By Norman Solomon
Midway through the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, one comment stands out. “A criminal case,” defense attorney Edward MacMahon told the jury at the outset, “is not a place where the CIA goes to get its reputation back.” But that’s where the CIA went with this trial in its first week — sending to the witness stand a procession of officials who attested to the agency’s virtues and fervently decried anyone who might provide a journalist with classified information.
The CIA’s reputation certainly needs a lift. It has rolled downhill at an accelerating pace in the dozen years since telling President George W. Bush what he wanted the nation to hear about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. That huge bloody blot on the agency’s record has not healed since then, inflamed by such matters as drone strikes, rendition of prisoners to torture-happy regimes and resolute protection of its own torturers.
CIA sensibilities about absolution and prosecution are reflected in the fact that a former head of the CIA’s clandestine service, Jose Rodriguez Jr., suffered no penalty for destroying numerous videotapes of torture interrogations by the agency — which knew from the start that the torture was illegal.
But in the courtroom, day after day, with patriotic piety, CIA witnesses — most of them screened from public view to keep their identities secret — have testified to their reverence for legality.
In the process, the CIA is airing soiled threads of its dirty laundry as never before in open court. The agency seems virtually obsessed with trying to refute the negative portrayal of Operation Merlin — the CIA’s effort 15 years ago to provide a flawed nuclear weapon design to Iran — in James Risen’s 2006 book State of War.
January 20, 2015 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
One of the grossest hypocrisies of Washington officialdom is the willingness to denounce leaks of some classified information and to countenance leaks of other classified information. But the gap between indignant pretense and standard practice has widened into a chasm in recent years, with Barack Obama’s administration prosecuting leakers in record numbers while protecting its own. Selective prosecution of leaks in the name of national security has never been more extreme.
This duplicity is on full display as the long-delayed trial of former Central Intelligence Agency officer Jeffrey Sterling, charged with seven counts under the Espionage Act and three related charges, began today in a U.S. District Court not far from the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Prosecutors say Sterling was the source for a chapter in the 2006 book “State of War” by New York Times reporter James Risen, revealing a CIA operation that gave flawed nuclear weapon blueprints to Iran in 2000.
The start of the trial comes a few days after front-page stories reported that Attorney General Eric Holder has been dragging his feet after the FBI and Justice Department prosecutors recommended that former CIA Director David Petraeus be indicted for sharing classified information with his biographer-turned-lover Paula Broadwell. Some leaders, such as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, insist that he not be prosecuted even if he did break the law. “This man has suffered enough in my view,” she said. She has not, of course, taken such a forgiving view of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Few prominent lawmakers have ever bothered to draw attention to such glaring contradictions. An exception came when Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed that the secrecy emperor had no clothes. In a September 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton, the senior senator from New York pointed out that “leaking information to the press in order to bring pressure to bear on a policy question” had become “a routine aspect of government life.” Moynihan added this zinger: “An evenhanded prosecution of leakers could imperil an entire administration.”
Then as now, with upper reaches of the executive branch often leaking like a sieve, evenhanded prosecution of leakers was out of the question.
[To read full article, published by Al Jazeera America, click here.]
By Norman Solomon
Condoleezza Rice made headlines when she testified Thursday [Jan. 15] at the leak trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling — underscoring that powerful people in the Bush administration went to great lengths a dozen years ago to prevent disclosure of a classified operation. But as The Associated Press noted, “While Rice’s testimony helped establish the importance of the classified program in question, her testimony did not implicate Sterling in any way as the leaker.”
Few pixels and little ink went to the witness just before Rice — former CIA spokesman William Harlow — whose testimony stumbled into indicating why he thought of Sterling early on in connection with the leak, which ultimately resulted in a ten-count indictment.
Harlow, who ran the CIA press office, testified that Sterling came to mind soon after New York Times reporter James Risen first called him, on April 3, 2003, about the highly secret Operation Merlin, a CIA program that provided faulty nuclear weapon design information to Iran.
Harlow testified that he tried to dissuade Risen without confirming the existence of Operation Merlin, first telling the reporter “that if there was such a program, I didn’t think a respectable newspaper should be writing about it.” The next day, when Risen called back, “I said that such a story would jeopardize national security.”
Not until cross-examination by a defense attorney did Harlow acknowledge something that he’d failed to mention when describing his initial conversation with Risen: In fact, Harlow had told Risen that only Al Jazeera would be willing to cover the story he was pursuing.
By Norman Solomon
This week, in a federal courtroom, I’ve heard a series of government witnesses testify behind a screen while expounding on a central precept of the national security state: The CIA can do no wrong.
Those CIA employees and consultants are more than mere loyalists for an agency that soaks up $15 billion a year and continues to loosen the bonds of accountability. The docket says “United States of America v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling,” but a more discerning title would be “National Security State v. The Public’s Right to Know.”
