by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
June 27, 2013
DEMOCRACY NEEDS WHISTLEBLOWERS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who exposed evidence of a massive covert surveillance program conducted by the U.S. and British government against its own people, is making the Obama Administration look more and more foolish by the day.
Thanks to a bureaucratic snafu, Snowden was able to leave Hong Hong and fly to Moscow on June 23. Once there, he sought asylum in Ecuador. As of this writing, nothing has happened, but it's clear that China and Russia both went out of their way to embarrass President Obama.
Diplomacy might have made a difference, but considering how sour relations have gotten with China and Russia, there was no chance either government would turn Snowden over to the United States.
It's a snub that the Obama Administration richly deserves. Its single-minded determination to jail every whistleblower has blinded them to the reality that the rest of the world still hates us for the way this nation has bullied its way across the globe in the prosecution of the so-called War on Terror.
This arrogance has infected every nook and cranny of our government. As the McClatchy News Service reported last week, the Obama Administration has leaned hard on federal agencies to keep closer tabs on their employees.
The initiative, called the Insider Threat Program, exhorts federal employees and contractors to watch out for so-called "high-risk persons or behaviors" among co-workers, or face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them.
As for those who pass on information to the press, the official line is that is the equivalent of aiding the enemies of the United States. There is a zero tolerance policy in place, and leakers, and those who protect or ignore them, will be punished.
This is the type of policy that allows wrongdoing to flourish. If people are afraid their careers will be terminated if they speak up, or associate with those who might speak up, you end up with a workplace full of scared conformists.
And the scared conformists can be found everywhere - in the halls of Congress, in the newsrooms of our major media organizations, in the corporate towers, or anyplace where power and privilege lie. There, too, lies does mendacity and fear.
They see Bradley Manning facing life in prison for revealing, among other things, videos that show U.S. attack helicopters wantonly attacking Iraqi civilians and Reuters newsmen.
They see Julian Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, as he tries to avoid almost certain extradition to the United States for publishing hundreds of thousands of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables provided to him by Manning.
They see The Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald facing death threats from right-wing extremists for publishing the information he got from Snowden about the extent of the U.S. government's massive spy campaign against its own people.
They see Donald Trump calling for Snowden's assassination, whuch is a crime no DA will prosecute.
They see all these things, and think that it's best to keep their mouths shut and their heads down. Don't make waves. Don't cause trouble. Don't stand out. Lay low and survive another day.
These are the people that feed the engines of repression, the ones who they were "just following orders." That kind of mentality missed the clear signals of Sept. 11 and brought the towers down on thousands of innocent people.
The ones who challenge the established status quo - from the sit-down strikers in Fiint, to the Freedom Riders in Montgomery, to the gays who fought back at the Stonewall Inn, to the millennials in Zucotti Park facing down Wall Street - are the one who are initially attacked and reviled until the arc of history bends in their favor.
That's what drove Occupy and the Arab Spring, and what is fueling the ongoing anti-government protests in Turkey and Brazil. You can only take the daily presence of corruption, oppression, and subjugation for so long before you shout "Enough!"
That's why we see protestors getting pepper-sprayed and clubbed around the globe. That's why we see President Obama and other leaders overreacting to whistleblowers. Thankfully, there is always someone who is not afraid of what may happen if they speak up.
Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers - 7,000 pages of top secret information regarding U.S. military planning and strategy in Vietnam - to the press in 1971, has said if he tried to release them today, he would end up just like Bradley Manning.
I heard Ellsberg speak in Brattleboro last year, and he urged his audience to not be afraid.
"Each of you here will have choices, at some group that you are involved with during the course of your life where you know what's being done is not merely misguided or not best, not optimal, not what you would have chosen; but really bad, really bad.
"And the question is, do you say that? Do you tell the facts, do you tell it to people who may take a different view, try to organize other people to do it together? Or do you protect your career? And you'll make that choice more than once, and some of you will act to save a lot of lives and I thank you for that."
Whistleblowers throw open the doors and windows, and let the light in, and the powerful who don't want the bright light of openness and democracy and truth shining upon their schemes always want to kill the whistleblowers.
Democracy demands brave people, not fearful conformists. That's why we need the Mannings and Snowdens of the world.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is 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 email@example.com.