The Latest Attempt By The Obama Administration To Punish Whistleblowers

from the thomas-drake,-part-II dept

Earlier this year, we noted Daniel Ellsberg’s comments about how very few people realized that President Obama — a man who ran on a platform of transparency and who has repeatedly said he supports whistleblowing efforts — has been the most aggressive President ever in trying to punish whistleblowers. He pointed out that President Obama has brought more indictments for leaking info than all other presidents combined. And it’s resulted in absolutely ridiculous prosecutions like the Thomas Drake affair, which finally collapsed after it became clear that the feds were merely being vindictive against Drake for his whistleblowing activities, rather than finding any actual case of espionage.

Now we have the sequel to the Drake situation, with much higher stakes in some ways. Conor Friedersdorf has a story at The Atlantic, about the administration’s efforts to put reporter James Risen in jail. The full story is a worth a read, but it’s pretty ridiculous. Risen is famous for exposing the Bush administrations warrantless wiretapping regime, as well as a few other clearly illegal programs. He so infuriated the Bush administration that Dick Cheney wanted to put him in jail… but realized there was no legitimate way to do so.

Along comes President Barack Obama. Part of Obama’s campaign was actually built off of the information that Risen exposed:

You’d think that President Obama would take a different view. After all, he might not be in the White House today if the Bush Administration would’ve succeeded in keeping all its secrets: the torture, the detainee deaths, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the spying on Americans, the faulty pre-war intelligence in Iraq, and all the rest. One would expect Obama of all people to see the value in Risen’s reporting – the real ways in which he has helped to preserve civil liberties, American freedom, and accountability in government – and to weigh that against the national security implications of reporting in 2006 on a bungled CIA effort that happened way back in the year 2000.

You’d think. Instead, we get the opposite. The Obama administration has come down even harder on Risen than the Bush administration did, and is now threatening him with jail for not exposing his sources for some of his stories. This showdown may come soon, as a judge has indicated that she may require Risen to give up his sources. As Glenn Greenwald has noted, this whole thing seems to be a part of the “climate of fear” that was certainly present among the previous administration, but which has ratcheted up dramatically with the current administration. The key “fear” element is to make it known to both insiders who leak and reporters who publish those stories, that they could face jail time, even as the administration claims that it’s encouraging whistleblowing.

Ellsberg speculated that President Obama’s reason for being so much more aggressive on these issues was one of embarrassment . That is, the President recognizes that the federal government is doing all sorts of questionable stuff — the type of stuff he actively campaigned against — and is embarrassed by it. But since he (for whatever reason) is unable to put a stop to it, he’s trying to do the next best thing: which is threaten and or punish anyone who might reveal what’s being done. I’m not sure I buy that theory, but either way the situation is clearly troubling, and completely counter to the image that Obama has tried to portray of openness and transparency, and a willingness to respond directly to critics rather than punish them.

If you’re concerned about freedom of speech and freedom of the press, this story should concern you. If you believe in the importance of whistleblowers to keep governments accountable when they do things like break the clear letter and intent of the law, this story should concern you. Tragically, however, it’s not getting very much attention at all.

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Comments on “The Latest Attempt By The Obama Administration To Punish Whistleblowers”

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Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Why...

because that would increase the odds of them actually employing the one method of getting their point accross that’ll ever get anywhere: armed revolt.

the whole point in ‘representative democracy’, including the USA’s utter bastardization of the concept, is stability. based on a myth. to cease even pretending to believe the myth is to undermine the entire structure.


i don’t see that as a bad thing.

Hiro Nogano (profile) says:

Re: Obama

Actually, if you step back and look at what Obama has been doing, you will see a lot of similarities between his administration and Hitler’s. The fact that more people don’t see this scares me a great deal.

Before anyone goes postal on me, I’m not saying Obama is the next Hitler, but there are some definite parallels. Remember, Hitler was beloved by most of the world right up until he started that little fracas in Europe.

Nicedoggy says:

Zeropaid is covering in great detail on the hacks others are doing to networks.

