This past week, in the wake of Bradley Manning being found guilty of enough charges to have him potentially spend well over 100 years in prison, I was on my friend Peter Lavelle’s Crosstalk show on the RT network to discuss Snowden, Manning and surveillance and privacy issues.
If you have been listening to my show for a while, you heard my take on what Snowden supposedly revealed and how Greenwald reported it. I reposted the transcript on my blog at Steveleser.blogspot.com so you can see it and listen to that piece.
In my spot on Peter’s show, I took issue with the idea that either of these two guys are heroes and I attacked the myth we sometimes hear that the Obama administration is anti-whistleblower. Here is my opening statement on that show:
Condensed version of audio snippet: “What no one has been able to give me a straight answer about is why Snowden and Manning refused to use the options available to them under the Federal Whistleblower Protection Act to go to a defense department Inspector General or to a member of congress or the senate. If they had, they would have been protected under that statute”
The interesting thing about that is you could have turned off that episode of Crosstalk after that opening because the rest of the segment involved two other people flailing against that argument and completely unable to overcome it.
What I said is really an IQ test and a test of how sane and reasonable you are when you hear it. Let me put it another way.
Let’s imagine that you have a goal in mind. Let’s call it Goal A. You have two options of achieving Goal A. Option 1 will either put you in prison for over 20 years or exile you to a country far away forever. Option 2 will leave you perfectly free and if you take Option 2 and it doesn’t get to Goal A, you can still do Option 1 afterwards.
It sounds like a trick right? What person in their right mind would choose Option 1 right off the bat? Would you feel sorry for someone who chose option 1 as their first choice and then suffered the consequences? Maybe a little, but almost all of us would think they ought to have known better.
Bradley Manning and Eric Snowden chose Option 1 right off the bat. Option 1 was ignoring the law, ignoring the fact that Title 10 subchapter 1034 also known as the military whistleblower protection act exists which provides a method that members of the military and department of defense and defense contractors can use to blow the whistle without fear of retaliation and reprisal. It’s a simple law.
Subsection a(1) of that law says No person may restrict a member of the armed forces in communicating with a Member of Congress or an Inspector General.
Subsection b basically says No person may take (or threaten to take) an unfavorable personnel action, or withhold (or threaten to withhold) a favorable personnel action, as a reprisal against a member of the armed forces for making or preparing a communication to a Member of Congress or an Inspector General
That is how the whistleblower law works. If as a federal employee or member of the US Armed forces, which really is just a special kind of federal employee, but if you are one of those and you go to a congressman or senator to blow the whistle, you cannot be prosecuted or retaliated against for that.
So, why would you choose what I call option 1 here? Why wouldn’t you try option 2, the safer option first.
I think there is a pretty simple answer.
Have you ever wondered why people would go on Tabloid trash talk shows like the Jerry Springer show? I mean, I think Jerry himself is great, but if you go on that show, you are going to be embarrassed. Someone is going to reveal something embarrassing or hurtful to you or about you.
So Why do people do it?
They do it because some people are desperate to be on TV and to get fame and fortune. I think the main reason Snowden and Manning did this was for the notoriety. Manning also had ongoing discipline issues in the military. He had emotional issues his whole life and had a history of striking back at those who he perceived had wronged him. I think that the last time he got in trouble in the military he decided to strike back by embarrassing the military and his country.
In the segment on CrossTalk, it was suggested to me that going the legal route would not have been effective. There is a simple answer to that. If going the legal route wasn’t effective, you could always have gone to the press after that. But there is something more basic that makes it better to have gone about this the right way.
Now you may be wondering, why would it have been better to go the route of contacting a member of congress or the military or use the Inspector General?
For one thing, Manning and Snowden were both very junior and inexperienced people who had a lot of access to documents, but little to no experience in how to interpret them. Neither had ever supervised people nor had either man ever been put in charge of anything and were never responsible for making any kind of important decisions. These guys were techies who happened to work for organizations that dealt in intelligence.
So these guys grab a few documents, and an edited video, and leap to some conclusions, but are they the right ones? Well, we know for sure in several cases that they were not the right conclusions.
The so-called collateral murder video of the helicopter attack in Iraq purported to show an army helicopter firing on civilians. This video, which Manning said is one of the big reasons that he leaked documents, was released first in edited form which omitted the parts of the video that showed that three men of the eleven that were fired upon had weapons. One man had an AK-47, and two had RPGs or rocket propelled grenade launchers, one of which was loaded. And this group of men was in the section of town that had seen heavy fighting that day.
