by Randolph T. Holhut
Cief of AR Correspondents
July 18, 2013
IS RAIL SAFETY TAKING A BACK SEAT TO PROFITS?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- When Daniel Ellsberg talks about whistleblowing, he speaks with more credibility than most Americans.
The man who delivered the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and 17 other American newspapers in 1971 says that Edward Snowden made the right call by leaving the country and seeking asylum.
That's because we're living in a totally different world now than we were four decades ago.
Writing this week in The Washington Post, Ellsberg said when he was arrested in Boston, he was released on a personal recognizance bond the same day. Even after the original three counts against him were increased to 12 and he faced a maximum of 115 years in prison, he still stayed out of jail.
"For the whole two years I was under indictment, I was free to speak to the media and at rallies and public lectures," Ellsberg wrote. "I was, after all, part of a movement against an ongoing war. Helping to end that war was my preeminent concern. I couldn't have done that abroad, and leaving the country never entered my mind.
"There is no chance that experience could be reproduced today, let alone that a trial could be terminated by the revelation of White House actions against a defendant that were clearly criminal in Richard Nixon's era - and figured in his resignation in the face of impeachment - but are today all regarded as legal (including an attempt to 'incapacitate me totally'."
Snowden revealed the depth and detailed workings of the National Security Agency's vast global surveillance network, and knew full well that if he stayed in the United States, he would be whisked away to a maximum security federal prison and would likely be subjected to the same treatment Cpl. Bradley Manning has received - solitary confinement, cut off from the rest of the world.
He also knew how the Obama Administration would react. In the second part of a video interview with The Guardian that was released this week, Snowden spoke of how he would be treated.
"I think the government's going to launch an investigation," he said "I think they're going to say I've committed 'grave crimes' - that I've violated the Espionage Act. They're gonna say, I've 'aided our enemies' in making them aware of these systems. But, those arguments can be made against anybody who reveals information that points out mass surveillance systems."
But the Obama Administration is not content to just demonize Snowden. They are fully prepared to bully and intimidate any nation who offers him asylum. The treatment of Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose presidential plane last week was rerouted and forced to land in Austria, where it was stuck on the tarmac for 14 hours and illegally searched, was but one example.
It's not exactly a news flash that our government is willing to violate international law in pursuit of its foreign policy. But Amnesty International has condemned the Obama Administration for interfering with Snowden's attempt to seek political asylum. And Human Rights Watch was even blunter about what the U.S. government is doing.
"The law often criminalizes the disclosure of secrets by employees or agents of a government. But international law recognizes that revealing official secrets is sometimes justified in the public interest. In particular it may be necessary to expose and protect against serious human rights violations, including overreaching or unjustifiable surveillance. International principles on national security whistleblowers outline various circumstances under which governments should protect people from punishment if they disclose information of public concern.
"U.S. whistleblower protections fall far short of these standards for people who disclose abuse in the national security arena. U.S. law simply does not provide national security whistleblowers with adequate protection from retaliation or punishment for disclosures in the public interest."
In short, the public interest in protecting whistleblowers takes precedence over any government's claim of protection of state secrets, and that one's obligation to their conscience takes precedence over one's obligation to obey the law.
People like Snowden and Manning didn't release classified information to get rich. They didn't do it to aid our nation's enemies. They did it to expose lies, wrongdoing, human rights abuses, and unconstitutional behavior, and did so at the risk of their lives.
In the post-9/11 world, where civil liberties have been destroyed in the name of security, and fear and political expediency trump reason and principle, it's the Snowdens and Mannings of the world that are painted as villains, not the spymasters or the corporations that profit from the ongoing climate of fear.
As The Guardian so forcefully wrote on its editorial page last week, the Snowden case is "a 21st century case about the appropriate balance between the power of the secret state and the rights of free citizens in the Internet era."
It's time for the American people to rein in the out-of-control military-industrial-espionage complex and preserve our civil liberties.
Older readers may remember the Church Committee of the mid-1970s, the U.S. Senate committee led by Sen. Frank Church, Democrat of Idaho, that investigated abuses by the CIA, NSA, and FBI.
This is where Americans first learned about COINTELPRO, the covert and often illegal FBI program aimed at infiltrating, discrediting and disrupting political movements.
This is where Americans first learned about the CIA's massive, and very illegal, surveillance operation against anti-war groups during the Vietnam era.
This is where Americans learned that U.S. intelligence services were, in Church's words, "rogue elephants."
At the time, the backlash against the Church Committee's work was considerable, but it was the first time that Americans got a glimpse into what was being done in their names by our intelligence services.
Congress has all but given up its responsibility for oversight. But oversight is necessary, and we need people who aren't afraid of the familiar bleats of "national security" and "that's classified information" from the spymasters and the private contractors to whom who much of the intelligence gathering work has been outsourced.
These people work for us. They have responsibility to obey the law, especially the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments of our Constitution. If they are not brought to heel, our nation is in big, big trouble.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.