For the first time in 30 years, a case has gone to trial in a civilian court under the Espionage Act with charges that the defendant gave classified information to news media. Not far from the CIA headquarters in Northern Virginia, legal jargon is flying around the courtroom, but the law has very little to do with this case.
Top officials in the U.S. government leak classified information all the time, without punishment. But Jeffrey Sterling was not a top official. He’s a former CIA officer, charged with giving classified information to journalist James Risen about a CIA operation that provided Iran with flawed nuclear weapon blueprints — information that appeared in Risen’s 2006 book State of War.
Hearing the testimony from CIA operatives, it’s clear that the agency is extremely eager to make an example of Sterling. Despite all the legalisms, the overarching reality is that the case against Sterling is scarcely legal — it is cravenly political.
If it were otherwise, the last two CIA directors to leave their posts — General David Petraeus and Leon Panetta — would be going through the same kind of ordeal that Sterling has been enduring. There’s hefty evidence that both Petraeus and Panetta leaked classified information while running the agency. But these days they’re busy getting rich, not in danger of imprisonment for the rest of their lives.
By Norman Solomon
When the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling got underway Tuesday in Northern Virginia, prospective jurors made routine references to “three-letter agencies” and alphabet-soup categories of security clearances. In an area where vast partnerships between intelligence agencies and private contractors saturate everyday life, the jury pool was bound to please the prosecution.
In a U.S. District Court that boasts a “rocket docket,” the selection of 14 jurors was swift, with the process lasting under three hours. Along the way, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema asked more than a dozen possible jurors whether personal connections to the CIA or other intel agencies would interfere with her announced quest for an “absolutely open mind.”
From what I could tell, none of those with direct connections to intelligence agencies ended up in the jury box. But affinities with agencies like the CIA seemed implicit in the courtroom. Throughout the jury selection, there was scarcely a hint that activities of those agencies might merit disapproval.
Just how familiar was the jury pool with critiques of the CIA? Hard to say, but here’s one indicator: When Brinkema asked for a show of hands among the prospective jurors -- nearly 100 in the room -- to indicate how many had read James Risen’s bestselling book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, a grand total of zero hands went up.
That book, with its tough investigative reporting that exposed malfeasance, incompetence, cruelty and mendacity in the CIA’s leadership, is at the core of the case against Sterling. He’s charged with giving the author classified information -- about the CIA’s Operation Merlin, a dangerous maneuver that provided flawed nuclear weapon blueprints to the Iranian government in 2000.
Sterling was one of the few African American case officers to work for the CIA. He is now faced with a jury of his ostensible peers that includes no African Americans. (Twelve of the jurors are white. Two others appear to be of Asian and Middle Eastern ancestry.)
From the outset, in January 2011, when the Department of Justice announced an indictment against Sterling with ten counts -- seven under the Espionage Act -- the official attack on his character was classic defamation of a whistleblower. The government denounced Sterling for “underlying selfish and vindictive motivations,” and unsuccessfully tried to persuade a judge that he should be jailed pending trial because it was “incomprehensible to believe that [Sterling] will not retaliate in the same deliberate, methodical, vindictive manner.”
Fast forward four years, to Tuesday afternoon, when prosecuting attorney James Trump told the jury in the government’s opening statement that Sterling had committed crimes of betrayal due to his “anger, bitterness, selfishness.”
The Obama Justice Department’s theory of the case is that Sterling -- one of the very few African American case officers in the CIA -- became vengeful against the agency when he failed to win a legal complaint against it for racial discrimination.
A lot of smoke will be blowing through the U.S. District Court in Alexandria during the next few weeks. The Obama administration remains in overdrive, tanked up to send Jeffrey Sterling to prison for a long time. The CIA hierarchy, now operating with enormous impunity, is clearly eager to see him punished in a big way.
The CIA’s allies in the Justice Department are insisting in the courtroom that Sterling could not possibly have had valid concerns when he blew the whistle on Operation Merlin by going to the Senate Intelligence Committee about it in 2003. Along the way, the government is eager to throw mud at Risen’s reporting, which concluded that Merlin “may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.”
[First published by ExposeFacts.org]
Norman Solomon is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is a co-founder of RootsAction.org.
January 14, 2015 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
The trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, set to begin in mid-January, is shaping up as a major battle in the U.S. government’s siege against whistleblowing. With its use of the Espionage Act to intimidate and prosecute people for leaks in “national security” realms, the Obama administration is determined to keep hiding important facts that the public has a vital right to know.
After fleeting coverage of Sterling’s indictment four years ago, news media have done little to illuminate his case -- while occasionally reporting on the refusal of New York Times reporter James Risen to testify about whether Sterling was a source for his 2006 book “State of War.”
Risen’s unwavering stand for the confidentiality of sources is admirable. At the same time, Sterling -- who faces 10 felony counts that include seven under the Espionage Act -- is no less deserving of support.