LuLSec may be gone but, by the looks of it, those people are in for a world of hurt.

Some people are no longer waiting for things to correct themselves they are actually getting very actively on the front.

The Obama administration probably will try to crack on that.
The more governments try to hide, there more hopefully they get exposed.

out_of_the_blue says:

Already turning into sheer anti-Obama, as I tried to forestall...

Obama and Bush are both just front-men for the SAME criminal syndicate(s) — more than one, somewhat competing, but all are against we the people. Obama is covering up the CRIMES of the Bush administration — while committing new and in many ways worse crimes, such as bombing Libya into “democaracy” on “UN authority”. And radical war-monger John McCain is supporting Obama in that.

Oh, and NO, I didn’t in the least support Clinton. They’ve ALL definitely been utterly corrupt since Reagan, whom I believe was the last basically decent, though his vice-president GHW Bush, Rumsfeld, and others were doing their damndest to get the fascism in place.

DCX2 says:

Re: Already turning into sheer anti-Obama, as I tried to forestall...

Ha, Reagan? A decent president?

You realize this man and his administration lied to Congress about funding, training, and arming the mujahideen. You know…the group who later became al-Qaeda? They even named it after him – the Reagan Doctrine.

Yeah. Decent. Right.

Nicedoggy says:

Re: Already turning into sheer anti-Obama, as I tried to forestall...

We do agree on that point, Democrats or Republicans or any actual politician today in the U.S., is just more of the same.

What people need is to change how they do things, we voted and used to let them decide for us, now we can get together and actually make the laws and put the people in there to vote them into law.

The tech is here, the knowledge of how to do it is here and we even have some small blueprints like the Tea Party that elected people just for doing their bid however insane that is.

The good thing about voting on the issues is that you can put one new face there everytime and support that guy with outside consel from the populace, so the guy occupying the post is not important the support group is and it can be held accountable since they are not elected officials.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

mm. unfortunately, a Lack of government rapidly leads to might makes right, which…

ok, long story short, anarchy breads warlordism breeds either feudalism or dictatorship, which either shift into a more representative system (dictatorship faster than feudalism if it wants to survive) or breed revolt leading to a representative system.

(note that Any of these stages other than anarchy can be called a monarchy if the highest position is hereditary)

the earlier points in that path are Always more brutal and oppressive.

the main problem here is that the USA has a plutocratic oligarchy running the show. it is NEVER in their best interests to act in ways that are most beneficial to the nation as a whole, let alone the general public. it’s all about the short term profits for shareholders, getting the money for the next election… no long term planning at all and no understanding of what happens on the ground when actions are taken at the top level.

the main thing that enables a government to lose touch with that which is governed, and inevitably slide back into more oppressive methods, is bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy is the buffer between the government and reality. you want as little of it as possible while still allowing everything to function. it’s not the Only problem, but it goes a long way towards making everything else harder to fix.

Anonymous Coward says:


You’d think that President Obama would take a different view

You’d think you people would realize that this man is a corporate shill even more than some of the a/c’s on this board.

But nooooooooooooooo Bush was sooooooo bad, and he was a republican(right? thats what colbert said anyway) so lets elect the first democrat who coms along…holy shit hes black too?!?! Well hot damn dont even have a election just give that man the key to the white house!

at least under bush we werent a month away from government defaulting on our debt…

and about these whistleblowers? Trying to change the system from the inside is like staring into the abyss, eventually the abyss stares back.

If we really want our freedom back (make no mistake its all but gone) we may have to rip it from their greedy hands.

Anonymous Coward says:


All this news about whistleblowers is terrible. Obviously Obama has been doing pretty terrible things on a lot of fronts. But I don’t understand why people are bringing up Libya. Gaddafi was doing terrible things to his people and giving them some support was the only humane thing to do. If he hadn’t done anything, you haters would be bashing him for that too. I’m just glad he’s managed to help the people of Libya without getting us stuck in there like Iraq.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Seriously...

