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Film review: War on Whistleblowers

I just watched the latest work by guerilla filmmaker Robert Greenwald. He is developing a new form of journalism that makes documentaries on important issues that are timely because they are low-budget and filmed on a short schedule, and then sells them (or even gives them away free) directly to people, bypassing the usual channels of theaters or TV, and encourages them to arrange free screenings for others. He has produced and/or directed the following:

Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (2002)
Uncovered: The Whole Truth About The Iraq War (2003)
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism (2004)
Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties (2004).
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005)
Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers (2006)
The Big Buy: Tom Delay’s Stolen Congress (2006)

This latest one deals with the vicious crackdown on people who leak information that is unfavorable to the government or big business. This was done by the Bush administration but was hugely magnified under Obama which, after promising to be the most transparent administration ever, has not only turned out to be one of the most secretive but also the highly vindictive, using its enormous powers to target and crush anyone that crosses it. The person who has been treated the most harshly is of course Bradley Manning but there are others whose stories need to be told too, and this documentary deals with some of them.

The film looks in detail at the cases of Thomas Drake of the National Security Agency who exposed the widespread and illegal interception of electronic communications, Thomas Tamm of the Department of Justice, who exposed illegal phone tapping, Franz Gayl of the Pentagon who exposed the corrupt relationship between the Pentagon and military contractors that was preventing US troops in Iraq from getting the kind of equipment that would have saved many lives and injuries, and Michael DeKort of Lockheed Martin who showed how his his company was providing shoddily-designed vessels to the Coast Guard that could suffer catastrophic failure. There is also a small mention of John Kiriakou, who was the first CIA official who confirmed the torture practices of the US government. All these people suffered financial and career hardship for their actions. Kiriakou went to jail. So the only CIA person who went to jail because of torture was the person who revealed it.

All of them tried to get the attention of their superiors through normal channels and resorted to leaks to the media when those failed to get any attention. But as soon as the news hit the front pages, the government swung into action using its formidable powers to find out who had leaked the information, harassing them and their families, and threatening them with dire penalties under the atrocious Espionage Act of 1917. The journalists who received the information were also targeted for punishment, as were activists like lawyer Jesselyn Radack who worked for the Department of Justice and who later helped the whistleblowers with public opinion and legal matters.

As journalists interviewed in the documentary repeatedly say, high level government officials leak even classified information to media all the time in order to make themselves and the government look good, so it is not leaks themselves that are the problem. The government only vigorously prosecutes any leaks that make it look bad, irrespective of whether it helps or harms the country.

Given the speed with which Greenwald is producing these documentaries, the quality is pretty good, though there are some rough edges. The film also includes a trailer for an upcoming documentary called Unmanned that will deal with the drone policy of the US.

You can get a copy of the War on Whistleblowers here. Here’s the trailer.

Another documentary on whistleblowers by Oscar-nominated director Jim Spione titled Silenced has been funded through Kickstarter and will tell the story of John Kiriakou, Jesselyn Radack, Thomas Drake and others. Here is some information about it.

We need whistleblowers now more than ever.

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