Revelations from brave whistleblowers are essential for the informed consent of the governed. With its hostilities, the Obama Justice Department is waging legalistic war on our democratic rights to know substantially more about government actions than official stories. That’s why the imminent courtroom clash in the case of “United States of America v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling” is so important.
Sterling is accused of telling Risen about a CIA operation that had provided flawed nuclear weapon blueprints to Iran in 2000. The charges are unproven.
But no one disputes that Sterling told Senate Intelligence Committee staffers about the CIA action, dubbed Operation Merlin, which Risen’s book later exposed and brought to light as dumb and dangerous. While ostensibly aiming to prevent nuclear proliferation, the CIA risked advancing it.
When he informed staff of the Senate oversight committee about Operation Merlin, Sterling was going through channels to be a whistleblower. Presumably he knew that doing so would anger the CIA hierarchy. A dozen years later, as the government gears up for a courtroom showdown, it’s payback time in the security-state corral.
The relentless prosecution of Sterling targets potential whistleblowers with a key implicit message: Do not reveal any “national security” secrets that make the U.S. government look seriously incompetent, vicious, mendacious or dangerous. Don’t even think about it.
January 04, 2015 | Permalink
The vendetta against him and whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling reflects an antidemocratic goal: the uninformed consent of the governed.
By Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler
[Cover story in the October 27, 2014 edition of The Nation]
Ever since New York Times reporter James Risen received his first subpoena from the Justice Department more than six years ago, occasional news reports have skimmed the surface of a complex story. The usual gloss depicts a conflict between top officials who want to protect classified information and a journalist who wants to protect confidential sources. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Sterling—a former undercover CIA officer now facing charges under the Espionage Act, whom the feds want Risen to identify as his source—is cast as a disgruntled ex-employee in trouble for allegedly spilling the classified beans.
But the standard media narratives about Risen and Sterling have skipped over deep patterns of government retaliation against recalcitrant journalists and whistleblowers. Those patterns are undermining press freedom, precluding the informed consent of the governed and hiding crucial aspects of US foreign policy. The recent announcement of Eric Holder’s resignation as attorney general has come after nearly five years of the Obama administration extending and intensifying the use of the Justice Department for retribution against investigative journalism and whistleblowing.
Official enmity toward Risen had simmered for years before the Bush administration sent him a subpoena on January 24, 2008. Shortly before the 2004 presidential election, Risen and his colleague Eric Lichtblau put together breakthrough reporting on a warrantless domestic-wiretap program. As it sometimes does with stories deemed sensitive for national security, the Times notified the government of its intent to publish. But under strong pressure from White House officials—including some later implicated in the legally suspect program—Times editors delayed the story’s publication for over a year, until December 2005. The coverage won Risen and Lichtblau a Pulitzer Prize for “carefully sourced stories on secret domestic eavesdropping that stirred a national debate.” It was the kind of debate that the people running the US surveillance state had been desperate to avoid.
The belated publication of those stories came just before Risen brought out a book that contained reporting on the wiretap program and several other sinister initiatives under categories like “counterterrorism” and “counterproliferation.” On January 13, 2006, the week after Risen’s book State of War reached the stores, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told a news conference that an investigation into the Times wiretap stories was under way and that “it’s too early to make decisions regarding whether or not reporters should go to jail.” Though not apparent at the time, facts later emerged to show that Gonzales was implicated in the illegal wiretapping that Risen exposed. (As White House counsel, Gonzales had authorized continued operation of the program after the Justice Department refused to do so.)
It turned out that the Justice Department was not able to prosecute any whistleblower or make legal trouble for any journalist in connection with the wiretap revelations. But as attorney general—an office he assumed in early 2005—Gonzales ran the department as it collected information that would not only jeopardize the confidentiality of Risen’s sources but also impede his ongoing reporting. Risen’s book, a bestseller, included a chapter that became the ostensible reason for the series of subpoenas and legal threats that have been aimed at Risen since George W. Bush began his final year in the Oval Office.
Under Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama’s Justice Department took up where the Bush DOJ left off. Risen received a second subpoena for grand-jury testimony in late April 2010. As he noted in a mid-2011 affidavit, “It was my reporting, both in The New York Times and my book State of War, that revealed that the Bush Administration had, in all likelihood, violated the law and the United States Constitution by secretly conducting warrantless domestic wiretapping on American citizens.” At the White House and the Justice Department, he remained unforgiven.
Anger at Risen also endured at the CIA, where officials have loathed his way of flipping over their rocks. Former head CIA lawyer John Rizzo singles out Risen for condemnation in a memoir this year, writing that inside the agency “he has had a reputation for being irresponsible and sneaky.” State of War, which depicted the agency’s leadership as inept and dangerous, only stoked that antipathy.
October 22, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
No single review or interview can do justice to “Pay Any Price” -- the new book by James Risen that is the antithesis of what routinely passes for journalism about the “war on terror.” Instead of evasive tunnel vision, the book offers big-picture acuity: focusing on realities that are pervasive and vastly destructive.