If Manning had gone to the inspector general of the Army, or if he had gone to a member of congress and an investigation were performed of that video, he would have found out what we eventually found out anyway that there was no wrongdoing involved in that incident. Except because of how this went down, we found out after months of hysterical assertions that a US Army helicopter fired on unarmed civilians.
Julian Assange himself finally had to admit that there were people in the video who looked like they were carrying weapons. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Assange admitted quote “"So it appears there are possibly two men, one carrying an AK-47 and one carrying a rocket-propelled grenade -- although we're not 100 percent sure of that -- in the crowd,"
If Assange admits that is what he sees when he looks at the video, how is it that his organization, Wikileaks, put that video out there as an example of wrongdoing?
What we see with this video and the documents released by Snowden and Manning is form of the old Axiom that is the name of a book by Richard Moran called “Never Confuse a Memo with Reality”.
A document or a video doesn’t prove anything. There may be context behind them or edits that change everything.
That’s why you need a level-headed investigation. And there is great harm sometimes when you don’t get one early on because the first thing that people hear causes most folks to form an opinion that is hard to shake. If you have heard about the collateral video before, the one that contains the helicopter attack, I’ll bet most of you didn’t know that it is now accepted by all sides that the people in the crowd the helicopter fired on had weapons. Not just basic weapons, RPGs. With an RPG, you can take out armored vehicles. With an RPG you can shoot down low-flying helicopters. That is a weapon of someone participating in the insurgency. It’s not a civilian’s personal defense weapon.
It’s like the Bush administration suggesting a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. There are a percentage of Republicans in particular that will always believe that. I think this myth of the misconduct in what’s called the collateral murder video will similarly persist among some circles for a long time.
To show you how pervasive this can be, my friend Peter Lavelle on CrossTalk repeated these allegations about the helicopter this past week. The truth is out there that these folks were armed with heavy weapons common to the insurgency, but he was still under the impression they were unarmed civilians.
And Snowden’s revelations, well, I spent 15 minutes going through why that is all nonsense back in June. As I said the transcript is on my blog at Steveleser.blogspot.com context is everything but I’ll give you a taste. The Bush administration used warrantless wiretapping during its time in office. No paper trail, no oversight, nothing. They just listened to phone calls and read emails.
The Obama administration went back to using FISA. There is a paper trail, there is oversight by the judicial branch and by committees in both houses of congress. That’s a significant difference. That’s important context that shows things are going in the right direction.
Look, I am in favor of congressional investigations into exactly what the NSA is doing. Let’s have the investigations. But like the helicopter video, like the Bush administration claiming that Saddam had something to do with 9/11, any misconceptions created by the Snowden release through Glenn Greenwald, and there are major misconceptions created there, are going to be hard to change.
I talk a lot about how Greenwald failed to provide the proper context for what he wrote concerning Snowden’s leaked documents. If you go to my blog and check out the transcript of the show where I discussed it you see I talk about context and framing. What do I mean about that? What do I mean about context and framing?
This is an important concept in terms of making sure you are really informing the public instead of spreading disinformation. Let me give you a good example.
Imagine you were out of contact and without a source of news for eight years in the African rainforest studying the great apes from 1937 through March of 1945 and you came out of the rainforest in March of 1945 and asked the first person you encountered what is going on in the world and that person said there is a world war going on in which Soviet Union, the US and Great Britain are bombing German cities and the Soviet red army is about to invade Germany and seize Berlin which would win the war.
If that was what was said to you, it would be true, that is what was happening in the European theater of the war in March of 1945, but do you think you would have been everything you need to know to understand the truth about the Second World War? No, that rendition lacks a lot of context and framing and without that context and framing, it’s disinformation, not information. That is often what you get when you present the truth without context.
Even if we for a moment assume that the documents leaked by Snowden are 100% correct, that’s what Glenn Greenwald did with his first Snowden piece. Again, check out my blog, steveleser.blogspot.com, the transcript is there for the show where I laid that all out.
Speaking of Glenn Greenwald and Julian Assange, let’s talk about their responsibility to their sources as supposed journalists.
Did these guys hang their sources out to dry or what?
I wonder, at any point, did Assange or Greenwald say to Manning or Snowden respectively, hey Bradley, hey Eric, I think you may have some legitimate concerns, are you sure this is the way you want to go, there is another way we can approach this.
