Russia's 'Crime Of The Century' Highlights Importance Of Anonymous, Public Whistleblowing

from the corruption-runs-deep dept

About a month ago, a few people sent in this horrifying story from Foreign Policy magazine, written by lawyer Jamison Firestone, concerning how one of the partners in his Moscow-based law firm helped uncover a massive crime by government officials — who stole approximately $230 million and dumped it into real estate around the world — and was then arrested, tortured, blamed for the theft and murdered in jail for attempting to alert government officials of the corruption and crime. It’s a horrific story for anyone who believes in the rule of law. Barron’s has a similar story that focuses more on crime itself, and additional evidence that implicates Russian officials — even as Russian officials continued to blame the whistleblower who had actually alerted authorities to the suspicious behavior before the full theft had even taken place. That article also mentions that many of the same government officials were apparently involved in a similar heist of $107 million a couple years earlier.

While some may chalk this sort of thing up to the level of corruption found in Russia today — which is known to be extensive — it seems that this story also highlights the importance of the ability to blow the whistle on corruption through anonymous means that will make such findings public — such as Wikileaks. Wikileaks certainly may have its own problems, and hopefully newer platforms will improve upon its lead, but the ability to expose such crimes without then being tortured, murdered and blamed for the crimes seems like an important thing.

Similarly, in our discussions on Bradley Manning — who is accused of sending info to Wikileaks (though, according to many, the information Manning had access to was also available to over one million others, meaning that plenty of people may have passed it along to Wikileaks or others) — we’ve had people insist that if he found wrongdoing, he should have just reported it to his superiors. The lesson from the story in Russia is that you have to actually trust the superiors to make that reasonable. Manning did not, perhaps for very good reasons. That’s not to say that the level of corruption in the US government is on par with the level of corruption in Russia. I don’t think anyone believes that. But, it does highlight why someone might reasonably feel that reporting illegal acts by their own government to their own government may not always be the best course of action if the goal is stopping such activities.

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Comments on “Russia's 'Crime Of The Century' Highlights Importance Of Anonymous, Public Whistleblowing”

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37 Comments
A.R.M. (profile) says:

“That’s not to say that the level of corruption in the US government is on par with the level of corruption in Russia. I don’t think anyone believes that.”
Then allow me to be the first.

When a government can’t pass legislation without padding bills with “favors”, that’s the definition of corruption.

Then, there’s the entire “Hey, let me fill those campaign coffers with a little cash conveniently wrapped inside this bill I’d like you to submit” fiasco, which seems to do wonders at getting passed into law.

Sorry to disappoint that track record, Mike, but someone had to do it.

hegemon13 says:

Re:

And count me second (or third, or whatever). The US government does a better job of disguising it’s corruption as being “for the good of the people,” but in the end, that only makes it more insidious. The biggest and most effective deception of the US government is convincing Americans that we are still free. Thanks to the Internet, that deception is starting to unravel at the edges, and at some point will collapse completely, probably at about the same time the US Dollar implodes.

Anonymous Coward says:

I posted this on slashdot and figured it might be worth posting here as well.

It’s amazing. Many years ago people used to make money pirating software and content brick and mortar style. Centralized content and software distributors used to hold many large CD cases of software and content and (illegally) sell copies of this content to whomever wanted it for dirt cheap. It was a lucrative business that made a reasonable sum of money. Eventually, over a short period of time, this business substantially disappeared. But it didn’t disappear because of anything the government did to stop this illegal activity, it disappeared because people found and developed more efficient and cheaper ways of pirating software and content.

Likewise, it seems like the significance of Wikileaks and other similar protective leak venues maybe somewhat diminishing, but this diminishment has little to do with any governmental efforts to stop them and more to do with the fact that these leak sites are becoming somewhat obsolete. Now, I’m not arguing against their continued importance, I still think they serve an important role, just that this role is becoming relatively less important because it’s becoming replaced by more efficient means of obtaining desired information.

One may argue that these hackers aren’t really obtaining highly classified information. But neither is Wikileaks and many of these other leak sites.

In a sense, distributing confidential information is becoming less of an amateurish thing, with amateurs like Bradly Manning (who don’t know what they’re doing in terms of getting away with it and who may later feel guilty in a way that could get them to tell the wrong person and get in trouble), and more of a ‘professional’ thing, where ‘professionals’ who intend to get away with it from the outset and who are more tech savvy and experienced and more capable of getting away with it, are the ones doing the work. With Wikileaks, only one end of the equation are ‘professionals’ (Wikileaks) while the other end (the people actually sending the information to Wikileaks) are not. With this new generation of hackers, the more experienced and tech savvy professionals do more of the work.

