drake, NSA Background & Political Prosecutions (Selected columns)
Justice Integrity Project, Press Clubs Probe Obama's War on Leakers, Andrew Kreig, May 2, 2012. The nation’s two leading press clubs convened experts on national security May 1 in Washington for a gripping, historically important assessment of the Obama administration’s shocking prosecutions of government news sources. The administration took office on promises to protect whistle-blowers. But it has since repeatedly cracked down on leakers, citing the Espionage Act in six recent cases as a basis for criminal prosecution. New York Times reporter James Risen, who has broken some of the most important national security stories of the decade, was one of the panelists at the National Press Club, which organized the forum at its headquarters in cooperation with the New York-based Overseas Press Club. Risen has undergone years of financially damaging federal investigation and potential imprisonment for refusing to reveal his government sources. At left, are Drake, Radack and two other prominent whistleblowers investigated by federal authorities, Peter Van Buren of the State Department, at far left, and John Kiriakou, center, a former CIA officer now imprisoned.
FireDogLake, Navy Linguist Faces Additional Charge of Violating Espionage Act, Kevin Gosztola, March 12, 2013. A Navy contract linguist charged with two counts of violating the Espionage Act by unlawfully retaining “national defense information” has been hit with a third charge of violating the law. James F. Hitselberger was working in Bahrain as a translator. A document collector, as Secrecy News’ Steven Aftergood describes, Hitselberger is a “peripatetic collector of rare documents.” In his living quarters, where a “classified document was allegedly found in April” of 2012, newspapers and numerous books could be found. Some of his “discoveries over the years” have been donated “to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, which actually maintains a James F. Hitselberger Collection.” The collection includes “political posters and leaflets that he gathered in pre-revolutionary Iran.”
Washington Update Radio, Andrew Kreig, Aug. 2, 2012.Thomas Andrews Drake shared his expert insights on privacy, government spending, and national security issues on our show Aug. 2. He is a former senior executive of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), decorated United States Air Force and United States Navy veteran, computer software expert, linguist, management and leadership specialist, and whistleblower. For years, he has advised against about threats to taxpayers, privacy and the democratic process raised by wasteful national security spending. Among such venues was a recent forum on privacy issues organized by the free-market Cato Institute in Washington, DC. He is the 2011 recipient of the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling and co-recipient of the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII) award. As further indicated by his Wikipedia profile: In 2010 the government alleged that he 'mishandled' documents, one of the few such Espionage Act cases in U.S. history. His defenders claim that he was instead being persecuted for challenging the Trailblazer Project. On June 9, 2011, all 10 original charges against him were dropped. He rejected several deals because he refused to "plea bargain with the truth." He eventually pleaded to one misdemeanor count for exceeding authorized use of a computer. Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, who helped represent him, called it an act of "Civil Disobedience." Prosecutors wanted Drake to plead guilty, but he refused. He believed that he was innocent of the charges against him. The government wanted him to help prosecute the other whistleblowers. He refused this as well.
Wayne Madsen Report, NSA spying operation targeting journalists focused but massive, April 20, 2012. (Subscription required.) National Security Agency (NSA) sources have reported the following to WMR: The NSA has conducted a targeted but massive surveillance operation against certain journalists who have routinely exposed NSA's illegal domestic communication surveillance program, code-named STELLAR WIND.
FireDogLake, Leaked Audio: US Citizens Can Now Hear Bradley Manning Give His Statement, Kevin Gosztola, March 12, 2013. A foundation dedicated to promoting and funding transparency journalism has released a recording of Pfc. Bradley Manning reading a statement he made in military court at Fort Meade about releasing United States government documents to WikiLeaks. The recording from the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) was covered by NBC’s “The Today Show” at 7am EST. The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald, a board member of the foundation, also put up a post highlighting ignificant excerpts of his statement. Full audio of Manning can be listened to by clicking on the player here:
AlterNet / OpEd News, How Obama Became a Civil Libertarian's Nightmare, Steven Rosenfeld, April 18, 2012. President Obama has expanded and fortified many of the Bush administration's worst policies. When Barack Obama took office, he was the civil liberties communities’ great hope. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, pledged to shutter the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and run a transparent and open government. But he has become a civil libertarian’s nightmare: a supposedly liberal president who instead has expanded and fortified many of the Bush administration’s worst policies, lending bipartisan support for a more intrusive and authoritarian federal government. President Obama now has power that Bush never had. Foremost is he can (and has) order the killing of U.S. citizens abroad who are deemed terrorists.
FireDogLake, The Ever-Expanding Surveillance State That Has Grown Under Obama, Kevin Gosztola, April 20, 2012. The surveillance state in the United States has only grown in America since the September 11th attacks. It has increasingly been used to spy and intrude on the lives of journalists and activists. And, during a Democracy Now! special, a full hour was spent delving into the National Security Agency’s evolution into an entity that illegally collects and sifts through private emails, cell phone calls and possibly Internet searches and other personal data of Americans. The special also looked closely at the stories of two individuals that have been targeted by the Homeland Security Department—journalist Laura Poitras, who has directed documentaries on the Iraq War and Yemen, and computer security researcher Jacob Appelbaum, who once served as a stand-in for Julian Assange at a hackers conference. NSA whistleblower William Binney, in his first television interview since he resigned from the NSA, explains that the fact a telecommunications company, AT&T, was now providing approximately 320 million records—long distance data from citizens’ billing records—to the government led him to leave the agency. This was a violation of the Constitution, the pen register law, the Stored Communications Act, the Electronic Privacy Act, the Intelligence Acts of 1947 & 1978 and other federal laws governing telecommunications.
