Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Silencing Whistle Blowers: Someone Would Have Talked!

From WhoWhatWhy:
We’re constantly told that no such thing could happen in the good ole USA (certainly not in the deaths of JFK, RFK, MLK, for example), if for no other reason than that it is impossible to keep such plots secret.
Or, in the common parlance: “Someone would have talked.”
The logic goes: since no one has come forward to describe their role in such plots, therefore no plot has existed.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
 The article linked talks about former CIA officer John Kiriakou's release of information (including names of CIA operatives) to reporters and, allegedly, telling the CIA that when his book was going to be published it would contain some "fictionalized" things that were not, in fact, fictionalized. In the book he discusses the waterboarding of a suspect as well as other CIA operations.

Is this true? Is the government silencing critics? Let's look at another case: From Prison Planet:
When Tom Vanden Brook and his editor Ray Locker researched a story about the astronomical sums being spent by military propaganda campaigns, one of their first stops was the Pentagon.
Published in February, their story outlines a massive propaganda effort costing U.S. taxpayers hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars a year that produced dubious returns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The investigation prompted a federal investigation into one of the “information operations” contractors that had $4 million in unpaid federal taxes and liens against them.
Maybe the team expected that, but what Vanden Brook and Locker did not expect was to be personally attacked online by a sophisticated team of Internet assailants.
In fact, they were: someone went after them creating fake Twitter and Facebook accounts to try to discredit them. They used proxy servers and other techniques to maintain anonymity. The work may not have been scary-super-genius level but it was the work of a "determined detractor" and someone with experience.

So Are Whistle Blowers Being Silenced?
One can make a case that the government is doing all kinds of things--like assassinating Andrew Breitbart--or plotting to use massive race riots to disrupt elections--and people aren't coming forwards because of stuff like the above. Indeed, if you believe that this sort of thing is happening all the time then something must explain the lack of leaks. So let's take a look.

The Obama Administration Burned The NSA Whistle Blower
Thomas Drake blew the whistle on an NSA program that was hugely expensive, potentially violated civil rights, and was made obsolete by a cheaper piece of software that was already running safely and legally. The Obama administration prosecuted him--but their case fell apart. He got a minimal sentence and now works at an Apple store. He spent over 100k in legal fees and lost his retirement. Yes, he didn't go to jail--but yes: he's a cautionary tale for any would-be whistle blower.

The Obama Administration STILL Hasn't Answered For Operation Fast and Furious
This isn't exactly a whistle-blower operation but apparently the Obama administration sold guns to Mexican cartels which were used to kill US Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. This is all part of US Attorney General Eric Holder's plan to brainwash the American public against guns! Despite heavy (conservative) media coverage ... they might get away with this. If the US government can get away with gun-running and survive congressional investigation ... what can't it cover up?

Bradley Manning Is Being Tortured
Bradley Manning, the Wikileaks leaker, was subjected to some very harsh and (in my opinion) needlessly cruel conditions in captivity. He was stripped to his underwear, had his prescription glasses confiscated, and has been harassed by marine guards. He has been held in prolonged solitary--a form of psychological torture. Would this deter any potential leaker? You bet.

What's Going On?
First things first: let's establish that nothing in the above list of grievances or conspiracies involves anyone getting politically murdered. It doesn't involve fixing a national election, faking a presidential birth certificate, or killing Vince Foster. In these cases the wrong-doing is:

