The Federal Government's Vindictive Legal Assault On NSA Warrantless Wiretapping Whistleblowers
from the this-is-not-the-country-we-believe-in dept
Binney expressed terrible remorse over the way some of his algorithms were used after 9/11. ThinThread, the "little program" that he invented to track enemies outside the U.S., "got twisted," and was used for both foreign and domestic spying: "I should apologize to the American people. It's violated everyone's rights. It can be used to eavesdrop on the whole world."The story has many more details not just on the program itself, but also on the attempts by a few to make it legal and on the NSA's and the White House's resistance (under both Bush and Obama) to actually bring the program into agreement with the law. But the worst part is the excessive aggressiveness with which the feds then tried to bring charges against the various whistleblowers, attempting to reinterpret the Espionage Act in a way that was never intended. The people involved brought up serious concerns over both government law-breaking and over the massively wasteful spending of US taxpayer money in the process. These are classic whistleblower issues -- and not issues of state security. And yet, the whole thing gets twisted, in a clearly vindictive way, to make it out as if national secrets were revealed.
Morton Halperin, of the Open Society Institute, says that the reduced charges make the prosecution even more outlandish: "If Drake is convicted, it means the Espionage Law is an Official Secrets Act." Because reporters often retain unauthorized defense documents, Drake's conviction would establish a legal precedent making it possible to prosecute journalists as spies. "It poses a grave threat to the mechanism by which we learn most of what the government does," Halperin says.And this is why you can see that this particular vindictive and ridiculous prosecution is so important: because if the feds get a ruling in their favor, they can go after all sorts of others who publish classified info. That is a massive restriction on the freedom of the press that we thought was established under the First Amendment.
The Espionage Act has rarely been used to prosecute leakers and whistle-blowers. Drake’s case is only the fourth in which the act has been used to indict someone for mishandling classified material. "It was meant to deal with classic espionage, not publication," Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University who is an expert on the statute, says.
Tragically, the article suggests that President Obama -- who has insisted repeatedly that he's in favor of transparency and whistleblowing -- has a blindspot on this matter. In his mind, he's built up an artificial separation between whistleblowing that is good and that which he doesn't like. If he doesn't like it, it somehow puts national security at risk. Yet the details of the Drake case, in particular, suggest that this is not about national security at all, but it's a pure whistleblower situation. Drake's revelations may have embarrassed the feds, but that's not supposed to be illegal.