These are truly must-see presentations by some of America’s most courageous patriots and civil libertarians. This presentation on U.S. Whistleblowers Being Targeted by the Secret Surveillance State is essential reading/viewing. Compiled by Firedoglake.com, It features Jesselyn Radack, who blew the whistle on ethics violations in the case of John Walker Lindh when she was an ethics adviser under Attorney General John Ashcroft, after it became clear the government was brazenly lying and suppressing information about torture and the violation of the basic rights of its prisoners.
The pivotal moment for her was when she realized the Justice Department was concealing work on the case… “My heart sank,” Radack states. “I literally felt sick. They were seeking the death penalty for this person and the relevant evidence had not made it to the court, evidence that would have a bearing on whether or not his confession would be admissible against him.”
She was eventually able to recover the missing emails. Under the Whistleblower Protection Act, which ultimately gave her no protection, she handed over evidence of misconduct and wrongdoing to Newsweek. She had no idea what would happen as the ”full force of the entire Executive Branch of the United States government” was unleashed.
As Radack states…
“The war on terrorism should not be a war on ethics, integrity, technology and the rule of law. Stopping terrorism should not include terrorizing whistleblowers and truth tellers who raise concern when the government cuts corners to electronically surveill, torture and assassinate its own people. And it is not okay for a president to grant himself the power to play prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner of anyone on the entire fucking planet.”
Thomas Drake, who blew the whistle on government misconduct and illegalities at the National Security Agency, speaks after Radack and describes what it was like to see the rise of the Surveillance State after the September 11th attacks. He compares the rise to the Stasi secret police in East Germany, which operated under the motto, “To know everything.”
Continuing with the report by Kevin Gosztola at Firedoglake…
In the Cold War, everything was suspect. “Today in the post Cold War era,” Drake states, “I do find myself asking myself and others, how can an open and vibrant democracy exist next to a secret security state?”
Drake faced the prospect early that he could be indicted and sentenced to prison for life if he did not cooperate. He was charged under the Espionage Act, as part of an escalating government trend to turn whistleblowers and truth tellers into criminals.
In the few days after 9/11, “I had people coming to me in private extremely concerned saying, Tom, why are they taking equipment that we normally use to monitor foreign nations and we’re now redirecting it against our own people?” he recounts. He learned the secret surveillance program was authorized by the White House and, as President Richard Nixon said, “If the President says it’s okay, it’s legal”…
Drake concludes, “Besides fearing for the future of the United States I do fear the creation of a universal wiretap record of a person’s life—the ability to have vast access to databases and on the fly be able to profile anybody at anytime anywhere.”
Finally, there is an eye-opening report from William Binney, a former NSA technical director who was raided and subject to investigation like Thomas Drake. He retired because he could no longer tolerate the corruption between employees and private contractors, the incestuous relationship where security was being traded for money.
Binney learned about a program called Stellar Wind, where the NSA was spying on Americans. He knew it was pointless to go to heads of the NSA because he knew the people running it. He went to the House Intelligence Committee because they were supposed to, under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other intelligence laws, monitor any spying on citizens. He told them and all they did is send someone to talk to then-NSA director Michael Hayden. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss did nothing. Nancy Pelosi, a ranking member of the Committee, did nothing about violations being committed because she was “co-opted into the program” and agreed not to push for Bush’s impeachment if she was kept informed of covert programs.
Binney says, “AT&T was providing 320 million records a day of US citizens talking to other US citizens.” And, “You can quickly build a communities on virtually everybody in the country.” There were no limits. This extended to all the people of the world.
What is most disturbing to me is Binney’s description of how there is so much money to be personally made by directors and operatives within the NSA, who use their positions to leverage notable sums for personal gain. In essence, feeding the infrastructure of surveillance in order to feed their own personal well-being, and to hell with the consequences to others, or even more importantly, to the very fabric of a democratically-accountable civil society. These people are by most definable accounts, traitors.