  1. Waterboarding subjects. But the actual charges are around releasing CIA names and publishing real, factual information on things like the "magic box" (a device used to track cell phones in Pakistan) when the CIA was told those details would be fictionalized.
  2. Showing that the government did a shitty job with propaganda efforts in Afghanistan. If we take the above at face value we are meant to believe that the government had its propaganda operation exposed and retaliated with an intimidation campaign that involved fake Twitter accounts. Unsettling and unsavory--but not quite the Heart Attack gun they used to kill Breitbart.
  3. Waste of Taxpayers Money. The heart of the allegations in the Drake case is that the NSA spent money badly, enriched NSA contractors (who were ex-NSA) and -- oh yeah -- could've violated civil liberties. The last is what we, as Americans, probably care most about (although we're not happy about the NSA wasting money either) but it isn't the heart of the charges. The heart of the charges are about financial shenanigans.
  4. Questionably legal methods to bag major illegal firearms dealers. The US Border agent getting killed is a side-effect. The stuff about brainwashing is conspiracy theory (the number of common Americans who know about this is so small that one might wonder how any brainwashing could be posited in the first place).
  5. All kinds of foreign faux-pas. The payload of the Wiki-Leaks leaks made America look snarky and nasty but there was nothing exactly scandalous. It noted previously unremarked civilian deaths, the greater-than-thought use of special forces, our real feelings about Pakistan, and so on.
Secondly, in most of these cases there are circumstances that really need to be considered when taking the whole thing in context. The above descriptions, in most cases, leave out 
  1. Kiriakou published a book, did talk-show circuits, and so on. He did 'clear' his book with the CIA and then didn't do what he agreed to. This was noted in an email that "no one would go through years of cable traffic to see if it's true." If you are going to blow the whistle this may not be the best way to do it.
  2. The shadowy agency that was prosecuting the two reporters? We'll never know--the US Government covers its tracks well. Except, oh wait--we do know. It's these guys: Leonie Communications. Gawker totally nailed them. It's a brother and sister run outfit that are the guys who bilked the US Government. They're hugely in debt to the IRS. They do know their way around the Internet though. Go figure.
  3. It should be noted that Drake went to Congress first (which is proper-channels and is protected), then the DoD Inspector General, and then finally ... to a reporter. This is where he got hammered (although he did not release classified data to the reporter--which is why he did not do jail time). While it's not a good story, the take-away might be that if Congress doesn't care and the DoD Inspector General doesn't care, maybe he shouldn't have cared. However, I do find this more legitimate as a complaint (unlike the first two).
  4. For all the heat around Operation Fast and Furious, it seems to be at least partly political in nature. Gunwalker operations had occurred under Bush's watch in 2006 and 2007 and they were not subjects of Congressional scandal.
  5. While the treatment of Manning was not, in my opinion, proper, last year he was moved to Leavenworth which, apparently, "greatly improved his conditions." What he did was certainly ill-advised and personally destructive--but I think that it is hard to expect another outcome when releasing reams of material to an extra-national source.

What Does It Mean?
Conflating what happens organizationally when you leak classified data to external sources violating the protections set up to protect whistleblowers (Drake, Manning) with what happens when you either lie directly to the CIA about what you're going to print or getting cyber-bullied by civilian contractors who you made look bad confuses the point so badly that it's hard to group these without a lot of hand-waving.

leonie industries - Meet the Pentagon Contractor That Ran a Disinformation Campaign Against Two USA Today Reporters
Where are the Leonine hit squads!?

The problem with political assassinations and other wet-work style or class hypothetical machinations is that once you undertake them you have the armed-pilot problem.

One of the "obvious" responses to terrorism on airlines is to arm pilots. It makes sense, no? It's hard to take over a plane if the pilot can shoot back--and if the pilot is a terrorist you're pretty much done anyway, yes? (That one recent case notwithstanding). So it's a no-brainer.

The problem with arming pilots is the same as arming prison guards: yes, they also would like to have guns--but once you put a gun into the equation the terrain changes. The question for terrorists (or would-be escapee prisoners) is no longer "How do I take over the plane without a weapon ... that's hard ...?" it becomes "How do I get the gun?" Which is considerably easier.

That's why armed Air Marshalls never announce themselves--so people who want to harm the plane don't know where to go first.

If you start conducting political assassinations and are part of a government where one half hates the other half then the play stops being "How do I influence these fucking independents?" and becomes "How do I expose the Obama administration for forging his birth certificate and murdering Andrew?" At that point the playing field is even (the Republicans are also a rich, powerful, corporate-backed conspiracy machine)--and you have a weak-point.

While the Republicans are trying to use Fast and Furious to hurt the administration, this is far more of an optics (it looks bad) and procedural (could they really be permitted to do that?) issue rather than a clear-cut moral one (which is what government sanctioned murder would be). If mainstream Republicans really thought the Clintons had murdered Vince Foster they wouldn't have wasted their breath hitting him on wimpy philandering charges--they'd have gone for the throat. They didn't think that--because they are not insane.

This is the same for 9/11 Truthers. If the Democrats thought there was a chance Bush planned the event? They'd just have to prove that and the hated Bush administration would be Mission Accomplished out of office. This would be irresistible to political operators at all levels of government (we can see that with Arizona's Sheriff Joe trying lamely to forensic Obama's birth certificate--and apparently not doing 20 minutes of Google research on Photoshop layers and scanners with OCR turned on).

What Do I Think?
The coroner's report is out: Andrew Breitbart died of heart failure. Apparently the lefty-bet was cocaine but nothing like that was found in his system. This will not convince people, of course, who have already made up their minds fact-free--but it's consistent with what I believe to be true about the world.

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