By Philip Giraldi, March 23, 2017 (originally published on The American Conservative.).
There is a perception among some of the public and within the alternative media that America’s burgeoning national-security state is a monolith, a collective entity pursuing its own interests regardless of what is good for the country or its people. From both progressives and conservatives who mistrust the government, I often hear comments such as, “Once in the CIA, always in the CIA”—as if onetime employment in the agency forms an unbreakable bond.
Those familiar with both the national-security community and the peace movement are aware that something like the reverse is true. Individuals who were attracted to careers in intelligence, law enforcement, or the military are often sticklers for doing what is right rather than what is expedient. That often puts them at odds with their political masters, leading sometimes to resignations and a resulting overrepresentation of former national-security professionals in the anti-war movement.
One manifestation of this is an organization of former national-security officers, including myself, called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, or VIPS. VIPS was founded in 2003 out of revulsion on the part of many former officials over the shabby intelligence that was driving the decision to invade Iraq. The group includes officials from the whole alphabet soup of national security—CIA, NSA, FBI, FS (Foreign Service), and DOD. VIPS’s emergence and its ongoing letters of protest on national-security policy reflect a reality going back to the early debates surrounding the U.S. government’s stealthy escalation of the Vietnam War and its woeful handling of that conflict, ending in a humiliating defeat.
The lies that led to that Vietnam experience produced one of the first well-known rebels against intelligence corruption. Sam Adams, a CIA analyst who was assigned to the agency’s Vietnam desk in 1965, observed that the strength estimates for the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong guerrillas consistently underreported the true strength of the enemy. This led to a prolonged conflict with Army and White House officials, as well as with Adams’s own bosses, all of whom promoted the false notion that the Vietnam challenge was a limited insurgency easily defeated, a fabrication intended to ensure U.S. popular support for the conflict.
Though Adams eventually was forced out of the agency, he continued to expose how intelligence had been hijacked to suit a political agenda. He served as a witness in the trial of Daniel Ellsberg, the man behind the Pentagon Papers revelations. He wrote about the Vietnam “cover-up” and spoke to the House Intelligence Committee’s Pike Commission, which credited his allegations.
Today there are many former national-security officials in the mold of Sam Adams. For many, the disillusionment with the corruption of intelligence and betrayal of national security began with Iraq. CIA officers in the clandestine service such as European Division chief Tyler Drumheller pushed hard against CIA Director George Tenet and the White House, insisting that field reporting demonstrated that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Drumheller also dismissed “Curveball,” the German-Iraqi source of the false intelligence that Iraq was building mobile biological-weapons labs. The source, said Drumheller, was merely “a guy trying to get his green card essentially, in Germany, and playing the system for what it was worth.”
CIA analysts also sought to expose false claims that Iraqi intelligence officials had met with al-Qaeda. Senior State Department officials John Kiesling, John Brown, and Ann Wright resigned over the march to an avoidable war.
For others, increasing governmental attacks on the Constitution proved decisive. National Security Agency (NSA) officer Tom Drake went through channels after he learned the agency was illegally collecting information on U.S. citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment. He was joined by former NSA officers William Binney, J. Kirk Wiebe, and Ed Loomis. Their efforts were rebuffed by the government. Despite whistleblower protections, Drake later was charged under the Espionage Act.
The large numbers of former foot soldiers in the national-security establishment who are now opposed to the warfare state should be an eye opener for many Americans, suggesting that there is no “high confidence” among many of those who are actually best positioned to know the truth regarding Washington’s perpetual warfare policies.
