When it was revealed about three weeks ago that a whistle-blower (and then at least one other and possibly up to four) from within the U.S. intelligence community made a complaint to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, mainstream news outlets from the New York Times and Washington Post to CNN and MSNBC suddenly rediscovered the importance of such actors to a functioning democracy.
That these latest whistle-blowers, whether their claims are proven or not, should be protected from an out of control White House is obvious and the centrist Democrats in the House of Representatives who have finally found their voices alongside corporate media should be commended for doing what their progressive colleagues have been calling for for months: launching an impeachment inquiry.
The current occupant of the White House and his supporters argue that the case being made against him is the result of the machinations of the so-called ‘deep state’, with the president calling the first whistle-blower to come forward both, “almost a spy” and a “traitor”, hinting that he or she should be executed for making their complaint.
The president, his subordinates and some of his media supporters have also tried to make the argument about Joe and Hunter Biden, with the president trying to pressure the leaders not only of Ukraine but of Australia and China to investigate the father and son for possible corruption. While the younger Biden’s good luck in finding so many far flung, high paying jobs is worthy of some investigation and should probably cause them more concern, most mainstream news outlets have forcefully pushed back against this argument.
What this story has led to is article after anguished op-ed expounding on the great American tradition of whistle-blowing, all the while seeming to forget how much time so many in mainstream English language media have spent disparaging high-profile figures like Edward Snowden and ignoring other important ones like former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling. The latter spent more than two years in prison for revealing the details of ‘Operation Merlin’, which unnecessarily ratcheted up tensions with Iran, to journalist James Risen.
While it’s true that these more recent whistle-blowers appear to have gone through official channels in a way that the most important ones this century have not, those that didn’t have powerful political and media defenders, like Snowden and Chelsea Manning, did so at much greater risk. This is also shown by how quickly these latest whistle-blowers, who have managed to maintain their anonymity, received high profile legal representation.
As journalist Norman Soloman recently explained in regards to this, “The reason Snowden didn’t go through channels is that he saw what happened to whistleblowers who did — such as [Thomas] Drake [a former NSA official charged under the 1917 Espionage Act for leaking], who was targeted, harassed, and then prosecuted on numerous felony counts. Snowden clearly understood that going through channels would achieve nothing except punishment, which is why he wisely decided to go directly to journalists.”
Snowden, currently living in exile at the mercy of Russian authorities, also worked in intelligence but as part of the vast web of unaccountable private contractors who now perform many of the duties once handled by career officers in the CIA and especially NSA. One of the reasons for the rapid growth of this sector is what Drake and later Snowden made public: that the United States and most of its allies have created massive surveillance states that bore into the lives of ordinary citizens and require armies of people to maintain.
As Snowden, who worked with Booz Allen Hamilton, where he obtained the documents he leaked about the growing power of the surveillance state said in a recent interview about the danger represented by private sector contractors, “…everything else — building the system of mass surveillance, installing it, applying it, using it to gather or search through all this information that’s already been collected to build perfect histories of private lives — all of these things are fair game and are done routinely, every day, right now, by people who are not formally government employees. That’s how the system works, and that’s what a contractor is.”
The privatization of intelligence work that Snowden was talking about also takes other forms, as those following the case of Julian Assange, himself not technically a whistle-blower but a publisher, learned after he was stripped of his asylum due to changed political circumstances in the country hosting him and was unceremoniously removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London in April.
While Assange sits in Belmarsh prison awaiting extradition to the United States where he could face over 150 years in prison, an investigation is underway in Spain looking at a private intelligence firm, Undercover Global, which is believed to have spied on the publisher for the CIA during his time in the embassy.
As reported by the Spanish daily El Pais, we know that Americans, presumably members of the intelligence community, had access to a server collecting both audio and video of Assange and his visitors. This included meetings with his lawyers.
The server, part of an investigation now being undertaken by the Spain’s National Court, was the property Undercover Global, contracted to provide security at the embassy but also seemingly doing some paid intelligence gathering of its own.
Aside from some reliable alternative media outlets, North American media have chosen to ignore this somewhat chilling story, much as they ignore the years long plight of Assange, an Australian citizen abandoned by his government, who is said to be suffering worrying physical and mental impacts from his long isolation at the Ecuadoran embassy in London and now in a British prison.
Although Assange earned the hatred of many establishment Democrats and their media allies, the injustices still being endured by him and the charges he is likely to face in the U.S. if he’s extradited are the result of leaks provided to him and Wikileaks by Chelsea Manning. Manning spent 7 years in prison for her act of courage in releasing diplomatic documents that some commentators credit for spurring on the Arab Spring in 2012, before she was pardoned by former President Obama on May 17th, 2017.
Rather than being allowed to move on with her life, Manning was called to testify before a federal grand jury investigating possible charges against Assange this year and jailed twice for bravely refusing to do so.
During the first incarceration, as reported by Out.com, “She spent 28 out of her first 63 days in prison segregated in a cell smaller than a horse stable, with no windows or outside contact for up to 22 hours a day.”
After being released in early May, she was returned to jail without charges a week later for for refusing to testify before a second Grand Jury. She also faces fines of $500 dollars a day for her first 30 days and $1000 dollars a day per day after 60 until she either relents or when the Grand Jury expires sometime later this month.
These three whistle-blowers are as brave as any of those now exposing Trump’s pressure tactics on foreign governments but receive persecution rather than the praise they deserve. Until Assange, Manning and Snowden are given similar coverage to these new whistle-blowers, we probably shouldn’t trust the U.S. mainstream media’s newfound love of those who reveal the crimes and incompetence of the powerful.