Published this week, “Pay Any Price” throws down an urgent gauntlet. We should pick it up. After 13 years of militarized zealotry and fear-mongering in the name of fighting terrorism, the book -- subtitled “Greed, Power, and Endless War” -- zeros in on immense horrors being perpetrated in the name of national security.
As an investigative reporter for the New York Times, Risen has been battling dominant power structures for a long time. His new book is an instant landmark in the best of post-9/11 journalism. It’s also a wise response to repressive moves against him by the Bush and Obama administrations.
For more than six years -- under threat of jail -- Risen has refused to comply with subpoenas demanding that he identify sources for his reporting on a stupid and dangerous CIA operation. (For details, see “The Government War Against Reporter James Risen,” which I co-wrote with Marcy Wheeler for The Nation.)
A brief afterword in his new book summarizes Risen’s struggles with the Bush and Obama Justice Departments. He also provides a blunt account of his long-running conflicts with the Times hierarchy, which delayed some of his reporting for years -- or spiked it outright -- under intense White House pressure.
Self-censorship and internalization of official worldviews continue to plague the Washington press corps. In sharp contrast, Risen’s stubborn independence enables “Pay Any Price” to combine rigorous reporting with rare candor.
Here are a few quotes from the book:
* “Obama performed a neat political trick: he took the national security state that had grown to such enormous size under Bush and made it his own. In the process, Obama normalized the post-9/11 measures that Bush had implemented on a haphazard, emergency basis. Obama’s great achievement -- or great sin -- was to make the national security state permanent.”
* “In fact, as trillions of dollars have poured into the nation’s new homeland security-industrial complex, the corporate leaders at its vanguard can rightly be considered the true winners of the war on terror.”
* “There is an entire class of wealthy company owners, corporate executives, and investors who have gotten rich by enabling the American government to turn to the dark side. But they have done so quietly. . . . The new quiet oligarchs just keep making money. . . . They are the beneficiaries of one of the largest transfers of wealth from public to private hands in American history.”
* “The United States is now relearning an ancient lesson, dating back to the Roman Empire. Brutalizing an enemy only serves to brutalize the army ordered to do it. Torture corrodes the mind of the torturer.”
October 14, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
The editorial board of the New York Times has an Orwellian knack for war. Sixteen months ago, when President Obama gave oratorical lip service to ending “perpetual war,” the newspaper quickly touted that end as a democratic necessity. But now -- in response to Obama’s speech Wednesday night announcing escalation of war without plausible end -- the Times editorial voice is with the endless war program.
Under the headline “The End of the Perpetual War,” published on May 23, 2013, the Times was vehement, calling a new Obama speech “the most important statement on counterterrorism policy since the 2001 attacks, a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America.” The editorial added: “For the first time, a president stated clearly and unequivocally that the state of perpetual warfare that began nearly 12 years ago is unsustainable for a democracy and must come to an end in the not-too-distant future.”
The Times editorial board was sweeping in its conclusion: “Mr. Obama told the world that the United States must return to a state in which counterterrorism is handled, as it always was before 2001, primarily by law enforcement and the intelligence agencies. That shift is essential to preserving the democratic system and rule of law for which the United States is fighting, and for repairing its badly damaged global image.”
But the “essential” shift is now dispensable and forgettable, judging from the New York Times editorial that appeared hours after Obama’s pivotal speech Wednesday night. The newspaper’s editorial board has ditched the concept that the state of perpetual war is unsustainable for democracy.
Under the headline “The Attack on ISIS Expands to Syria,” the Times editorial offers only equivocal misgivings without opposition “as President Obama moves the nation back onto a war footing.” Without a fine point on the matter, we are to understand that war must be perpetuated without any foreseeable end.
The concluding paragraph of the New York Times editorial in the Sept. 11, 2014 edition is already historic and tragic. It sums up a liberal style of murmuring reservations while deferring to the essence of U.S. policies for perpetual war: “The American military’s actions in the Middle East has (sic) often fueled Arab anger, even when the United States was spending billions of dollars on beneficial programs, including health and education. Mr. Obama expressed confidence that the plan against ISIS will work and, at the moment, seems aware of the risks he takes.”
Like the vast bulk of the rest of U.S. mass media, when push comes to militaristic shove, the New York Times refuses to make a break from the madness of perpetual war. In fact, with rare exceptions, the dominant media outlets end up fueling that madness. A strong challenge to it will have to come from elsewhere. From us.
Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.
September 11, 2014 | Permalink
Presenting a petition for press freedom to the U.S. Department of Justice, where I spoke along with Phil Donahue and the Committee to Protect Journalists advocacy director Courtney Radsch.
September 01, 2014 | Permalink
[Published by the Columbia Journalism Review -- August 4, 2014]
By Norman Solomon
Ten months after the Committee to Protect Journalists issued its scathing report “The Obama Administration and the Press,” journalists and potential whistleblowers continue to face unprecedented surveillance and legal jeopardy. The report, authored by Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post, remains grimly up to date as it describes “the fearful atmosphere surrounding contacts between American journalists and government sources.”