Which brings us back to VIPS and the dissident former national-security officers who have found a home there. One is Tom Drake, who was involved from the start, as was Ray McGovern, a former senior CIA analyst and presidential briefer. VIPS has produced 47 memos on national-security policy. Its first official action was a February 2003 memo to President George W. Bush condemning the United Nations speech by Secretary of State Colin Powell that established the pretext for invading Iraq. The memo said, “you would be well served if you widened the discussion beyond … the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”
More recently, VIPS has raised serious questions about the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered “Russian hacking” designed to destabilize American politics and, if possible, put Donald Trump in the presidency. The group called on President Obama to release solid evidence of this, even if it creates difficulty for ongoing intelligence operations. The former security officials suggested the evidence released by the government thus far “does not pass the smell test,” and they noted particularly the lack of any public evidence linking the Russians to WikiLeaks, which published the bulk of the information in question.
“We urge you to authorize public release of any tangible evidence that takes us beyond the unsubstatianted, ‘we-assess’ judgments by the intelligence agencies,” said the VIPS statement, addressed to Obama. “Otherwise, we … will be left with the corrosive suspicion that the intense campaign of accusations is part of a wider attempt to discredit the Russians and those—like Mr. Trump—who wish to deal constructively with them.”
The VIPS statement didn’t get much attention. Indeed, such warnings from former intelligence, security, law-enforcement, and military personnel are largely frozen out of the establishment media. When VIPS presents its annual Sam Adams award for integrity in intelligence, the recipients get more media attention in Europe than in the U.S. Rarely do the 50-plus associates of VIPS appear in the U.S. mainstream media, although they are frequently interviewed by the foreign press, particularly in Western Europe.
The government also does its best to repress any dissident opinion by requiring many former intelligence and law-enforcement personnel to have their writings reviewed by security officers prior to publication. The reviews can take months, make no effort to accommodate publishing deadlines, and often result in a heavily redacted text that is unreadable. The government sometimes strikes back in less subtle ways. Ray McGovern’s 2006 return of his Intelligence Commendation Medal over reports of CIA torture led to a provision in the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2007 enabling Congress to strip retirees of their pensions.
Pushback from former national-security officials is a good thing for the country and the agencies once served by these dissidents. Just as the Founders envisioned a citizen army so the defense of the nation would be in the hands of the people, a national-security structure responsive to responsible dissent should be cherished. The Obama administration, to its discredit, routinely punished legitimate whistleblowers and covered up its misdeeds through invocation of the state-secrets privilege. We can hope that the new Trump administration will have the wisdom and confidence to call off the dogs.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.
By PETER VAN BUREN published FEB. 18, 2017 in NYT Sunday Review
“The spotlight has finally been put on the lowlife leakers! They will be caught!” So tweeted President Trump on Thursday morning after a week when his administration had been shaken by reports based on information from anonymous sources inside the government and intelligence agencies. On Monday, such revelations had led to the resignation of Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser.
Further reports about repeated contacts between members of the Trump campaign team and Russian officials also caused the president to reverse his pre-election stance — “I love WikiLeaks!” — and issue tirades against “illegal” leaks and the “criminal action” of leakers. It’s no surprise that Mr. Trump, in office, wants to stem this flow with threatened retaliation, but if you’re a government employee who knows something, what are you thinking?
To leak or not to leak? Will you blow the whistle and expose wrongdoing?
I know something about the decision you’re weighing. With 21 years of service at the State Department as a foreign service officer, I was assigned to wartime Iraq from 2009 to 2010 to manage two provincial reconstruction teams. Their purpose was to help rebuild the country, in hopes that the young men then joining the insurgency would cease fighting and discover that they had a stake in a Pax Americana.
It was a difficult task, perhaps naïvely optimistic from the start. I quickly learned that despite the good intentions, the extraordinary amount of money spent and the importance of the project, it was not well thought out.
My orders from Washington were to nurture entrepreneurs among rural women whose husbands would not allow them to leave home. So we handed out money for people to open bakeries on streets that lacked running water and electricity. There was the chicken-processing plant we helped establish that threatened to disrupt a food chain that had served the region for hundreds of years. A short-term giveaway of animal vaccines ended by driving up their prices beyond the means of local farmers after my team had moved on.