What’s more humane, saving your neighbors or saving anonymous Libyans? Which group is more likely to help you in time of need?

Let’s put this in perspective. Saudis have more disposable income than you. What are *they* doing for *their* neighbors?

I’d rather have the US assassinating Mexican drug lords than Libyans. College kids will come out in droves at the polls for you, and maybe staying home will be a viable option for more than a few illegal immigrants.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Seriously...

Dumbest post I have read today. I actually support the war in Iraq. I don’t care if you think it was based on lies or not, the middle east has to be changed. Libya? OK, let’s continue with that change. Oh, wait, lie or not Bush got Congress’ approval for Iraq. Libya? No, Obama still hasn’t got approval. As for stuck in Iraq, when you go in you stay until the job is done. Obama actually has kept us in Iraq longer than GW’s proposed withdrawal plan. Stop sucking Obama’s ass. We aren’t haters, you just don’t live in our reality. Not sure you live in any reality.

Joe Dirt says:

Re: Seriously...

Using your reasoning, the US should be bombing China, The Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and any number of other countries, including the U.S., for the horrible things that have been done to it’s people by their own government.

Why do so many think it’s the U.S. that must play world police?

puggugly says:

Re: Re: Seriously...

“Why do so many think it’s the U.S. that must play world police?”

Because everyone expects us to. Who is the first country that everyone comes crying to when they need help or just want a handout? Yep, the good old U.S. Who is the first country everyone points to asking to take the lead on a tough issue? Yep, the good old U.S.

jenningsthecat (profile) says:

1984, anyone?

“The key “fear” element is to make it known to both insiders who leak and reporters who publish those stories, that they could face jail time, even as the administration claims that it’s encouraging whistleblowing.”

Sounds rather like ‘Ministry of Truth’ stuff to me. Or maybe ‘Ministry of Love’? It’s so hard to tell these days – the US Government seems to have successfully implemented all four of Orwell’s ministries.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Support for....

When you just said “every other politician on Earth, says one thing and does another, duh?”, just who do you think will defy that stereotype and do a better job, and is actually ELECTABLE?

Obama is far from perfect, but *on the whole* is a much better match to my values than any Republican (and no, I’m not wasting my vote on Ron Paul).

Obama still gets my vote in 2012.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Support for....

his point about the impossibility of actually having a candidate presented as an option who is in anyway an improvement does stand though.

the US system is set up so as to make the votes worthless on every level. even ignoring everything else, the Elites choose who you get to choose between.

Stalin, i think it was, said something to the effect of ‘it matters not who the people vote for, it only matters that the vote was taken, and who counts the votes’ this is true enough, but the modern US is more like ‘it matters not who counts the votes, only who chooses who may be voted for’

… this is true of every representative democracy with a party system, actually, but the USA is a particularly bad example.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Support for....

“and no, I’m not wasting my vote on Ron Paul”

I would. I mean, it’s not like I would be wasting something with much value anyways. Once you start to realize that your vote is pretty much irrelevant, you realize that strategic voting is nonsensical. (Or any voting for that matter) So you might as well vote for the person you believe in.

RoadWreckRob (profile) says:

Angry sheeple = still sheeple

We are all still just sheeple because none of us, myself included, are really doing anything about the issues and problems with our government and politicians. We may be angry sheeple with very knowledgeable opinions and willing to voice them in these comments but we are still just sheeple. Soon, very soon I will start a movement for Americans that can no longer stand the government and are willing to do soemthing about it. There will be meetings once a month and we will pick who has to bring snacks for the next meeting by random drawing.

Jimr (profile) says:

Re: Angry sheeple = still sheeple

Can we call it the sheeple party?

As the Republican Party has the lumbering Elephant for a mascot and the Democratic Party has the jack ass (I mean donkey) for a mascot the Sheeple party could have a sheep!

I guess is there any way one can subscribe to you movement and will there also be juice served at your monthly meetings?