Kevin Gosztola also reports on this presentation by Tor software developer and WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Appelbaum on Resisting the Surveillance State. This is another must read/watch presentation, in which Applebaum provides first hand experience in having one’s life completely violated by the secret surveillance state. Yet, he also provides a call to hope and clarity in how to confront and overcome the state of fear, paralysis and paranoia that can debilitate one’s ability to live a fulfilled life of meaning and purpose.
“Despite the fact that there are these oppressive systems of control and despite the fact that we do now live in a surveillance state,” it may still be possible to “resist the surveillance state and to turn things around if we wish. I think that there may come when that is not true. I don’t believe that time has arrived.”
For attendees (who likely are people who mostly work with technology), he asserts that there are “simple things” one can do to decide if working on something is oppressive or not.
“Ask if you are working on a system that helps to control others or if you’re working on system that helps to enable others to have control over their own lives,” Appelbaum states. For example, “if you are working on deep packet inspection that will be deployed on people who do not have a say in it, you are probably working for the oppressor.” He adds one can make a choice. “It is possible to make a living making free software for freedom instead of closed-source proprietary malware for cops.”
A point of particular note is when Applebaum describes NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander as probably the “most powerful man in the world,” one who controls the intelligence structure of the NSA. Detailing the kind of power this gives him, a sort of Hoover-esque surveillance capability on massive steroids with global reach, is not the kind of thing that should inspire comfort among just about anyone outside the inner circles of the ruling elites (and even they’re not immune. Just ask Gen. David Patraeus about that).
He also talks about how the secret police and surveillance agencies are actually changing our ability to govern ourselves freely. They do it in a way that is not obvious, and is seemingly impossible to be able to resist. But when we build free and open source software and hardware (the kind of work that is often supported by organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, we are enabling people to be free in ways they were previously not. “Literally, people who are writing free software are granting liberties.”
Read/Watch Applebaum’s presentation Here.
Another essential piece of journalism comes from the ever-insightful Tom Engelhardt, who provides this inside look at our Supersizing Secrecy, and the increasing visibility of the invisible government of covert power, which has breached all sorts of boundaries in a nation once considered to operate as a democratic republic.
In the past, American presidents pursued “plausible deniability” when it came to assassination plots like those against Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, and Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem. Now, assassination is clearly considered a semi-public part of the presidential job, codified , bureaucratized, and regulated (though only within the White House), and remarkably public. All of this has become part of the visible world (or at least a giant publicity operation in it). No need today for a Wise or Ross to tell us this. Ever since President Ronald Reagan’s CIA-run Central American Contra wars of the 1980s, the definition of “covert” has changed. It no longer means hidden from sight, but beyond accountability.
It is now a polite way of saying to the American people: [your government is] not yours. Yes, you can know about it; you can feel free to praise it; but you have nothing to do with it, no say over it.
In the 48 years since their pioneering book was published, Wise and Ross’s invisible government has triumphed over the visible one. It has become the go-to option in this country. In certain ways, it is also becoming the most visible and important part of that government, a vast edifice of surveilling, storing, spying, and killing that gives us what we now call “security,” leaves us in terror of the world, never stops growing, and is ever freer to collect information on you to use as it wishes.
With the passage of 48 years, it’s so much clearer that, impressive as Wise and Ross were, their quest was quixotic. Bring the “secret power” under control? Make it accountable? Dream on — but be careful, one of these days even your dreams may be on file.
Engelhardt’s warnings about even one’s dreams being put on file is not out of the bounds of reason, when one considers how the security state is completing work on its massive data compiling center in Bluffdale, Utah, under the auspices of the Orwellian Operation Stellar Wind program, which puts anything the old German Stasi could have wished for to shame.
Binney, whose work at the NSA was perverted into this program, speaks on this and a number of other highly disconcerting issues in his presentation in this video. It would behoove all Americans who care in the slightest for their personal freedom and civic well-being to watch and heed Binney, Drake, Raddick and Applebaum’s words here.
UPDATE: And on a very related note, JFK’s speech of April the 27th, 1961, to the American Newspaper Publishers Association at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, on how secrecy corrodes a democratic society is very eye (and ear) opening, and more relevant today than ever.
The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it.
You can read the full transcript of the speech Here.