The US Department of Justice seems determined to intensify that fearful atmosphere -- in part by threatening to jail New York Times reporter James Risen, who refuses to name any source for the disclosure in his 2006 book State of War that the CIA bungled a dumb and dangerous operation with nuclear weapons blueprints in Iran.
The government is now prosecuting a former CIA employee, Jeffrey Sterling, for allegedly leaking that information to Risen. Attorney General Eric Holder may soon decide whether he wants to imprison Risen for not capitulating. The Freedom of the Press Foundation calls it “one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades.”
Almost a year ago, under the letterhead of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 46 news organizations sent a letter to Holder urging the Justice Department to withdraw the subpoena issued to Risen. Two months ago, the Committee to Protect Journalists put out a new statement again calling on the Justice Department to cancel the subpoena.
This summer, both RCFP and CPJ have gotten behind a petition, "We Support James Risen Because We Support a Free Press," set for delivery to the Justice Department in mid-August with nearly 100,000 signers.
[To read full article on the Columbia Journalism Review website, click here.]
August 09, 2014 | Permalink
By Abba Solomon and Norman Solomon
Over the weekend, the New York Times sent out a clear signal: the mass slaughter of civilians is acceptable when the Israeli military is doing the killing.
Under the headline “Israel’s War in Gaza,” the most powerful newspaper in the United States editorialized that such carnage is necessary. The lead editorial in the July 19 edition flashed a bright green light -- reassuring the U.S. and Israeli governments that the horrors being inflicted in Gaza were not too horrible.
From its first words, the editorial methodically set out to justify what Israel was doing.
“After 10 days of aerial bombardment,” the editorial began, “Israel sent tanks and ground troops into Gaza to keep Hamas from pummeling Israeli cities with rockets and carrying out terrorist attacks via underground tunnels.”
The choice of when to date the start of the crisis was part of the methodical detour around inconvenient facts.
For instance, no mention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s June 30 announcement that the “human animals” of Hamas would “pay” after three Israeli teenagers kidnapped in Israeli-controlled territory in the West Bank were found dead. No mention of the absence of evidence that Hamas leadership was involved in those murders.
Likewise, absent from the editorializing sequence was Israel’s June “crackdown” in the West Bank, with home raids, area closures, imprisonment of hundreds of Hamas party activists including legislators.
Most of all, the vile core of the Times editorial was its devaluation of Palestinian lives in sharp contrast to Israeli lives.
The Times editorial declared that Hamas leaders “deserve condemnation” for military actions from civilian areas in the dense Gaza enclave -- but Netanyahu merited mere expressions of “concern” about “further escalation.” Absent from the editorial was any criticism of Israel’s ongoing bombardment of homes, apartment blocks, hospitals, beaches and other civilian areas with U.S.-supplied ordinance.
At the time, there had been one Israeli death from the hostilities -- and at least 260 deaths among Gazans as well as injuries in the thousands. The contrast illuminates a grotesque difference in the Times’ willingness to truly value the humanity of Israelis and Palestinians.
In the morally skewed universe that the Times editorial board evidently inhabits and eagerly promulgates, Hamas intends to “terrorize” Israeli citizens while Israel merely intends to accomplish military objectives by dropping thousands of tons of bombs on Palestinian people in Gaza.
July 21, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
As a matter of faith, some people believe that God can see and hear everything. But as a matter of fact, the U.S. government now has the kind of surveillance powers formerly attributed only to a supreme being.
Top “national security” officials in Washington now have the determination and tech prowess to keep tabs on billions of people. No one elected Uncle Sam to play God. But a dire shortage of democratic constraints has enabled the U.S. surveillance state to keep expanding with steely resolve.
By the time Edward Snowden used NSA documents to expose -- beyond any doubt -- a global surveillance dragnet, the situation had deteriorated so badly because the Bush and Obama administrations were able to dismiss earlier warnings to the public as little more than heresy.
Eight years ago, in the book “State of War,” New York Times reporter James Risen devoted a chapter to the huge expansion of surveillance. A secret decision by President Bush “has opened up America’s domestic telecommunications network to the NSA in unprecedented and deeply troubling new ways, and represents a radical shift in the accepted policies and practices of the modern U.S. intelligence community,” Risen wrote.
Risen added: “The NSA is now tapping into the heart of the nation’s telephone network through direct access to key telecommunications switches that carry many of America’s daily phone calls and e-mail messages.”
More details on the surveillance state came in 2008 with James Bamford’s book “The Shadow Factory,” which illuminated the National Security Agency's program for “eavesdropping on America.” And in August of 2012 -- nearly 10 months before Snowden’s revelations began -- filmmaker Laura Poitras released a mini-documentary on the New York Times website about the NSA’s mass surveillance program.