Jumpseat_Jonny says:

Re: Re: Re: "Angry Sheeple"

Your mirror is not my reality, Pedro. You saw what happened to Zerobama in November’s elections. Nancy Piglosi bought the farm. What’s changed since then? 9%+ unemployment still remains, millions have simply given up altogether, and of those coteries combined, very few will ever find truly remunerative work again. I know a number of “middle age farts” who haven’t worked in nearly three years, and have taken to food stamps and welfare — all under the Zerobama umbrella of “shovel-ready” hope(lessness).

Meanwhile, the vice presidential loony-tune cozied up to AFSCME yesterday, telling them during a speech, “If you vote for them (repubs), don’t come to me, Jack.” Take away Joe Biden’s (the FED’s) money-printing machine (on its last gasp, oh by the way) and spiteful Joe couldn’t buy a rag from a rummy laid out from drinking the Zerobama Koolaid…

Meek Barbarian (profile) says:

question from the politically inept

When you say that Obama “has been the most aggressive President ever in trying to punish whistleblowers”, how much of that is directly because of Obama vs underlings in government who are doing this stuff?

I know that a lot of people assume that anything done during a president’s term is the president’s doing, and am just curious if you’re following that same train of though or if there is info pointing that Obama himself is for this type of thing (as opposed to say, powerless/spineless to stop it). Not trying to defend him or say he isn’t doing it, I’m just honestly curious about it.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: question from the politically inept

He may not be personally selecting whom to prosecute but he does set the tone. And he could have ordered his people to send whistle-blowing cases up the chain of command before making a decision. Maybe not to himself, but to someone who shares his views.

What is very telling is his handling of the Bradley Manning issue which definitely did come to his attention. He just trusted that the DoD was handling things in an acceptable manner. Please note that he did not deny any of the facts that were reported. He could have said: “There were exaggerations. He is actually treated differently than has been reported.” What he said amounted to: “What you said is right. We’re torturing the poor guy. But I’m ok with it because the DoD says it’s ok.” No excuse for that.

TDR says:

Once again, I will point out that the US should adopt an earthly version of the prime directive – complete noninterference in the internal affairs of other nations – and immediately and unconditionally withdraw all troops and operatives from abroad. But then, US businesses wouldn’t like that because they benefit from the conflicts caused by our saber-wagging. Them and the banking cartels they answer to. So the cartels must be destroyed. Literally, if need be. Starting with the Federal Reserve, one of their biggest tools.

Jumpseat_Jonny says:


The raging, blathering idiot, “community organizer”, in the White House must be electorally removed in 2012. It’s that simple — anybody but Zerobama in 2012. With him gone (retired to the crackpot, talking head farm at MSNBC/CNN/ABC/CBS), so too his garbage: Joe Biden, the schmuck Attorney General, 39 unelected “czars”, the fruitcakes at the NLRB, FCC, and FDA etc. This isn’t the America I grew up with or even know anymore. It is a nightmare, and I weep for the loss of what was once our proud country.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Whistleblowing

You know. Even though he’s pretty bad, it could be worst. And a lot of the things you are complaining about are simply the logical continuation of what other presidents (dems and reps) have done in the past. It’s unlikely his successor will do much better. Think on this before calling for “anybody but Zerobama”.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Whistleblowing

problem: who are you going to elect?

if it’s a republican or democrat you’re just going to get the same crap again… just comes in a different coloured wrapper.

then there’s the unelected bureaucracy who actually run most of the government. (NZ partially solves this issue by requiring all ministers (department heads, i guess?) be chosen from the elected legislature… this, of course, works just fine… so long as your Head of State doesn’t abdicate all the responsibility of his office in favour of the ‘tradition’ of doing whatever the hell the head of government says… the head of government being chosen by the head of state by the ‘tradition’ of picking the leader of the largest party… condensed pet rant right there.)

Nicedoggy says:

Re: Re: Whistleblowing

That is why you don’t vote for people you should vote for issues and put people who would address those issues there.

The Tea Party has done that although a bit disorganized but it also happened in Japan(i.e. Koizumi Children).