GovTogether (profile) says:

While the level of corruption on government in the United States may not be anywhere near that of Russia, there is still a good amount of completely legal, in most cases, buying and selling of politicians there as well. However there is another stark contrast. While Russia may try to outwardly show it is a Democracy, the world and it’s people know that this is a farce. In the United States we do in fact have a democracy, however it is not enough.

What the United States needs is a change, and not in the anonymous way. You, the public, need a voice. You need to be able to have a say in what your representative says and does. If you disagree with something that is up for debate in the House or Senate, you should be able to directly influence the vote. This is where the GovTogether idea comes into play. Our goal is to give you, the average American, more of a say in the legislative process.

If you think this sounds like a good idea or even if you don’t, come over to http://www.GovTogether.com to learn more and to let us know what you think by voting.

http://www.GovTogether.com

NullOp says:

Corruption

ALL governments are corrupt at some level, period, case closed. Russian corruption just happens to be more widespread.

What is corruption? Stealing? For sure. Lying? Yes. Allowing bias into a decision b/c you have a monetary interest? Yes but this form of corruption is so common it’s often considered “Good Sense”. Really!

Jay (profile) says:

Confliction?

” The lesson from the story in Russia is that you have to actually trust the superiors to make that reasonable. Manning did not, perhaps for very good reasons. That’s not to say that the level of corruption in the US government is on par with the level of corruption in Russia.”

Didn’t Manning also go to his superiors but was rebuffed? So he leaked “Collateral Murder” along with the other files. I recall stories that you were saying he was actually told to keep his head down. He chose not to, feeling that such stories need to be told.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Cartel employees, former employees, and future employees control every aspect of the law. Their lobbyists suggest the laws, their politicians enact them, their lawyers argue them, and their judges rule on them.

The end result is laws that are ignored by the public, cause untold economic damage, and, in the case of the pharmaceutical laws, are directly responsible for thousands of needless deaths.

Is Russia that much worse? I mean, it’s kind of hard to top denying sick people vital medicine on the off-chance that it might make you a couple of bucks. That’s Saturday morning cartoon villainy right there. I can only assume everyone involved twirled their mustaches, sneered, and cackled during the decision-making process.

hegemon13 says:

Re:

Speaking of pharma corruption, Burzynski: The Movie is free to stream at http://www.burzynskimovie.com/ until June 20. Want an idea of the level of corruption of the US government? Look no further. It will leave you seething with rage at the abuses of our over-powerful federal bureaucracies, in this case, the FDA. They literally filed patents for cancer treatments already patented by Dr. Burzynski, while simultaneously trying to jail him for life for using those very treatments in an FDA-approved clinical trial. Why? Because it would upset the big-pharma profits from current cancer treatment.

FYI-Burzynski’s treatments are now under Phase III FDA review, and are the most effective treatments in the history of cancer research. He’s been trying to get them approved by the FDA since 1977, and the FDA refused to allow him to move forward. How many thousands, perhaps millions, have died because the government has suppressed these treatments for over 30 years?

So, yeah, I would say they’re just as bad as Russia.

hegemon13 says:

Re:

Democracy is not the solution. A democratically-elected dictator is still a dictator. The only long-term way to effectively protect the people is to place hard-and-fast limits on government power. That’s what our Constitution did. Unfortunately, those in power have completely overridden it to the point that the ideas of individual liberty, property rights, non-interventionist foreign policy, and free markets are considered “fringe” and “radical.”

America is no longer the land of the free, and free enterprise and the American Dream are truly dead. Now, the federal government subsidizes big business, stomps on small business, picks all winners and losers, regulates all trade and commerce, tells us what insurance products we must or must not buy, tells us what we can eat and what medical care we are allowed to pursue, determines what is acceptable for education, even in private schools, and on, and on, and on.

Viln (profile) says:

Come on...

“Is Russia that much worse?”

… YES.

Being critical of the US government is a good and necessary thing. Our government is very corrupt and in need of several sweeping overhauls, but come on. Even if you felt the players were every bit as dirty and immoral, the disparity in oversight and transparency keeps politicians honest in ways they certainly would not be otherwise.

As for Manning, it’s a slippery slope. Who are you to judge what is and isn’t appropriate for a member of the military to leak based on his/her own beliefs, and what begins to undermine our security and/or diplomatic status in the world? Is it wrong to keep friendly-fire incidents secret? Of course. But it’s not as though the chopper was inbound and he was going to save an innocent life. The diplomatic cables? Please! That had little or nothing to do with leaking corruption and everything to do with impressing his hacker idols on the interwebs and the charismatic albino counter-culture Jesus over at Wikileaks. For an officer to break trust and pass on classified data there ought to be a huge violation of law and/or elements of the military clearly acting against the interests of the United States. Exactly how easy and safe do you want to make it for 19-year-old geeks in a secure office to publicize whatever they choose based on their vast life experience judging social moral implications? If you got convicted of assault for a bar fight at 18, how’d you like the old lady in human resources to anonymously warn all the employees that report to you about your possible violent tendencies? Yeah, she signed agreements about confidentiality, but protect the whistleblower, right?

