The Sad Fate Of America’s Whistleblowers

Editor’s note: This commentary originally appeared at

What is it about whistleblowers that the powers that be can’t stand?

When I blew the whistle on the CIA’s illegal torture program, I was derided in many quarters as a traitor. My detractors in the government attacked me for violating my secrecy agreement, even as they ignored the oath we’d all taken to protect and defend the Constitution.

All of this happened despite the fact that the torture I helped expose is illegal in the United States. Torture also violates a number of international laws and treaties to which our country is signatory — some of which the United States itself was the driving force in drafting.

I was charged with three counts of espionage, all of which were eventually dropped when I took a plea to a lesser count. I had to choose between spending up to 30 months in prison and rolling the dice to risk a 45-year sentence. With five kids, and three of them under the age of 10, I took the plea.

Tom Drake — the NSA whistleblower who went through the agency’s chain of command to report its illegal program to spy on American citizens — was thanked for his honesty and hard work by being charged with 10 felonies, including five counts of espionage. The government eventually dropped the charges, but not before Drake had suffered terrible financial, professional, and personal distress.

This is an ongoing theme, especially in government.

Chelsea Manning is serving 35 years in prison for her disclosure of State Department and military cable traffic showing American military crimes in Iraq and beyond. And Edward Snowden, who told Americans about the extent to which our government is spying on us, faces life in prison if he ever returns to the country.

The list goes on and on.

Baltimore Police Department whistleblower Joe Crystal knew what he was getting into when he reported an incident of police brutality to his superiors after witnessing two colleagues brutally beat a suspect. Crystal immediately became known as a “rat cop” and a “snitch.”

He finally resigned from the department after receiving credible death threats.

It’s not just government employees either. Whistleblowers first brought attention to wrongdoing at Enron, Lehman Brothers, Stanford International Bank, and elsewhere.

And what’s their reward? Across the board, whistleblowers are investigated, harassed, fired, and in some cases prosecuted.

That’s the conclusion of author Eyal Press, whose book Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times documents the struggles of whistleblowers throughout history. Press’s whistleblowers never recover financially or professionally from their actions. History seems to smile on them; but during their lifetimes, they remain outcasts.

This is a tragedy. Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing should be the norm, not the exception.

I recently visited Greece to help the government there draft a whistleblower protection law. The Greek word for “whistleblower” translates as “guardian of the public trust.” I wish our own government’s treatment of whistleblowers could reflect that understanding.

Yet even legal guarantees of protection from prosecution and persecution aren’t enough — especially if, as in the case of existing law, national security employees are exempt from these safeguards.

Instead, society must start seeing things differently. Like the Greeks, all of us need to start treating whistleblowers as guardians, not traitors. And if we value what freedoms we have left, we should demand that our government do the same.

OtherWords columnist John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s a former CIA counterterrorism officer and senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

Authoritarians Do Not Get What America Is All About

There is a very lengthy and informative article this week by retired U.S. Army Maj. Todd Pierce, titled, U.S. War Theories Target Dissenters. The article discusses the U.S. Defense Department’s Law of War Manual, which says that journalists can be declared as “unprivileged belligerents” by the government and be placed into military detention without charges or evidence against the accused, or they can be killed.

Maj. Pierce brings up the hysterical West Point law professor William Bradford, who calls for the military to target civilians who express a dissenting point of view of the post-9/11 war on terrorism, and targeting in particular, quoting Bradford, “law school facilities, scholars’ home offices and media outlets where they give interviews.”

And Pierce also quotes retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters as writing that “‘Future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media.’ (Emphasis in original.)” Pierce brings up the news media coverage of the Vietnam War, which some U.S. military officers have apparently been brainwashed to believe was a “stab in the back,” even though media critics of the war merely recognized the impossibility of the U.S. winning the Vietnam War, which the military commanders already knew as early as 1967 as was revealed by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971 with the “Pentagon Papers.”

Despite his exercising his Press freedom rights as thoroughly protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Ellsberg was charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917, even though the information he released was to the American people, and not some foreign government.

You see, deep down, those in power know that their wars and aggressions and power-grabbing are illicit and criminal; and when the lights get shined on them, they not only hide and cover up–but they go after those who shine the lights on them.

More recently, Edward Snowden had been labeled a “traitor” because he revealed a lot of information to the American people regarding the criminality being committed by government agencies against them, the American people. In other words, Snowden revealed what have in fact been treasonous acts, as the U.S. Constitution would define them, being committed by various government employees.

The relevant part of Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”

By “them,” the writers referred to the United States in the plural sense–that is, the various States of the Union, and the people of the States. So when federal government bureaucrats and their armed enforcers and soldiers direct the forces of the federal government against their own people, including the Press, those acts should be considered acts of “levying war” against the people, and thus should be considered treasonous.

In other words, it is the agents of the federal government in Washington who owe their loyalty to the American people, not the other way around.

