Excellent, infuriating story by Emily Wax at the Washington Post on the fate of govnment whistleblowers going back as far at the original Bush administration:
The former high-ranking National Security Agency analyst now sells iPhones.The top intelligence officer at the CIA lives in a motor home outside Yellowstone National Park and spends his days fly-fishing for trout. The FBI translator fled Washington for the West Coast.
This is what life looks like for some after revealing government secrets. Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing, according to those who did it. Jeopardizing national security, according to the government.
Heroes. Scofflaws. They’re all people who had to get on with their lives… What happens to people who make public things that the government wanted to keep secret?
Peter Van Buren, a veteran Foreign Service officer who blew the whistle on waste and mismanagement of the Iraq reconstruction program, most recently found himself working at a local arts and crafts store and learned a lot about “glitter and the American art of scrapbooking.”
“What happens when you are thrown out of the government and blacklisted is that you lose your security clearance and it’s very difficult to find a grown-up job in Washington,” said Van Buren, who lives in Falls Church and wrote the book “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.” “Then, you have to step down a few levels to find a place where they don’t care enough about your background to even look into why you washed up there.”
“Let’s sit in the back,” Thomas Drake says when choosing a booth at Parker’s Classic American Restaurant in downtown Bethesda during his lunch break from Apple. “I have a lot to say. I was a public servant. That’s a very high honor. It’s supposed to mean something.”
Drake was prosecuted under the World War I-era Espionage Act for mishandling national defense information.
His alleged crime: voicing concernsto superiors after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks about violations of Americans’ privacy by the nation’s largest intelligence organization (the NSA) and later, in frustration, speaking to a reporter about waste and fraud in the NSA intelligence program. (He says he revealed no classified information.)
He lost his $155,000-a-year job and pension, even though in 2011 the criminal case against him fell apart. The former top spokesman for the Justice Department, Matthew Miller, later said the case against Drake may have been an “ill-considered choice for prosecution.”…
Sibel Edmonds was once described by the American Civil Liberties Union as “the most gagged person in the history of the United States.” And she was a regular on Washington’s protest circuit.
She was fired from her work as a translator at the FBI for trying to expose security breaches and cover-ups that she thought presented a danger to U.S. security. Her allegations were supported and confirmed by the Justice Department’s inspector general office and bipartisan congressional investigations, but she was not offered her job back….
Not at all ill-conceived for the authoritarian bullies of the Security State. They wanted to show other whistleblowers that they would be persecuted, hounded out of their job and bankrupted fighting in court, even if the case against them failed.
That book sounds worth reading, actually.
Why do we even have whistleblower laws? Obviously they aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
It’s why I have to come down on Snowden’s side by default.
I read somewhere that the whistleblower laws don’t apply in the national security arena. So they’re not exactly even written on paper.
Villago Delenda Est
These guys did something that reminds me of an old Soviet era joke. Some guy is parading in front of the Kremlin with a sign that says “Brezhnev is an Idiot!”. He’s arrested for two things: demonstrating without a permit, and revealing a state secret.
The serious crime is making the Security State look bad.
The first comment posted after the linked article is very interesting:
Even assuming all that is true, the poster does not specify which branch of government they worked in. I suspect things may not work that way if you whistleblow on the NSA.
@Yatsuno: Yeah, you have to wonder about that. The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act just passed last November. Hope it provides better protection for people like those in the post.
But Glenn Greenwald is a jerk! Arrglebarble. Brazil!
Of course this was going on during the Bush Administration, the only difference is that everyone here gave a shit then, only to later discover that, in fact, they didn’t care that much. And obviously, Gandhi. Not to mention King and the Birmingham Jail. Of course, reading this story, one sees that, in fact, innocent people, people who stuck up for what they believed in, were railroaded by the state and have had their lives ruined because they spoke out. Chance they take, I guess. Better to shut up and hide.
The Moar You Know
You come at the king, you best not miss.
Villago Delenda Est
@The Moar You Know:
Just ask Jamie Lannister about that.
The Moar You Know
@Mandalay: All that is in fact exactly the case. The agency to which you report it to varies depending on where you work.
If you decide to share your story with someone other than the governmental investigative body that you’re supposed to report shenanigans to, well, enjoy your new career at McDonald’s. If you decide to haul the press into things, your new career may well involve asking your fellow prisoners if they’d “like fries with that”.
I think they may work (see post #7) if you are following the whistleblowing process, you don’t run to the media, and you are not whistleblowing about the wrong organizations (such as the NSA).
Whistleblow about waste or fraud in HUD?…no problem! Whistleblow about abuse in the NSA?…not so much.
I’m guessing that examples of successful whistleblowing (like examples of successful security hacking) might never be made known to the public. It’s inherently not the kind of thing that organizations want to discuss.
There is a movie about Sibel Edmonds called Kill the Messenger. It was interesting.