Of course the US is just as bad as Russia, so the army will murder 30 Afghan informants and blame it on Manning, and then the CIA will shank him in prison.

hegemon13 says:

Come on...

“Even if you felt the players were every bit as dirty and immoral, the disparity in oversight and transparency keeps politicians honest in ways they certainly would not be otherwise.”

What oversight? What transparency? I don’t see either one anywhere in the US.

“As for Manning, it’s a slippery slope. Who are you to judge what is and isn’t appropriate for a member of the military to leak based on his/her own beliefs, and what begins to undermine our security and/or diplomatic status in the world? Is it wrong to keep friendly-fire incidents secret?”

We’re not. That’s for the courts to decide. But keeping him in torturous conditions while refusing the courts the opportunity to make that determination is wrong, no matter what the accused crime.

“For an officer to break trust and pass on classified data there ought to be a huge violation of law and/or elements of the military clearly acting against the interests of the United States.”

Then treat it as a violation of the law, with all the rights and due process such an indictment implies.

“The diplomatic cables? Please! That had little or nothing to do with leaking corruption and everything to do with impressing his hacker idols on the interwebs and the charismatic albino counter-culture Jesus over at Wikileaks.”

Really? Pray tell, when did you gain the ability to read the mind of the leaker (who may or may not be Manning, since Manning has not been convicted in a court of law)?

“If you got convicted of assault for a bar fight at 18, how’d you like the old lady in human resources to anonymously warn all the employees that report to you about your possible violent tendencies? Yeah, she signed agreements about confidentiality, but protect the whistleblower, right?”

She would then be liable for CIVIL damages in a CIVIL lawsuit, as well as being subject to the disciplinary policies of her employer. Your example has absolutely nothing to due with leaking information about government corruption because those in authority above you shut you down. Hell, your example isn’t even whistleblowing at all.

Jimmy The Geek (profile) says:

You can be killed for whistle blowing in the USA too.

http://missinginiraq.blogspot.com/2006/03/getting-to-iraq-part-three-911.html

Kirk von Ackermann was the deputy chief of JFIC’s Asymmetric Threats Division. The watchdog organization that was tracking Al Queda before the 9/11 attack. They specifically and repeatedly warned about attacks on the Twin towers in the months leading up to 9/11.

Von Ackermann “disappeared” leaving a briefcase full of cash in his car. He was trying to inform congress that his agencies reports were not being given to the House Intelligence Committee that was investigating the intelligence failures leading up to 9/11.

RuckFussia says:

Re:

The US government does a better job of disguising it’s corruption as being “for the good of the people,” but in the end, that only makes it more insidious.

As a resident of a former Soviet state, I can tell you you are wrong. The US is a whole lot less bad than Russia when it comes to corruption.

For instance the proceeds of Russian gas sales by *state owned* Gazprom are siphoned off to a company in Switzerland with unknown owners. Ever wondered why Ukraine had to make their payments for Russian gas to a Swiss bank account?

In Russia there isn’t even a chance to win a court case against the government.

Yeah sure things are bad in the US, but at least you guys can all talk and complain about it without fearing for your life and safety. In Russia Mike Masnic would have been arrested already.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Russia's crime of the Century

That’s not what I have been hearing. Instead:

1. There are many cases of wrongdoing in what Wikileaks has released (and which is believed to have come from Manning leaks).

2. Additionally, Wikileaks supposedly took steps to have the US help it avoid releasing material that might result in real harm to individuals.

3. And US government representatives (at least Gates) have stated that the released information is believed not to have brought harm to others.

Jose_X (profile) says:

SEC takes high road to help whistle-blowers

This was possibly brought up here on techdirt (can’t remember), but http://www.whistleblower.org/press/press-release-archive/1134-sec-issues-win-win-whistleblower-rules is a recent ruling that went in favor of whistleblowers.

>> The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) yesterday formalized new rules implementing section 922 of last year’s Dodd?Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which compensates whistleblowers whose disclosures lead to successful law enforcement recovery of over one million dollars.

>> Government Accountability Project (GAP) Legal Director Tom Devine commented, “Yesterday the SEC took the high road to strengthen the role of whistleblowers against corporate fraud. It rejected demands by a big business ‘fraud lobby’ and House Republicans to twist whistleblowing into obstruction of justice.”

Snidely (profile) says:

Book waitng for a publisher

The tax scam story is so good, you could just slap John LeCarre on there as the author and everyone would think this is fiction – and it would sell millions of copies. Can I copyright the method and process for turning this story into a book? If I do, will the Russian woman who stole the money sue me because this is “her story”?

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