This sounds almost comical now: My boss directed me to fund a theatrical production intended to persuade warring Sunnis and Shiites to stop killing one another. An Off Off Broadway show was not going to fix the sectarianism running amok in Iraq.
In short, I saw a hemorrhaging of American taxpayers’ money on propaganda when the Iraqis lacked basic health care, clean water and other essentials that we could have provided but did not. I felt the way I imagine civil servants today do: The country I loved serving wasn’t living up to its ideals.
It’s hard to pin down the exact moment, but at some point, the program’s flaws exceeded what in good conscience I could participate in. But the system did not want to hear constructive criticism.
I spoke with my boss in Iraq. He told me to do what I was told; his boss said the same. When I took my concerns to the inspector general, I was advised that what I was witnessing was not fraud or waste, but policy. Back in Washington, no one at the State Department would meet with me. I went outside the department, but when I attended a semi-clandestine meeting with Senate staff members, I could see they had trouble believing me. My reporting was 180 degrees from what they had heard officially from both the Bush and Obama administrations.
I didn’t know any journalists, but I did know from years in Washington that a leaker usually trades anonymity for credibility. You keep some safety, perhaps, and your job, but since you can’t stand up in your own defense, you are attacked by officials as ego-driven, your information as false. Or “fake news,” as we hear today.
I also realized my story needed more explaining than would fit in a newspaper article anyway. So I decided to go public, via a book. I chose to become a whistle-blower.
It’s risky. It’s saying, “Here I am, come after me.” But your motivations, too, are on display; you are more easily seen as a patriot than a partisan. And your presence encourages and empowers others.
I followed protocol and submitted the manuscript of my book. The State Department cleared it for publication without question. I can account for this only by noting that it went through a system then in place to rubber-stamp memoirs by retired diplomats.
Then, one day, an advance copy landed in someone’s hands at State, and my professional life ended. My security clearance was suspended. I was interviewed repeatedly by security personnel who were clearly fishing for any excuse to fire me. My personal finances and years of travel vouchers were scrutinized in a quest to find evidence of fraud or illicit income. I was a government employee inside a bureaucracy with powers of investigation and punishment I previously had no clue even existed.
The State Department flirted with prosecuting me for disclosing classified data that no one ever seemed to be able to pinpoint in my book, and tried to dismiss me in part for a “lack of candor” when I refused to incriminate myself. In the end, the harassment pushed me into an unwanted early retirement.
Near the end, I asked one of the security officers why they were bothering. In a rare moment of candor, the officer said most of this wasn’t aimed at me. It was about the next person; it was about sending a message.
So why did I do it? For the same reasons you’re thinking you should.
Because we saw something wrong. Because our conscience told us we must. Because we believe the people have a right to know about their government, and sometimes only someone on the inside can tell them. Because we can contribute to a larger story or supply a missing puzzle piece. Above all, because our oath of service is to the Constitution, not to any leader or party, neither the one in, nor out, of power.
People of conscience, leakers and whistle-blowers alike, we’re made. If government acted as the founders believed it should, we would not be here. Mushrooms don’t pop up on a dry lawn.
I made a choice to be a whistle-blower. I’d do it again. You?
Peter Van Buren is the author of “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.”
A version of this op-ed appears in print on February 19, 2017, on Page SR4 of the New York edition with the headline: When It’s Time to Blow the Whistle.
Katharine Gun says expanded jail terms for leaking state secrets will deter people from revealing abuses of power
Published in The Guardian 2/13/2017
By Owen Bowcott, Legal Affairs Correspondent, published in The Guardian, 2/13/2017
A former GCHQ whistleblower has condemned plans by government lawyers to increase prison sentences and expand the definition of espionage for the digital age.
Katharine Gun, a former translator for the monitoring agency who leaked details of an operation to bug United Nations offices before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, has spoken out following the publication of Law Commission plans suggesting that maximum jail terms for those leaking information should rise from two years to 14 years.
In the past, Gun has called for a public interest defence to be introduced into the Official Secrets Act (OSA) to protect whistleblowers and prevent governments from hiding politically embarrassing information.