All three journalists relied on whistleblowers who balked at the NSA’s virtual mission to see and hear everything. Both books (especially “State of War”) depended on information from unnamed sources. The short documentary focused on a public whistleblower -- former NSA executive William Binney, who continues to speak out.
Testifying to a committee of the German parliament in Berlin two weeks ago, Binney -- whose 30 years at the NSA included work as a high-level intelligence official -- said that the NSA has a “totalitarian mentality.”
July 15, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing creates a moral frequency that vast numbers of people are eager to hear. We don’t want our lives, communities, country and world continually damaged by the deadening silences of fear and conformity.
I’ve met many whistleblowers over the years, and they’ve been extraordinarily ordinary. None were applying for halos or sainthood. All experienced anguish before deciding that continuous inaction had a price that was too high. All suffered negative consequences as well as relief after they spoke up and took action. All made the world better with their courage.
Whistleblowers don’t sign up to be whistleblowers. Almost always, they begin their work as true believers in the system that conscience later compels them to challenge.
“It took years of involvement with a mendacious war policy, evidence of which was apparent to me as early as 2003, before I found the courage to follow my conscience,” Matthew Hoh recalled this week. “It is not an easy or light decision for anyone to make, but we need members of our military, development, diplomatic and intelligence community to speak out if we are ever to have a just and sound foreign policy.”
Hoh describes his record this way: “After over 11 continuous years of service with the U.S. military and U.S. government, nearly six of those years overseas, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as positions within the Secretary of the Navy’s Office as a White House Liaison, and as a consultant for the State Department’s Iraq Desk, I resigned from my position with the State Department in Afghanistan in protest of the escalation of war in 2009.”
Another former Department of State official, the ex-diplomat and retired Army colonel Ann Wright, who resigned in protest of the Iraq invasion in March 2003, is crossing paths with Hoh on Friday as they do the honors at a ribbon-cutting -- half a block from the State Department headquarters in Washington -- for a billboard with a picture of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Big-lettered words begin by referring to the years he waited before releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971.
“Don’t do what I did,” Ellsberg says on the billboard. “Don’t wait until a new war has started, don’t wait until thousands more have died, before you tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers. You might save a war’s worth of lives.”
The billboard -- sponsored by the ExposeFacts organization, which launched this week -- will spread to other prominent locations in Washington and beyond. As an organizer for ExposeFacts, I’m glad to report that outreach to potential whistleblowers is just getting started. (For details, visit ExposeFacts.org.) We’re propelled by the kind of hopeful determination that Hoh expressed the day before the billboard ribbon-cutting when he said: “I trust ExposeFacts and its efforts will encourage others to follow their conscience and do what is right.”
June 06, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
In a memoir published this year, the CIA’s former top legal officer John Rizzo says that on the last day of 2005 a panicky White House tried to figure out how to prevent the distribution of a book by New York Times reporter James Risen. Officials were upset because Risen’s book, State of War, exposed what -- in his words -- “may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.”
The book told of a bungled CIA attempt to set back Iran’s nuclear program in 2000 by supplying the Iranian government with flawed blueprints for nuclear-bomb design. The CIA’s tactic might have actually aided Iranian nuclear development.
When a bootlegged copy of State of War reached the National Security Council, a frantic meeting convened in the Situation Room, according to Rizzo. “As best anyone could tell, the books were printed in bulk and stacked somewhere in warehouses.” The aspiring censors hit a wall. “We arrived at a rueful consensus: game over as far as any realistic possibility to keep the book, and the classified information in it, from getting out.”
But more than eight years later, the Obama White House is seeking a different form of retribution. The people running the current administration don’t want to pulp the book -- they want to put its author in jail.
The Obama administration is insisting that Risen name his confidential source -- or face imprisonment. Risen says he won’t capitulate.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation calls the government’s effort to force Risen to reveal a source “one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades.”
Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg says: “The pursuit of Risen is a warning to potential sources that journalists cannot promise them confidentiality for disclosing Executive Branch criminality, recklessness, deception, unconstitutional policies or lying us into war. Without protecting confidentiality, investigative journalism required for accountability and democracy will wither and disappear.”
A recent brief from the Obama administration to the nation’s top court “is unflinchingly hostile to the idea of the Supreme Court creating or finding protections for journalists,” Politico reported. The newspaper added that Risen “might be sent to jail or fined if he refuses to identify his sources or testify about other details of his reporting.”
This threat is truly ominous. As Ellsberg puts it, “We would know less than we do now about government abuses, less than we need to know to hold officials accountable and to influence policy democratically.”
So much is at stake: for whistleblowers, freedom of the press and the public’s right to know. For democracy.
That’s why five organizations -- RootsAction.org, The Nation, the Center for Media and Democracy / The Progressive, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) and the Freedom of the Press Foundation -- have joined together to start a campaign for protecting the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. So far, in May, about 50,000 people have signed a petition telling President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to end legal moves against Risen.