Gee. Break oath, report using the wrong channels, and you get your security clearance ganked.
@Mandalay: I’m guessing that examples of successful whistleblowing (like examples of successful security hacking) might never be made known to the public.
Exactly. On the other hand, the things they’ve whistleblown about might not have gotten fixed, either.
You don’t speak for “everyone here”. Quite a few commenters on this blog are pissed at the treatment of whistleblowers in recent years. We’re not teatards who went from zealous advocacy to foaming poutrage when a Dem took the White House.
I think it’s a fair question whether there are appropriate oversight mechanisms for the national security industry. If the problem is that being a whistleblower at the NSA requires either a) accomplishing nothing through channels or b) throwing away your career to get sunlight on the problem, I understand the dilemma.
And it’s not one that’s fixable. I really am ready to give up on the Republic – our institutional design has failed miserably.
Ted & Hellen
This will be a sparsely commented thread, as per usual when uncomfortable truths regarding the nearly five year old Obama administration are the topic up for consideration.
I call it The Silence of the Bots.
Howard Beale IV
Things aren’t much better in the corporate world. Since the turn of the century those who blew the whistle on malfeasance in that domain have been met with invective and job dismissals, even when corporations have so-called ‘whistleblower protection’ within the corporate hierarchy. The juxtaposition between the early 2000’s and today is enough to make one become a subsistence farmer in Alaska or become Amish.
It’s actually gotten whole lot worse-the US Government, in no small thanks to Stuxnet, is perhaps the first nation-state to engage in hostile activities. But should not be surprising, given that the USA has a very long reap sheet of overthrowing democratic countries.
I didn’t lose my job, but when I talked to the IG when I was in the Air Force, then next thing I knew my boss was yelling at me about it. They did finally fire the guy I was asking about, for parking violations
I’m still conflicted about Snowden. He didn’t reveal much that we didn’t know, and he revealed things about spying on other countries that he shouldn’t have revealed. But he seems to have had a positive effect. Reminds me of Forrest Gump
Howard Beale IV
@Botsplainer: DIAF. SRSLY.
@Mandalay: Do contractors swear an oath to their contractors, or to the USA? Last I head, only government employees are obliged to do so. If you’re a contractor, you have to pass a security screen. And as we have seen as of late, what entity does the vetting for contractors has some serious grovelling to do to TPTB..
Howard Beale IV
@Ted & Hellen: Since you’re an obvious troll, you can be safely ignored. You might want to visit the land of the Lizardoids and see how far that gets you.
Howard Beale IV
@Yatsuno: What it does prove is that if you see something, bypass the COC and go straight to Congress-at least the Speech and Debate clause is explicit.
And if Congress punts? Yer on your own.
The Moar You Know
@lojasmo: Um, they tell you that right up front when you apply.
Howard Beale IV
@lojasmo: What’s more important-your liberty or your security clearance?
The big difference, dear Anne, is of course that when one chooses to work in highly classified secret spying programs & organizations, you can surely expect to not work again in that same highly classified line of work.
How could the FBI or NSA seriously considering keeping someone on who is completely against their way of doing work and has proven that he / she cannot be trusted with secrets or sensitive information ??
This inability of Libs to not understand the difference is astonishing.
@Ted & Hellen: “Uncomfortable truths” ?? LOL! If someone chooses to work with the FBI or NSA, then divulge information to the press about those highly secretive organizations, I would most certainly expect that person to no longer receive clearance to work in that line again.
I don’t give a crap if the pres is Obama, Bush or Ron Paul for that matter.
You can’t have someone who leaks like a sieve to the press in that line of work.
@Jay B.: Oh, puhleeze, spare me. The Obama admin has paths for whistleblowers, but does not stand for leaks in highly sensitive classified lines of work in places like the NSA & FBI.
Anyone who goes through the process to receive those high levels of clearance understands what they are getting themselves into and the consequences of divulging certain things. That’s part of the reason people are paid so well in that line of work.
@Howard Beale IV: Do contractors swear an oath to their contractors, or to the USA? Last I head, only government employees are obliged to do so. If you’re a contractor, you have to pass a security screen.
People with security clearance have to swear an oath to the USA as part of the security clearance process.
My take on the Obama administration’s approach to leaks is that he really wants to crack down on any temptation for the career employees to act as a “shadow government” that feels free to undermine the administration because he’s not doing things their way. I think he sees the potential for established figures within the government — particularly those embedded by the Bush administration from appointee positions — to undermine his initiatives and cause controversy via selective leaks about his policymaking decisions in various government agencies. He wants to establish his own authority and control without getting pushback from the bureaucracy.
This is actually a fairly big problem any executive faces. It’s the main reason why Morsi’s government collapsed– basically the entire Egyptian civil service refused to follow his orders.
That place ‘a few levels down’ is where the rest of us live, asshole.
And no, Peter, “we” didn’t mean well at all, if by “we” you mean the war criminals you worked for.