There was also another important article this past week, On Conscientious Objection and Moral Injury, by Maria Santelli of the Center on Conscience and War. In that article, Santelli notes the concept of “killology,” in which the U.S. military has been training the soldiers to suppress their conscience, their moral scruples, in order to make it psychologically easier for them to kill innocent people, and to do so reflexively without a second thought. Santelli also notes that much of the trauma experienced by the soldiers is associated with a guilty conscience, a major cause for the 22+ U.S. military veterans committing suicide each day.

Despite such training, it is the soldier or officer who nevertheless retains his sense of moral conscience who is better able to recognize the injustices and crimes being committed by his own government; and real bravery is exhibited by those who reveal the truth.

Former U.S. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea Manning) was the real deal, in my view. Manning witnessed first hand the war crimes being committed by his fellow soldiers overseas, in Iraq, the murders of innocent civilians, and also became aware of criminality committed by U.S. diplomats. Manning acted on his own moral conscience and took great risks releasing troves of documents to WikiLeaks.

Manning didn’t give the information to some foreign regime. He released the material to WikiLeaks because he wanted the American people to know the truth about what their government and military were up to.

Worse than the government’s treatment of Daniel Ellsberg, whose charges of “espionage” were dismissed by the judge at his trial, Bradley Manning’s trial was a farce, a kangaroo court, in which he ended up getting sentenced to 35 years in prison, in addition to the 3 years of mostly solitary confinement and torture he endured upon his initial arrest. So this is much more like the Soviet Union than the America envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

But the government’s treatment of Bradley Manning is how the criminally-minded bureaucracy responds when its crimes are exposed for all to see.

Yet, the U.S. “leaders” have treated actual spies against America much better, such as Robert Hanssen, Aldrich Ames, James Hall and George Trofimoff. They may have sold U.S. government secrets to the Soviets or others, but they apparently didn’t expose embarrassing details of U.S. government incompetence, corruption and war crimes as Manning did.

So the authoritarians of the centralized bureaucracy have it all backwards: these military fascists and their little yes-men minions believe that the federal government is the authority over the people of the States, and the citizens must follow their orders without question. And to criticize them, or expose their wrongdoing, is “treasonous” to these apparatchiks of the regime in Washington. And God forbid someone might satirize or lampoon these fools!

Of course the Vietnam War should have been criticized, by anyone who has a moral conscience. Sec. of Defense McNamara, Sec. of State Kissinger and Presidents Johnson and Nixon were war criminals, as they knowingly and willfully continued to send U.S. troops to their deaths in an unjust war with full knowledge that the war would never be won. They were murderers, in fact, not only of innocents overseas, but of their own fellow Americans.

And in 1991, interventionist President George H.W. Bush attacked Iraq, a country that was of no threat to America, including the bombing of civilian infrastructure, which was followed by sanctions which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, which caused retaliation and blowback, more terrorist attacks against the supposedly “civilized” West, a new war on Iraq perpetrated by Bush’s son, an Iraqi Sharia Law theocracy and now ISIS.

So of course those two Presidents Bush not only must be criticized, and their military must be criticized for war crimes; but they are the ones who should be imprisoned, certainly not those who exposed or criticized their crimes!

And of course, the government’s incompetence and criminality in unlawfully apprehending and detaining innocent people and torturing them must be criticized and condemned. When the former CIA officer John Kiriakou reveals the sick torture program and is himself imprisoned but not the criminal torturers, we must condemn that injustice. We must also criticize and condemn CIA directors such as John Brennan who defend indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas and a program of murdering suspects without trial or evidence, goofy generals such as Keith Alexander who model a war room after the bridge on Star Trek, and of course Gen. David Petraeus, whose extramarital affairs make the top headlines. And by the way, if someone like that is going to cheat on his own wife, can we really trust him to be loyal to the people he was appointed to serve?

And in fact, this whole “war on terror” must also be criticized and condemned and de-legitimized, which to many ignorant authoritarians in Washington would be a “treasonous” offense. The “war on terror” in fact has been a war on freedom, and a war on the American people, our security, our property and whatever wealth that hasn’t already been siphoned away. And it is actually these psychopathic terror-warriors who are the actual traitors, as their treason against the American people fits the actual constitutional definition of Treason as discussed above.

But indoctrinated militarist authoritarians believe in a top-down command society, in which the masses are obediently subject to the rule and whim of the “leaders.” The authoritarians do not seem to genuinely understand the ideas of self-determination, self-defense, and each individual’s inherent human right of freedom of thought and conscience, the right to investigate and ask questions, and the right to hold “The Authorities” accountable. Or the authoritarians do understand those ideas, but they merely oppose them. (Perhaps the Soviet Union is more to their liking!)

One thing the authoritarians who are drawn to 21st Century central planning in America don’t seem to understand is, while they love militarism and U.S. military power and oppose the individual rights the American Revolutionaries fought for, those early Americans themselves were opposed to militarism. They, including James Madison, opposed the idea of their new federal government even having a standing army; and Madison warned that governments’ standing armies had been used against their own people.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was the Framers’ answer to the possibility of a centralized government turning its weapons against the people. That is one reason why the Second Amendment refers to “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” not the right of the government to keep and bear arms. The Framers, or at least those who were sincerely concerned with preserving liberty, clearly believed that the people themselves should be armed and responsible for their defense. They did not trust a centralized government army, especially given the early Americans’ conflicts against the British tyrants.

