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The Loneliness and Courage of Thomas Drake: A Whistleblower’s Journey June 6, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy.
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Published on Monday, June 6, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

“As a student of history and politics, I firmly believe that we have reached a breaking point in this country, when the government violates and erodes our very privacy and precious freedoms in the name of national security and then hides it behind the convenient label of secrecy.

This is not the America I took an oath to support and defend in my career. This is not the America I learned about while growing up in Texas and Vermont. This is not the America we are supposed to be.” —  Thomas Drake, from his acceptance speech of the 2011 Ridenhour Prize for Truth–Telling

Thomas Drake tried to do everything right. He thought that the road he was on of government service was the same road that was consistent with his values.

(Portrait of Thomas Drake by Robert Shetterly. All rights reserved. Courtesy of the artist.)

Immediately after his first day on the job at the National Security Agency — September 11, 2001 — he began to see those roads diverge. For years he tried to straddle them — one foot on the road of loyalty to the NSA and procedural complaint, one foot on the road consistent with his oath to uphold the Constitution. Finally he had to choose or be ethically dismembered. He chose to blow the whistle on waste, fraud, and patent illegality at the NSA. He chose consistency with his ethical sense of Constitutional duty. He knew that illegal wiretaps and the obsessive secrecy to hide them was inconsistent with democracy and the rule of law.

Thomas Drake is being charged under the Espionage Act, section 793(e), only the fourth American ever. The first was Daniel Ellsberg. He’s been charged with mishandling classified information. Not with spying. His crime was to tell the truth about illegality and corruption. “This has become the specter of a truly Orwellian world,” Drake said in his Ridenhour speech, “where… whistleblowing is now equated with spying. Dissent has become the mark of a traitor. Truth is equivalent to treason and speaking truth to power makes one an enemy of the state. And yet who is really the enemy here?”

Jesselyn Radack, a former whistleblower while in the ethics division of the Department of Justice, who is now a lawyer  for the Government Accountability Project defending whistleblowers,  said this while introducing Tom at the Ridenhour ceremony:

“This Administration has brought more ‘leak’ prosecutions than all previous presidential administrations combined. When first elected, President Obama acknowledged that often the best source of information about government wrongdoing is an employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. He called such acts courageous and patriotic. So it is especially hypocritical to be prosecuting public servants under the Espionage Act.

Painting whistleblowers as spies serves another ugly purpose: alienating these brave employees from their natural allies in the legal, civil rights and civil liberties community. It is rank hypocrisy for our government—preaching openness and transparency—to criminalize whistleblowing that exposes embarrassing or illegal government conduct. This Administration—whose mantra is to ‘look forward, not backward’—gives war crimes, torture and warrantless wiretapping a pass . . . but is going after the whistleblowers who exposed that misconduct.

The prosecution of Tom Drake is the most severe form of whistleblower retaliation I have ever seen and it sends a chilling message. It is tragic when serving your country gets you prosecuted under the Espionage Act, and when telling the truth gets you charged with ‘making false statements.’ “

We have all cheered the mass demonstrations for justice, human rights and democracy whether in Tunisia, Yemen, Syria or Madison. But the ordeal of the whistleblower is not part of a collective movement. It’s the isolated courage of a gang of one. And the fate of democracy hangs on the success of that one person as much as it does on the success of a mass protest — except that the whistleblower’s conditon is a lot more lonely. When Tom Drake’s trial opens in Baltimore on June 13th, he faces 35 years in prison.

I have just finished painting Tom Drake’s portrait as part of my Americans Who Tell the Truth project. Being with him, being in the presence of his integrity and determination, being able to witness the suffering our government has put him through, was extraordinary. I tried to portray those qualities in the painting. I placed him in the corner of the composition to suggest his isolation and to convey a feeling of his looking back at America in disbelief — and defiance. His defiance is that he adhers to the truth of this country’s ideals even if the country has betrayed and abandoned them.

Thomas Drake needs our support as much as Bradley Manning needs it.

You can support his cause by signing the Change.org petiton here.

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Robert Shetterly

Robert Shetterly [send him mail] is a writer and artist who lives in Brooksville, Maine. He is the author of Americans Who Tell the Truth. See his website.