Let’s go to the most progressive member of the US Senate. Let’s go to Senator Bernie Sanders. Call his office, ask to speak with him or a senior member of his staff, say I’m involved and that you are contacting them as a whistleblower, better yet, let’s call his office together, hold on and I will conference them in and let’s get protection for you through the federal whistleblower laws.
If Assange and Greenwald had done that for their prospective sources, there would still be a story there, it may not have been as sensational but there would have been a story, the difference is, neither Manning nor Snowden would be facing imprisonment or exile. And we would have their issues addressed via congressional investigation with none of the hysteria or the erroneous impressions. And by the way, if there is wrongdoing at all involved in any of Snowden’s or Manning’s various leaks, the way they are going to get addressed is via congressional investigation.
Either way, we’re back to that.
That is why I offered on RT’s Crosstalk this past Friday, I offered to assist any federal government employee if they wanted to be a whistleblower. I will advise them and steer them to a member of congress to get their issue resolved so that they do not face imprisonment or exile. That is what a journalist who is looking out for their source would do. After the fact, Assange and Greenwald are talking a good game about how concerned they are for their sources, but now it’s too late.
They screwed their sources for a sensationalized story.
A few more things I want to talk about regarding the CrossTalk debate.
In response to my assertion that the approved way to go is to use the inspector general or go to a congressman or senator, there was one instance raised by Tighe Barry where he said that a whistleblower did that but faced retaliation anyway, and that person is Bunny Greenhouse. It was also suggested that if I started assisting federal whistleblowers, I would be in danger of going to jail and that I was naiive to think otherwise.
Now, right off the bat, the ironic thing about that last statement is that the person who said it, Tighe Barry from Code Pink, assists whistleblowers all the time, lives in Washington DC, was participating in the debate from Washington DC, and is free to assist whistleblowers and complain about the government all he wants and has not been arrested or retaliated against for it. You understand, he is doing and saying that from the nations capitol, from Washington DC with the FBI, CIA and NSA all headquartered nearby.
Cuckoo sound effect
That’s some unintended comedy there.
But let’s look at the case of Bunny Greenhouse. Since Tighe offered Bunny Greenhouse as an example of a whistleblower who went to congress but then suffered reprisals I decided to look into her case. She had a job with the Army Corps of Engineers and she blew the whistle on a division of Halliburton receiving a No bid contract in Iraq shortly after the start of that war. She testified about that in a meeting of a congressional committee.
So what’s the the big reprisal against her that Tighe suggests all whistleblowers and those who would assist them should fear? The reprisal against Bunny Greenhouse is that she was demoted. That's it. No arrest, no exile, no physical punishment, she was demoted. And when she sued, citing the federal whistleblower laws that she had dutifully obeyed, as would be my suggestion, she won and the government settled with her for $970,000.
As far as I am concerned, that is a positive outcome and doesn't make the point Tighe intended.
So let’s sum up.
The video Manning says is the reason he decided to be a leaker that was posted by Assange’s Wikileaks doesn’t show actual wrongdoing.
The NSA allegations Snowden raised when viewed in the proper context with an understanding of the history and legalities involved also don’t amount to wrongdoing and suggest that the Obama administration took steps to improve oversight with surveillance but I agree should be investigated anyway.
Greenwald failed to do virtually any background into the history and legality of NSA Surveillance in his pieces on Snowden’s leaked documents and as a result, his story was so lacking in context and framing that it qualifies as disinformation.
Snowden and Manning had avenues open to them to blow the whistle where they would be free from any prosecution or retaliation and refused to use them.
Greenwald and Assange happily let their sources hang themselves so they could print sensationalism.
My original point in the CrossTalk segment stands. Whistleblowers are safe if they use the appropriate methods to blow the whistle. The one attempt to provide an example otherwise failed when one looks at the issue.
Oh, and one more thing. The same usual sources in the blogosphere and sectors of the media that like to do hit pieces against the United States have jumped on the bandwagon to spread what has turned out to be inaccurate information or information that lacks the proper context. Again, all because it seems bad for the United States.
Folks, when I cover an issue, the facts and what makes sense trumps any ideology and trumps any prior support I have for a party or person or group. If the facts are bad for President Obama, I say that and he makes it into my Hall of Shame, like when he tried to implement chained CPI or when he has spoken in favor of supporting the Syrian rebels. If the facts don’t reflect well on the Democratic Party, I hammer the Democratic Party. There are no sacred cows on my show, I let the facts and good sense take me where they will.
When you examine all the facts and all the context there is only one conclusion to which one can come. The actions of Snowden, Manning, Assange and Greenwald were wrong and do not make sense.
We’ll be right back.