She said: “The Official Secrets Act 1989 may need reforming for the digital era, but I would argue that at its heart there should be protection for whistleblowers. As it stands, the OSA is reputedly one of the most draconian secrecy laws in the world. It seems to me to have been very effective at dissuading and preventing the 99.9% of British citizens who have signed to it from making unauthorised disclosures.
“On the rare occasions where it has been breached, it could be argued that it was done to expose lies or misrepresentations of the truth and other forms of skulduggery. Examples include Clive Ponting, Peter Wright, David Shayler, myself, David Keogh and Leo O’Connor. Peter Wright’s case followed the publication of his book, Spycatcher, Lord Goff [a judge] said at the time, ‘In a free society, there is a continuing public interest that the workings of government should be open to scrutiny and criticism.’
“It seems to me that we are living in an increasingly unfree society. The government and its intelligence and security apparatus have amassed ever broader and deeper powers through legislation like the Justice and Security Act 2013 and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. These laws enable it to survey all private communications and online activity, carry out bulk collection and storage of data, hack private devices, detain and interrogate at whim and demand CMP [closed material procedures] in court, preventing evidence and information from being disclosed in the interest of national security.
“If the proposals to reform or rewrite the OSA extend the overall dragnet nature of the act, increase the penalty limit and disregard a public interest defence, it will exacerbate the concentration of power in the hands of the government and deter or even prevent whistleblowers from revealing government lies and abuse of power.”
Gun was charged under the OSA in 2003, but the prosecution was dropped when it came to court the following year amid speculation that there would have been a political outcry.
Referring to the request in 2003 from the US National Security Agency to bug the offices of countries on the UN security council before the vote on invading Iraq, Gun said: “I was enraged by the subterfuge and potential blackmail they wanted us to carry out. I went public and it was published in the Observer.”
Commenting on the Law Commission proposals, the the Liberal Democrat peer and civil liberties campaigner Paul Strasburger said:“This attempt to suppress dissent and prevent the public knowing the truth is typical of Mrs May’s time at the home office. She has carried the same authoritarian approach into Brexit by doing everything she can to limit debate and keep voters in the dark.
“These proposals might be appropriate for a banana-republic dictatorship. They are completely out of the question in our democracy which depends on brave whistleblowers and a free press to hold the government to account when they let us down through incompetence or corruption.
“Liberal Democrats will strongly resist these extremely dangerous proposals.”
Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, said: “It’s disturbing that the Law Commission considers a single meeting adequate consultation to inform such drastic and dangerous proposals. We don’t – and we will be submitting a thorough response to the public consultation.
“These oppressive plans have no place in a democracy. They would skew the balance even further in favour of state secrecy, irrespective of potentially profound public interest. By increasing the prospect of prosecutions for revelations that are merely embarrassing or inconvenient, they would silence whistle-blowers and gag our press.
“This is the latest hypocritical move from a government intent on operating in the shadows while monitoring every move the rest of us make. When the agencies’ illegal mass surveillance was exposed by Snowden’s courageous actions, this government responded with the eye-wateringly authoritarian investigatory powers act. That law makes it illegal to disclose even the mere existence of warrants to intercept people’s communications, meaning those who are unlawfully spied on, including journalists, will never know about it – unless whistle-blowers come forward.”
The National Union of Journalists said it would robustly defend the rights of its members. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “The ramifications of these recommendations are huge for journalists and freedom of the press. Journalists face being criminalised for simply doing their job and the public’s right to know will be severely curtailed by these proposals. The union will respond robustly to the Law Commission’s consultation on changes to the Official Secrets Act.”
She said: “It was the present prime minister Theresa May who was the ‘Big Sister’ and original architect of the snoopers’ charter. We need to protect the public from a government which seems intent on threatening journalists from finding information the government finds inconvenient to be exposed. Democracy is under attack when a government does all it can to do its business in secret.”