Let’s Fight the Obama Administration’s Crusade to Jail Another May 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Media.
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AlterNet /
By Rory O’Connor

We need to stand up for NYT reporter James Risen and against
the sleazy, Bush-like tactics of the Obamacrats and the burgeoning national
security state.
May 26, 2011  |
German theologian Martin Niemoller was a
staunch anti-Communist who supported Hitler’s rise to power — at first. He
later became disillusioned, however, and led a group of German clergymen opposed
to Hitler. In 1937 Niemoller was arrested for the crime of “not being
enthusiastic enough about the Nazi movement” and later was sent to concentration
camps. Rescued in 1945 by the Allies, he became a leading post-war voice of
reconciliation for the German people.

Niemoller is most famous for his well-known
and frequently quoted statement detailing the dangers of political apathy in the
face of repression. Although it described the inactivity of Germans following
the Hitler’s rise to power and his violent purging of group after group of
German citizens, his statement lives on as a universal description of the
dangers of not standing up against tyranny.

The text of the Niemoller’s statement is
usually presented as follows:

First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a
communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a
trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a
Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for
me.

I was reminded of Niemoller recently when
federal prosecutors issued a subpoena intended to force New York Times
reporter James Risen, the author of a book on the Central Intelligence Agency,
to testify at the criminal trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former C.I.A. officer.
Sterling was charged as part of a wide-ranging Obama administration crackdown on
officials accused of disclosing restricted information to journalists.

Now the Obama Justice Department is
threatening to jail a journalist as well — unless Risen tells them if Sterling
or someone else leaked information about the CIA’s efforts to sabotage the
Iranian nuclear program.

The subpoena, as Charlie Savage reported recently in the Times, “tells Mr. Risen
that ‘you are commanded’ to appear at federal district court in Alexandria, Va.,
on Sept. 12 to testify in the case. A federal district judge, Leonie M.
Brinkema, quashed a similar subpoena to Mr. Risen last year, when prosecutors
were trying to persuade a grand jury to indict Mr. Sterling.”

Risen rightly says he will ask the judge to
quash the new subpoena as well, stating forthrightly, “I will always protect my
sources,” and rightly that, “this is a fight about the First Amendment and the
freedom of the press.”

It’s bad enough that ever since President
Obama took office, he has repeatedly gone after whistleblowers like Sterling
with a cold vengeance, charging more people in cases involving leaking
information than “all previous presidents combined,” as Savage noted.

But Obama administration officials are no
longer content just with targeting whistleblowers like Sterling, former National
Security Agency official Thomas Drake, (who goes on trial soon on charges of
providing classified information to The Baltimore Sun) and of course
Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst accused – and already pronounced
guilty by the president — of passing classified documents to Wikileaks.org. Now
they are coming for the journalists as well – just as Bush Administration
officials did before them. And if Risen’s subpoena is not quashed and he still
refuses to testify, he risks being held in contempt and imprisoned, just as
Times reporter Judy Miller was for 85 days for her refusal to testify
in connection with the Valerie Plame Wilson leak in 2005.

Obama’s prosecutors argue that the First
Amendment doesn’t give Risen any right to avoid testifying about his
confidential sources in a criminal proceeding, and that the Pulitzer Prize
winner should be compelled to provide information to a jury “like any other
citizen.”

Citizens as well as journalists need to stand up for Risen and against the
sleazy, Bush-like tactics of the Obamacrats and the burgeoning national security
state. Otherwise, if you don’t speak out when they come, first for the
whistleblowers, and then for the journalists, when they come for you, there will

be no one left to speak out…

Filmmaker and journalist Rory O’Connor is the author of “Shock
Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio
” (AlterNet Books, 2008). O’Connor also

writes the Media Is A Plural blog.

Obama’s Orwellian Turn: Whistle-Blowing=Treason May 20, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy.
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05.19.11 – 11:42 AM

by Abby Zimet, www.commondreams.org

May 20, 2011

Candidate Obama championed transparency; President Obama has used the 1917 Espionage Act to preside over “the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history,” prosecuting more national security leak cases than all previous Administrations combined. The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer looks at the case of Thomas Drake, a GOP National Security Agency whistleblower who faces 35 years in prison for allegedly leaking information to a reporter about NSA waste and bureaucracy. To Jack Balkin, a Yale law professor, the increase in post 9/11 leak prosecutions represents “the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state.” To Drake, the turn toward secrecy is “Orwellian.”

“This was a violation of everything I knew and believed as an American. We were making the Nixon Administration look like pikers.”