Charging that the administration has launched “an assault on freedom of the press,” the petition tells Obama and Holder: “We urge you in the strongest terms to halt all legal action against Mr. Risen and to safeguard the freedom of journalists to maintain the confidentiality of their sources.”
May 29, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
The most renowned media critics are usually superficial and craven. That’s because -- as one of the greatest in the 20th century, George Seldes, put it -- “the most sacred cow of the press is the press itself.”
No institutions are more image-conscious than big media outlets. The people running them know the crucial importance of spin, and they’ll be damned if they’re going to promote media criticism that undermines their own pretenses.
To reach the broad public, critics of the media establishment need amplification from . . . the media establishment. And that rarely happens unless the critique is shallow.
The exceptions can be valuable. The New York Times publishes articles by a “public editor” -- an independent contractor whose “opinions and conclusions are her own” -- and the person now in that role, Margaret Sullivan, provides some cogent scrutiny of the newspaper’s coverage.
But on the whole, the media critics boosted by big media -- inward-facing ombudspersons and outward-facing journalists on a media beat -- have been conformists who don’t step outside the shadows cast by the institutions paying their salaries. And they’re not inclined to question the corporate prerogatives of other media firms; people in glass skyscrapers don't throw weighty stones.
A year ago, the Washington Post, then still under the ownership of the Graham family, abolished the ombudsperson job at the newspaper after four decades of filling the position with a rotating succession of seasoned -- and conformist -- journalists. The change was a new twist in a downward spiral, but it wasn’t much of a loss for readers.
The Post’s first ombudsman, who took the job in 1970, went on to many years of management roles for the Washington Post Company and then returned to being the ombudsman in the late 1980s. During his second act, he wrote columns denouncing the Newspaper Guild union that was in conflict with the company -- while he praised the firm’s management.
In sharp contrast, the best media critics are truly independent. And so, they’re rarely seen or heard via large media outlets.
April 13, 2014 | Permalink
[This article was published by Al Jazeera America.]
By Norman Solomon
Hope makes history. So does betrayal of hope.
Early in his presidency, Lyndon Johnson inspired enormous hope. But the promise for a Great Society imploded — and disappointment jolted many former supporters, with trust and optimism turning into alienation and bitterness. The negative ripple effects lasted for decades.
Fifty years after Johnson entered the White House, the corrosive aspects of his legacy are easy to discern. A political base for progressive social change eroded as he escalated the Vietnam War and bought time with shameless deceit. For many people, distrust of leaders became the essence of realism.
Initiating a disastrous mix of rhetoric and carnage, Johnson told the nation on Aug. 4, 1964, “We still seek no wider war.” On the same day, he ordered bombing of North Vietnam in tandem with bogus claims that its navy had attacked U.S. ships in the Tonkin Gulf.
Throughout his full term after a landslide victory in the November 1964 election, LBJ continued to claim benign intent in Vietnam. “I do not genuinely believe that there’s any single person anywhere in the world that wants peace as much as I want it,” Johnson said on May 17, 1966. In mid-January 1968, he insisted that “our goal is peace — and peace at the earliest possible moment.”
For many citizens, the president’s willingness to lie while pursuing indefensible policies caused massive — and perhaps irreversible — distrust and even enmity toward the U.S. government. As a consequence, millions came to see history and current events in a starkly clearer light. By the time Jimi Hendrix performed the national anthem at Woodstock five years after Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin speech, an unprecedented number of Americans heard the musical bombs bursting in air as horrific instead of noble.
Forty years later, the new presidency of Barack Obama was awash in a strong tide of good will, comparable, in its own way, to the wave of public sentiment that lifted Johnson as the new president after the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of John F. Kennedy. Obama had run and won on hope, and his victory — while not of Johnson’s landslide proportions — provided major momentum.
Obama pursued policies that largely undercut his lofty oratorical appeals to his base. Deference to corporate power, the military-industrial complex and the national-security surveillance state — coupled with scant action on the vastly important matter of climate change — turned him into another president eager to cater to the intersection of Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Like Bill Clinton before him, Obama took care of himself and let others shoulder the political consequences. After Clinton and Obama stocked their administrations with corporate heavyweights, their rebuffs to progressive populism went over big with corporate media outlets. But the policy choices dispirited and demobilized the Democratic base, ushering in GOP takeovers of the House in 1994 and 2010.
Taking care of No. 1, Clinton and Obama won second terms, but on paths strewn with wreckage.
March 16, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
Who knows, soon we might see headlines and cable TV shows asking: "Is Dianne Feinstein a whistleblower or a traitor?"
A truthful answer to that question could not possibly be “whistleblower.” It may already be a historic fact that Senator Feinstein’s speech on March 11, 2014 blew a whistle on CIA surveillance of the Senate intelligence committee, which she chairs. But if that makes her a whistleblower, then Colonel Sanders is a vegetarian evangelist.