This all points to what needs to be done, people need to organize, draft their own bills(i.e. take responsibility) and put some crappy dude there any dude will do as long as he has a contract saying that he will vote for those bills selected by the people and with some bad things happening if he doesn’t when he leave office.

We have the tools, we have the technology, why not make voting forums for creation of legislation(i.e. crowdsourced legislature)?

The military has done crowdsourcing to build veihcules and it came out pretty good, why not tap that pool of knowledge and start to change things?

If we don’t do it corporations will write the bills and send it to those morons in congress.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

I was about to write that maybe if Mr. Risen went to jail the people would realize how much they have been misled. But the sad truth is there are only a couple of people who will care. If anyone cares at all, Obama will just blame a bunch of people at the bottom of the ladder and nothing will happen. Maybe they should have screwed in the “The Buck Stops Here” sign on the desk. (Not that it stopped Truman from his own atrocities)

Thomas (profile) says:

Just imagine..

a whistleblower who internet posted a document showing which Congressmen received how much money (both clean and dirty) from which corporations and how they voted in legislation that benefitted said corporations!

The whistleblower would be sent to Gitmo then shot.

The government absolutely demands the right to punish anyone who reveals illegal government activities. It doen’t matter that the activities might be illegal; virtually all government agencies and Congressmen firmly believe that they are above any laws.

Bonnie says:


I think the president has done very little for this country since he’s been in office. His initial platform that got him into office was garbage, but I’d have to bet that most of the people that voted him in don’t even know what his platform was. Someone else said it perfectly, ‘why didn’t we just give him the keys to the White House, why have an election.” He’s in and making a bigger mess of things than Bush did. Can I get a 3 cheers for the president. So are you, not me for sure, putting him back in the White House, for another term?

Ed C. says:


I had absolutely no confidence that things would have been any different under McCain than under Bush. Other than the push for healthcare reform, things are more or less what I would have expected if McCain had been elected.

I think I’ll sit out the next election. Obama’s not getting my vote, but I don’t see any on the Rep side worth voting for either. Then again, what difference does it make who’s elected–the same corrupt government is still there.

MAC says:

I't all your fault....

I did not vote for him (obama) so I must assume that a lot of you, how should I say this, mis-informed or just plain stupid?, people did.
Reap what you have sown…
He kind of reminds me of r. m. nixon, he brought our boys home.
Yeah, after 4 years of blood in Vietnam and he did it; right before the election.
Gee Hussein, looks like you are going to do the same thing. Continue the war in Afghanistan, the expense, the deaths, etc… right up until November and then, all of a sudden, it’s over, we won and he brought the boys home…
History repeats itself.

Jumpseat_Jonny says:


Zerobama is a blithering imbecile; without his teleprompter, paid speechwriters, and NYC coterie of far-left, rabidly anti-Israel handlers, he wouldn’t know the difference between malaria and Monrovia.

The difference between Zerobama supporters and the Casey Anthony jury? Only 12 morons could vote for Casey.

Ju says:

Promeo: Ever see a druggie laid out on the sidewalk? Or zonked silly? It ain’t pretty, Beavis, but in urban America you can find them almost anywhere. Why should we encourage that through legalization? The drug of choice is already legal — alcohol. We need yet a panoply of others, still more deadly?

I read about a man in MA who, after hearing someone attempt to kick in his door after midnight, took out his revolver and blasted through the door in defense of life, limb, and property. When the police arrived, they found a dead druggie on the stoop who thought that he had gone to his own house (later determined), but couldn’t get in. Oh well…as for prostitution, “The Happy Hooker” only exists in fiction. To be a hooker, your odds of being killed (murdered) are more than two times that of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan! And we should “legalize” this? Get real, Neil. Masturbate yourself silly, and encourage women to seek more appealing “careers”…The “oldest profession” is a lethally violent, disease-ridden enterprise, and society must reasonably discourage apparently demented women from entering its hopeless abyss…

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