One of the most shameful episodes of the Obama administration has been the way that they have treated whistleblowers. Chelsea Manning has been severely and inhumanely punished and even tortured for her courageous act in 2010 of releasing the infamous Collateral Murder video that showed US troops in a gunship cheerfully murdering Iraqis that were walking the streets and then attacking a vehicle containing children that came to their rescue. Edward Snowden has been targeted for his courageous release of documents that showed that the US and its allies have been systematically spying on people all over the world. And of course, Julian Assange and WIkiLeaks have been targeted because of their role in releasing the Manning video and other documents. Those who are hoping for Obama to pardon Manning and Snowden expect too much from someone who has shown a massively vindictive streak when it comes to punishing those who dare to show that he and the US government are not driven by noble motives but act cruelly and illegally as it suits them.
Obama for all his talk about upholding high principles has condoned these retributive actions that have gone much further than the retributions meted out to earlier whistleblowers, such as Karen Kwiatkowski, Jesselyn Radack, Coleen Rowley, William Binney, Sibel Edmonds, Thomas Drake, Thomas Tamm, and John Kiriakou. You can see a list of whistleblowers here and the non-profit Government Accountability Project (an organization I support) has been trying to get justice for these people.
Jenna McLaughlin reports that finally, in the waning days of this administration, Congressional and Justice department watchdog agencies are looking into these retaliations against whistleblowers to see if the way they were treated violated the law that is supposed to protect those who expose government wrongdoing.
The nonprofit Government Accountability Project, which is devoted to protecting whistleblowers, provided The Intercept with documentation on the new investigation. According to the group, the investigation will also likely target senior Pentagon officials accused of destroying evidence that would have exculpated former senior NSA official Thomas Drake, who raised internal complaints about what he believed to be NSA misconduct and waste before ultimately approaching journalists.
Rather than having his concerns acknowledged, Drake spent months fighting charges against him under the Espionage Act, ultimately pleading guilty to just a single misdemeanor. His career in the intelligence community was ended, however.
The new effort also follows conclusions made last spring by a separate government watchdog group, the Office of Special Counsel, which is specifically tasked with providing protection to federal whistleblowers. The OSC said there was “substantial likelihood” senior Pentagon officials might have violated “laws, rules or regulations” in Drake’s case by destroying records of his cooperation with Congress and a Pentagon audit concerning his complaints.
John Crane, formerly the assistant inspector general in the Pentagon, revealed his role in attempting to protect Drake’s identity and investigate the document destruction involved in his case last May — an effort he claims cost him his job. Crane believes the DOJ and now GAO investigations are vital to repair a broken system of accountability and protection for those willing to identify wrongdoing at personal risk.
“The pattern of events” launched by Drake’s persecution and what followed “are troubling to someone who as assistant inspector general at the DoD helped to craft the Whistleblower Protection Act to protect the disclosure of classified information provided by whistleblowers,” he told The Intercept.
The implications of the investigation may eventually be important for evaluating the actions of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked a massive trove of documents revealing the agency’s worldwide surveillance regime, Crane argues. “The challenge for the incoming Trump administration is that these investigations are in effect examining whether current Pentagon IG leadership has become an existential threat to the national security of the United States by forcing whistleblowers like Snowden to view the media as their court of last resort and the seek safety overseas,” he wrote in a statement.
Soon after the Snowden leaks, I was at a weekly university public affairs discussion at which the leaks were discussed. The group attending these sessions tended to be older liberals and many of them were disapproving of Snowden’s actions, sniffing that he should have ‘gone through proper channels’ and repeating all the falsehoods about Snowden’s actions that the administration had leaked to their friends in the media. They spoke approvingly of Daniel Ellsberg who had released the Pentagon Papers and said that Snowden should have followed his example. The fact that not only had Ellsberg not gone through proper channels but that he has been a strong supporter of Snowden’s actions did not seem to register in their minds. They refused to acknowledge what Ellsberg says, that the Obama administration has been much harsher in its treatment of Snowden, invoking the draconian Espionage Act, than the way the Nixon administration treated him. It seemed like they approved of Ellsberg because the president he exposed was Richard Nixon, someone who was much hated by liberals, whereas the president exposed by Snowden was someone they liked. When the inevitable whistleblowers emerge in the Trump administration, these same people will again suddenly discover the virtues of whistleblowing.
There is no reason to think that the incoming Trump administration will be any better than the Obama administration in its treatment of whistleblowers and many reasons to think that it could even be much worse, given Trump’s tendency to respond harshly to any criticism. When Trump attacks those who do similar things in the future, we should not let our anger over his actions make us forget that Obama laid the groundwork for it and that the liberal and Democratic enablers who excused his actions and even attacked people like Manning and Snowden because they cast a poor light on ‘their guy’ Obama will have to share the blame.