Intelligence Community Villifies Whistleblowers Like Snowden, While Barely Mentioning Actual Spies

from the which-one-is-more-of-a-threat dept

There have been plenty of efforts by defenders of the intelligence community (including the Department of Justice) to publicly destroy the reputations of various whistleblowers, from Thomas Drake to John Kiriakou to Chelsea Manning to Ed Snowden. All of them were whistleblowers, with most leaking important information to the press. Yet they were all charged as spies under the Espionage Act, and the intelligence community and its defenders went out of their way to claim that they were the equivalent of the worst spies around, putting national security in danger, and often questioning if they were really working for foreign powers. Yet, as (former FBI agent, now defender of civil liberties) Mike German points out, it's odd how the very same people seem noticeably quiet concerning actual spies who handed sensitive information directly into the hands of adversarial governments.

So how come most people have never heard of Jeff Delisle? He is, after all, an admitted Russian spy who compromised US signals intelligence for almost five years before his arrest in 2012 and whose dismissal from the Canadian military was revealed in court last week.

Don’t blame Canada; American officials have been strangely silent on the matter. As part of his duties as an analyst assigned to an “intelligence fusion centre”, Delisle had access to a top-secret US Defense Intelligence Agency database – part of the intelligence-sharing arrangement among the so-called “Five Eyes”, the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. He volunteered his services to Russian intelligence as an embassy walk-in, then used thumb drives to steal classified material that he disseminated to his spymasters through a shared email account. He was prosecuted in Canada, and sentenced to 20 years in prison – 15 fewer than Manning received.

As German notes, Delisle isn't a one-off situation either.
Delisle isn’t the only spy you never heard of. Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Montes spied for Cuba for 17 years before her 2001 arrest. Former US Marine Leandro Aragoncillo spied on behalf of the Philippines for five years while serving as an aide to Vice President Cheney and then an FBI analyst, before his 2005 arrest.
But we don't really hear about those folks. And, as German points out, they actually caused a lot more damage. And that leads one to the inevitable conclusion. The anger about Snowden and the others has little to do with national security. It's much more about the uncomfortable reality that these whistleblowers are shining a very bright spotlight on questionable policies that were approved of and supported by these politicians:

If the US government’s crusade against Snowden reflected a genuine concern about leaks that do serious harm to the our nation’s security – rather than a public relations response to disclosures about controversial surveillance activities – one would expect to hear the names Delisle, Montes and Aragoncillo brought into the discussion as well. And often.

When spies reveal information to foreign powers, however, there are no angry tirades in Congress no vote-grabbing tactics that might draw public attention to this counter-intelligence failure. The silence helps them avoid uncomfortable questions about whether such broad information-sharing was really in our national security interests, or whether our intelligence agencies were negligent.

I think to some extent it goes further. Defenders of the intelligence community understand spies who sell out to other countries. It's part of the espionage game. Whistleblowers, however, they don't understand at all. It makes them uncomfortable in a very different sense. They're used to keeping secrets. The idea of "going public" with something goes against basically their entire life's work. And, even worse, whistleblowers reflect directly back on them in a way that spies selling out to other countries don't. Spies who give information to foreign governments aren't making any kind of comment on those who didn't do that. Whistleblowers, on the other hand, are by default highlighting exactly what the rest of the intelligence community has been doing and the fact that no one else was willing to step up and call out obvious wrongs.

And that's why they freak out so badly when true whistleblowers come along and treat them worse than actual spies and double agents.

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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 13 Mar 2014 @ 7:39am

    Actual spies don't generate that much hype. They are expected. And the public won't be swayed into questioning what practices were used. Whistleblowers on the other hand... Often call attention to wrongdoing so there is a visceral need to discredit them as much as possible. One thing is certain, if there is noise being made over something (that is not positive propaganda of the Govt) then you should take everything with a pound of salt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jay (profile), 13 Mar 2014 @ 8:08am

    Same difference...

    So basically, out intelligence community is just like the old school reporters they allow to interview them. Both can't understand the public and are used to the old way of doing things. That was secrecy with no light to show for it. But now, the new comers are bringing new rules and they can't figure it out.

    Things like Reddit and social media scare them so they try to control it.

    The parallels here are immersing. It might explain why old media is keeping in step with just such politicians.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2014 @ 9:12am

    It's simple really...

    Real spies make them look bad. Whistle blowers are easy punching bags.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      crade (profile), 13 Mar 2014 @ 9:50am

      Re: It's simple really...

      It's more like they don't need to vilify real spies, effort spent manipulating people's opinion to make them hate actual traitors is wasted.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2014 @ 10:06am

    They can often keep real spying quiet, but whisleblowers are very public. The amount of noise mad over each is proportional to the damage done to the public image of the spy agencies, and not the actual damage to the country.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2014 @ 2:06pm

    Let's face it! Intelligence agencies NEED actual spies to justify their existence. Yes, they need to be aware of them and track them so we know what they're doing. Only occasionally do real spies get prosecuted.

    Whistleblowers are an unknown, uncontrolled threat to the status quo, by making the information public, which must be stomped on immediately.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2014 @ 2:48pm

    Spy's aren't a threat to the government's public perception whereas whistle blowing is. and that information may embarrass a government is no reason to keep it secret. The fact that they aren't too concerned about spying suggests that this information is not a national security threat if revealed to the enemy and thus suggests that it's also not that big a national security threat if revealed to the public as well. But it does embarrass the government. So both of these facts suggest that this information is only being kept secret because it embarrasses the government. and that's exactly the kind of information that should not be kept secret.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 13 Mar 2014 @ 5:13pm

    Overheard In The Corridors Of Power

    “Bad news, sir! Security on the SX-69 project has been compromised.”

    “Good heavens! How bad is it?”

    “Well, it turns out we had a mole on the research team, passing secrets to the other side.”

    “Thank God for that! I thought it was some kind of whistleblower making the information public!”

    “Oh, no chance of that, sir. Even the other side would never stoop that low.”

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    FM Hilton, 13 Mar 2014 @ 6:31pm

    Speaking of spies..

    Oh, we have no moral standing when it comes to admitted real spies.

    We've a fair number of them in the last 3 decades:

    List of American spies

    Notice that these were our guys, doing it mostly for money.

    Across all the services: the CIA,NSA, FBI, and the armed forces.

    We shouldn't get the two words "spies" and 'whistleblowers' mixed up.

    One does irreparable and long-lasting damage to our country, including sometimes harming people directly, and the other seeks to shed light into the illegal activities of corrupt and renegade government agencies.

    Seems to me the NSA and the CIA should shut up before someone discovers they didn't even know they had moles in their midst and never caught them until late in their careers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2014 @ 8:04pm

    Fear nothing more than an honest man

    Well of course they hate whistleblowers more than spies. Spies are crooked and they can always bribe them enough and give amnesty to their families that they'll become a double agent for you. Or even if you recognize them but don't do anything to get rid of them and instead decide to feed them complete bullshit.

    However whistleblowers, they have principals. They want to change the world for the better. That scares the shit out of them. You can only "buy" them by actually doing something about internal reporting. That is a price they find too high to pay.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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