I’ve got exactly zero sympathy for someone this lacking in self-awareness. Oh, boo hoo, you got exiled from the Village and lack any useful skills so you’re stuck working retail now? Fuck you.
God damn hut that’s the funniest fucking thing I’ve seen here in a while.
“Oh Lawd, and mercy me. I don’t care who the Prez is right now.”
The fuck you don’t.
Yes. I am sure that is it.
Although at the same time, my knee-jerk reaction tends to be to favor the civil service above the political authorities over them. The same phenomenon you’re describing is also the only form of pushback against things like the Bush administration’s politicization of things ranging from the DOJ Civil Rights Division to the CIA.
Please don’t forget about Rosa Parks and by some bizarre twist something else about Paul Revere.
No, I don’t know what that means either but you may be forced to defend it at some point.
@Howard Beale IV: Are there commenters who sneak up on you and plant claymore mines on your property if you ignore them?
No, of course not. You were mightily pissed a few years ago and now you’re still pissed off. The only difference is that you used to be pissed about the president supporting the action and now you’re pissed that it has been revealed the president supports the action revealed.
@Corner Stone: That’s right, sucker. It makes no difference who the president is, a-hole. If you gonna work for the FBI or NSA and you reveal shit to the press, u had better damn well be prepared to lose that clearance that job.
@Corner Stone: Wait, wait … what was the “action revealed” again? That the FBI & NSA are spying? Wow, astonishing. IMPEACH BUSH!
BTW, the outrage during the W years was on warrant-less wiretapping, not what is being discussed here.
When Bush, Jr. was President was the time to fight this change with regards to the intersection of technology*, government and privacy.
When the USA PATRIOT Acts were passed that was the time to fight.
Think about it like the fight against universal healthcare, with regards to business interests. The biggest push back against Hillarycare and Obamacare from businesses was before the laws went into effect, but now that Obamacare is law, businesses are adjusting to the new order of things.
The biggest time to fight against the expansion of the security state was before it happened.
Now we adjust with regards to the new reality. And one reason people aren’t freaking out about the security state, even with Snowden’s leaks, is that it isn’t having a direct material impact on most people’s day-to-day lives.
*With regards to technology, the internet, GPS, social media, etc. has totally rewritten what we can expect with regards to our privacy expectations.
In the “good old days’, if someone found your driver’s license, unless they were familiar with the area you lived the chances of them coming to your front door was slim because to find a random street on a city map was tedious work. Mapquest changed that.
Now with geotagging pictures on cellphones a person could inadvertently give away his or home address and thanks to Google maps, we could get a picture of what their house and neighborhood look like. Hell, a Google search of your name can pretty damn easily turn up tons of information about you like address, relatives, etc. For a few dollars more, background check companies can trudge up more information about someone, so you can make sure the guy you met at E-Harmony isn’t a rapist.
With so much of our information already in the public domain and with private companies guzzling data about our personal habits, I think the real test of intrusiveness is not the acquisition of the data but what is done with that data. We live in an era, where data acquisition is the normal state of things.
The test for government abuse is, is government using the new found technological marvels we have to crush freedom of speech, making arrests without a warrant or in other ways materially harming our inalienable freedoms.
@Anton Sirius: Oh, boo hoo, you got exiled from the Village and lack any useful skills so you’re stuck working retail now? Fuck you.
I do have to say that it is pretty impressive the degree to which the skills that are valuable for a lot of jobs in DC don’t have much currency outside the beltway and the military industrial complex.
Plenty of Hill Staffers I know manage to rise up to pretty good positions, but the instant they move out of DC end up with comparatively few opportunities. And yet while they’re in DC will feel pretty important.
@Corner Stone: I’m not defending a lot of these moves by Obama to retaliate disproportionately against whistleblowers and leakers. I am only offering an explanation for why. Ironically it is Obama who is the one “running the government like a business”– if you are caught speaking to the press without authorization and especially if what you say conflicts with the corporate line, you get fired. Adding in the issue of classified information then creates the threat of legal jeopardy.
Let’s remember that there are a boatload of “grown up jobs” in Washington, both inside and outside the government/contractor swamp, that don’t require a clearance. Although it doesn’t justify what has been done to him, that guy sounds like a self-important twerp.
@mk3872: Oh, so the general warrant doesn’t count then? Thanks Lord mk3872 of the British Crown.
Shut the fuck up you apologist motherfucker.
The Raven on the Hill
How ’bout we start working for the repeal of the Espionage Act? It’s one of the lynchpins of US security state and a perfectly hideous piece of lawmaking, used by Wilson to imprison his opponents for opposing US entry into World War I.
Then we can move on to building bridges to heaven. Oh, wait, I can fly there…
To give up a good paying job for the sake of some high-minded democratic principles, I suppose you would have to be a narcissistic, self-absorbed and annoying jerk.