In her blockbuster Tuesday speech on the Senate floor, Feinstein charged that the CIA’s intrusions on her committee’s computers quite possibly “violated the Fourth Amendment.” You know, that’s the precious amendment that Feinstein -- more than any other senator -- has powerfully treated like dirt, worthy only of sweeping under the congressional rug.
A tidy defender of the NSA’s Orwellian programs, Feinstein went on the attack against Edward Snowden from the outset of his revelations last June. Within days, she denounced his brave whistleblowing as “an act of treason” -- a position she has maintained.
Snowden and other genuine whistleblowers actually take risks to defend the civil liberties and human rights of others, including the most vulnerable among us. Real whistleblowers choose to expose serious wrongdoing. And, if applicable, they renounce their own past complicity in doing those wrongs.
Dianne Feinstein remains in a very different place. She’s 180 degrees from a whistleblower orientation; her moral compass is magnetized with solipsism as a leading guardian of the surveillance state.
This week, Feinstein stepped forward to tweak her tap dance -- insisting that intrusive surveillance, so vile when directed at her and colleagues with august stature, must only be directed at others.
A huge problem is that for the USA’s top movers and shakers in media and politics, nothing rises to the level of constitutional crisis unless their noble oxen start to get gored. It doesn’t seem to dawn on the likes of Senator Feinstein that Fourth Amendment protections for the few are not Fourth Amendment protections at all.
March 12, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
The frontrunner to become the next president of the United States is playing an old and dangerous political game -- comparing a foreign leader to Adolf Hitler.
At a private charity event on Tuesday, in comments preserved on audio, Hillary Clinton talked about actions by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in the Crimea. “Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ’30s,” she said.
The next day, Clinton gave the inflammatory story more oxygen when speaking at UCLA. She “largely stood by the remarks,” the Washington Post reported. Clinton “said she was merely noting parallels between Putin’s claim that he was protecting Russian-speaking minorities in Crimea and Hitler’s moves into Poland, Czechoslovakia and other parts of Europe to protect German minorities.”
Clinton denied that she was comparing Putin with Hitler even while she persisted in comparing Putin with Hitler. “I just want people to have a little historic perspective,” she said. “I’m not making a comparison certainly, but I am recommending that we perhaps can learn from this tactic that has been used before.”
Yes indeed. Let’s learn from this tactic that has been used before -- the tactic of comparing overseas adversaries to Hitler. Such comparisons by U.S. political leaders have a long history of fueling momentum for war.
“Surrender in Vietnam” would not bring peace, President Lyndon Johnson said at a news conference on July 28, 1965 as he tried to justify escalating the war, “because we learned from Hitler at Munich that success only feeds the appetite of aggression.”
After Ho Chi Minh was gone, the Hitler analogy went to other leaders of countries in U.S. crosshairs. The tag was also useful when attached to governments facing U.S.-backed armies.
Three decades ago, while Washington funded the contra forces in Nicaragua, absurd efforts to smear the elected left-wing Sandinistas knew no rhetorical bounds. Secretary of State George Shultz said on February 15, 1984, at a speech in Boston: “I’ve had good friends who experienced Germany in the 1930s go there and come back and say, ‘I’ve visited many communist countries, but Nicaragua doesn’t feel like that. It feels like Nazi Germany.’”
Washington embraced Panama’s Gen. Manuel Noriega as an ally, and for a while he was a CIA collaborator. But there was a falling out, and tension spiked in the summer of 1989. Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said that drug trafficking by Noriega “is aggression as surely as Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland 50 years ago was aggression.” A U.S. invasion overthrew Noriega in December 1989.
March 07, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
International law is suddenly very popular in Washington. President Obama responded to Russian military intervention in the Crimea by accusing Russia of a “breach of international law.” Secretary of State John Kerry followed up by declaring that Russia is “in direct, overt violation of international law.”
Unfortunately, during the last five years, no world leader has done more to undermine international law than Barack Obama. He treats it with rhetorical adulation and behavioral contempt, helping to further normalize a might-makes-right approach to global affairs that is the antithesis of international law.
Fifty years ago, another former law professor, Senator Wayne Morse, condemned such arrogance of power. “I don’t know why we think, just because we’re mighty, that we have the right to try to substitute might for right,” Morse said on national TV in 1964. “And that’s the American policy in Southeast Asia -- just as unsound when we do it as when Russia does it.”
Today, Uncle Sam continues to preen as the globe’s big sheriff on the side of international law even while functioning as the world’s biggest outlaw.
Rather than striving for an evenhanded assessment of how “international law” has become so much coin of the hypocrisy realm, mainline U.S. media are now transfixed with Kremlin villainy.
On Sunday night, the top of the New York Times home page reported: “Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has pursued his strategy with subterfuge, propaganda and brazen military threat, taking aim as much at the United States and Europe as Ukraine itself.” That was news coverage.
March 03, 2014 | Permalink