Democracy Now! Whistleblower: The NSA is Lying – U.S. Government Has Copies of Most of Your Emails, Amy Goodman, April 2012. (Video interview.) National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney/ reveals he believes domestic surveillance has become more expansive under President Obama than President George W. Bush. He estimates the NSA has assembled 20 trillion "transactions" — phone calls, mails and other forms of data — from Americans. This likely includes copies of almost all of the emails sent and received from most people living in the United States. Binney talks about Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and challenges NSA Director Keith Alexander’s assertion that the NSA is not intercepting information about U.S. citizens. This interview is part of a 4-part special. Click here to see segment 1, 2, and 4. [Transcript to come. Check back soon.] William Binney, served in the NSA for over 30 years, including a time as director of the NSA’s World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group. Since retiring from the NSA in 2001, he has warned that the NSA’s data-mining program has become so vast that it could "create an Orwellian state."
Justice Integrity Project, Judges Hit DOJ in NSA, CIA Leak Cases, Andrew Kreig, July 31, 2011. A Maryland federal judge denounced Justice Department prosecutors for delays and "tyranny" in their prosecution of former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake, who was being sentenced on a reduced charge of unauthorized use of a computer after years of being investigated on felony charges as a suspected leaker.
Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), 60 Minutes on NSA corruption and incompetence. Report follows WMR report by six years, May 24, 2011. (Subscription-only service.) CBS "60 Minutes" reported on May 22 on former National Security Agency (NSA) official Thomas Drake's charges of high-level corruption and incompetence within the eavesdropping agency. WMR is re-publishing our report on NSA, which includes a reference to "Thinthread," the first-ever report in the media on this system: "NSA and selling the nation's prized secrets to contractors," Wayne Madsen, June 1, 2005. "In August 1, 2001, just five and a half weeks before the 911 attacks, NSA awarded Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) a more than $2 billion, ten-year contract known as GROUNDBREAKER. The contract was never popular with NSA's career professionals. CSC had originally gained access to NSA through a "buy in" project called BREAKTHROUGH, a mere $20 million contract awarded in 1998 that permitted CSC to operate and maintain NSA computer systems. When General Michael V. Hayden took over as NSA Director in 1999, the floodgates for outside contractors were opened and a resulting deluge saw most of NSA's support personnel being converted to contractors working for GROUNDBREAKER's Eagle Alliance (nicknamed the "Evil Alliance" by NSA government personnel), a consortium led by CSC...."
Justice Integrity Project, Commentary by Dr. Cyril Wecht, Andrew Kreig, Sept. 29, 2010. Forensic medical expert Cyril H. Wecht provides a vitally needed defendant’s perspective on the terrible Justice Department misconduct that USA Today just documented in a major investigative project.On Sept. 23, the paper reported 201 criminal cases in which federal judges found that prosecutors broke laws or ethics rules. Overall, the abuses put innocent people in jail, and set guilty people free. Dr. Wecht’s prosecution didn’t fall within the newspaper’s scope because his first judge in Pittsburgh coddled the prosecution instead of criticizing it. But we at the Justice Integrity Project, a non-partisan legal reform group, documented Wecht’s ordeal from 84 overblown felony charges in 2006 carrying long prison sentences for trivial matters. The defendant achieved victory last year at age 78 when a new judge pressured prosecutors to drop the final charges. We asked the defendant to describe what it's like to be unfairly accused.
“Once a victim has been targeted,” he wrote back, “there are no limits to the amount of time, energy, money, and use of personnel that the Feds will employ to pursue and persecute that individual. No charge will be considered too petty or unimportant in their efforts to coerce the victim into pleading guilty to avoid the frightening possibility of a lengthy jail term.” Wecht, who holds both M.D. and J.D. degrees, is a world-famous consultant in his specialty of forensic medicine. Also, he’s a longtime professor of medicine, a leader of medical societies and the author of more than 550 professional publications and many books. Moreover, he’s an outspoken expert on celebrity deaths, including his courageous criticism of the federal government’s official account of the single-bullet theory for the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. For 20 years prior to his indictment, he had been elected as the part-time, $65,000-a-year coroner for Allegheny County in Western Pennsylvania, where he was also Democratic county chairman.
Jesselyn Raddack and the Government Accountability Project
Current Issues In Media
Think Progress, Koch Brothers Looking To Purchase Several Major American Newspapers, Igor Volsky, March 12, 2013. Right-wing funders and business industrialists David and Charles Koch may purchase the Tribune Company newspapers, which include the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and the Los Angeles Times. The brothers are “interested in the clout they could gain through the Times’ editorial pages,” the Hollywood Reporter notes. Responding to the report, a spokesperson for Koch told the website that the brothers are “constantly exploring profitable opportunities in many industries and sectors”:
LA Weekly, Are the Koch Brothers Trying to Buy the Los Angeles Times? Hillel Aron, March 12, 2013. The latest rumor about the next owner of the L.A. Times, which is for sale, is a doozy. A bombshell. It's a doozy wrapped in a bombshell exploding inside a Drudge siren. Multiple sources tell L.A. Weekly that Charles and David Koch -- the infamous right-wing billionaire brothers -- are considering an offer on either the Tribune Co. newspaper group, which includes the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun or the entire Tribune Co., which includes more than 20 stations like WGN and KTLA Channel 5.
Hartford Courant Alumni Association and Refugee Camp, Boobs Behind The Camera, Too, Staff report, March 14, 2013. Fox CT’s coverage of Connecticut’s Women’s Day has gotten lots of notice for all the wrong reasons. Somehow two anchors managed not to gasp while reading a script that accompanied about 10 seconds of B-roll focused exclusively on women’s breasts. Twice. This TV station might be for sale, by the way; but who would want to buy it?
Huffington Post, White House Tours Remain The Only Sequestration Casualty Anyone Cares About, Jason Linkins, March 18, 2013. Where on the inconvenience-to-problem spectrum would you put “a bunch of White House tours have been canceled?” Well, the media has decided it’s the most dire crisis the country is facing, during this time of sequestration. The White House tours situation is the one-day story that ate the world. Aggrieved members of Congress, bereft of one of their go-to options to keep cronies and constituents happy, have inflamed the Beltway media into a cyclical bout of elite whinging. The White House press corps buffeted Jay Carney with eight questions about the tours at his March 13 briefing.Keep in mind that all members of the White House press corps are ostensibly real-live human beings with free will and the tacit permission to ask Carney just about any question they want in the world.
Newsmax, GOP Must Build on Paul's Filibuster, David Limbaugh, March 11, 2013. The Republicans had better not squander the good will that Sen. Rand Paul, left, purchased for them in his filibuster over the Obama administration's potential use of armed drones to kill non-enemy combatants in America. I am not simply referring to the constitutional issue of whether the president can engage in such acts, though that's very important. I believe the significance of Paul's filibuster transcends the drone issue. It was about challenging the administration's lawlessness and accountability across the board and his runaway spending and statism. It was about championing freedom, God-given rights, and the Constitution.
Washington Post, Appeals court rejects CIA’s argument over acknowledging drone operations, March 15, 2013. Peter Finn and Julie Tate, March 15, 2013. A federal appeals court on Friday rejected the CIA’s claim that it could neither confirm nor deny whether it has an “intelligence interest” in the use of drones, a ruling that could force the agency to disclose limited details about the use of the technology in counterterrorism operations. The court ruled that a blanket denial is neither “logical nor plausible” after administration officials from the president on down discussed targeted killing operations. The decision followed a lower court ruling that the agency did not have to acknowledge drone operations, never mind produce any documents about them, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Other Commentaries on Privacy, Due Process in War ZonesWashington Post, FBI surveillance tool is ruled unconstitutional, Ellen Nakashima, March 16, 2013, A federal court in California has ruled that a surveillance tool widely used by the FBI to obtain information on Americans without court oversight is unconstitutional because the gag order that accompanies it violates the First Amendment. The ruling by Judge Susan Illston of the Northern District of California would bar the issuance of national security letters — a form of administrative subpoena — on constitutional grounds. The ruling on the 1986 statute has been stayed while the government weighs an appeal.
Newseum, Open Government.org, Americans for Less Secrecy Conference: National Freedom of Information Day, March 15, 2013. Live webcast of this event begins at 8:30 a.m. The 15th annual National Freedom of Information Day conference held at the Newseum brought together groups concerned with freedom of information and open records, including FOI advocates, government officials, lawyers, librarians, journalists and educators. Held each year in part to commemorate the March 16th birth date of James Madison, the conference is conducted in partnership with the American Library Association, OpenTheGovernment.org, the Project on Government Oversight, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The event is also part of the annual Sunshine Week initiative sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The 2013 conference featured a keynote discussion with noted First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, subject of a new book by author and law professor Ronald L.K.Collins. In morning sessions, OpenTheGovernment.org presented its annual Sunshine Week examination of the state of openness in the federal government, focusing this year on outlook for President Barack Obama's second term.
Atlantic, How Americans Lost the Right to Counsel, 50 Years After 'Gideon,' Andrew Cohen, March 13, 2013. You have a right to an attorney in a criminal case, even if you cannot afford one. The Supreme Court said so half a century ago. But today that precious right is systematically ignored or undermined. Next Monday, America will quietly mark one of the most profound anniversaries in its legal history. Exactly 50 years ago, on March 18, 1963, the United States Supreme Court unanimously announced in Gideon v. Wainwright that the Sixth Amendment guarantees to every criminal defendant in a felony trial the right to a lawyer. "Reason and reflection," Justice Hugo Black wrote, "require us to recognize that, in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided to him."