In an article linking the right to keep and bear arms with freedom, Judge Andrew Napolitano wrote: “There have been practical historical reasons for the near universal historical acceptance of the individual possession of this right. The dictators and monsters of the 20th century — from Stalin to Hitler, from Castro to Pol Pot, from Mao to Assad — have disarmed their people, and only because some of those people resisted the disarming were all eventually enabled to fight the dictators for freedom. Sometimes they lost. Sometimes they won.

“The principal reason the colonists won the American Revolution is that they possessed weapons equivalent in power and precision to those of the British government.”

And in recognizing that the new federal government was to be subject to the scrutiny of the American people, and not the other way around, James Madison himself observed in Federalist No. 46 that, “Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”

Now, the modern militarists and free speech-suppressors can shout about the “terrorists,” the “Islamists,” and ISIS all they want. But because of the existence of the U.S. military and U.S. Presidents’ misuse of such a dangerous institution for over a century, having a central planning monopoly in “defense” has mainly been used for offense and provocation, and not for genuine defense. The modern threats which exist are due to the blowback of the U.S. government’s own aggressions against foreigners, which only provokes them and makes the American people more vulnerable because of it. (See Morris and Linda Tannehill, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, and Gustave de Molinari, for more on how an armed civilian population would be more effective at protecting themselves from foreign aggression, and certainly less threatening to their liberty than an armed government currently is.)

And finally, on the people’s right to express themselves, to be informed on what their government is up to, and to criticize government goons when such goons deserve to be criticized, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

You bet.

This commentary originally appeared on Scott’s blog

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

Hacked Email Shows Ben Affleck Wanted His Slave Owning Ancestor Edited Out of PBS Program

Newly published emails from WikiLeaks reveal that film star Ben Affleck wanted PBS to edit out mention of his slave-owning ancestor from the network’s popular program Finding Your Roots.

According to hacked Sony emails, Affleck apparently made this request to the show’s host, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., which created a dilemma for the professor and Sony CEO Michael Lynton.

The two traded emails about the issue, leaving the impression that Gates had no intention of leaving that part of Affleck’s ancestry on the cutting room floor. The professor wrote Lynton last July, “. . . For the first time, one of our guests has asked us to edit out something about one of his ancestors — the fact that he owned slaves.”

Gates added, “Now, four or five of our guests this season descend from slave owners, including Ken Burns.” Burns directed and co-wrote the incredibly popular and critically acclaimed Civil War series, which also aired on PBS.

Affleck’s ancestor “wasn’t even a bad guy,” according to the professor, in contrast to Anderson Cooper’s, who “was a real s.o.b.; one of his slaves actually murdered him. Of course, the slave was promptly hanged. And Anderson didn’t miss a beat about that.”

He went on, “To do this would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman,” a reference to Affleck’s upcoming role at the caped crusader in next spring’s Batman v Superman.

“We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?” Gates inquired of Lynton.

The Sony chief wrote advising to let Affleck have his way. “I would take it out if no one knows, but if it gets out that you are editing the material based on this kind of sensitivity then it gets tricky. Again, all things being equal I would definitely take it out.”

Gates was clearly not comfortable with the answer. “Once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand,” he wrote back. Nonetheless, the segment about Affleck’s slave-owning ancestor did not make the final cut when it aired on PBS in October 2014.

In a statement, Gates took full responsibility for the decision, writing:

The mission of “Finding Your Roots” is to find and share interesting stories from our celebrity guests’ ancestries and use those stories to unlock new ways to learn about our past. We are very grateful to all of our guests for allowing us into their personal lives and have told hundreds of stories in this series including many about slave ancestors—never shying away from chapters of a family’s past that might be unpleasant. Ultimately, I maintain editorial control on all of my projects and, with my producers, decide what will make for the most compelling program. In the case of Mr. Affleck — we focused on what we felt were the most interesting aspects of his ancestry—including a Revolutionary War ancestor, a 3rd great–grandfather who was an occult enthusiast, and his mother who marched for Civil Rights during the Freedom Summer of 1964.

PBS in a separate statement added, “It is clear from the [email] exchange how seriously Professor Gates takes editorial integrity.”

In addition to his PBS program, Gates experienced nationwide notoriety as one of the participants in Barack Obama’s “Beer Summit” in 2009. The professor got into an altercation with police, when officers showed up on his property in response to a 911 call regarding a potential burglary. He had to force open his own door following an overseas trip. Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct.

Berkeley-born, Massachusetts-raised Ben Affleck was rumored to be considering a run for the U.S. Senate from the Bay State in 2012 and has been fairly active in Democratic politics. His wife Jennifer Garner said in 2013: “Right now [Ben] feels like he can do more good for people politically from outside the system.”  She added, however: “Would I be surprised if one day he did go into politics? No.”

Do you feel Ben Affleck should have asked PBS to remove his slave owner ancestry from its program? Leave a comment below. 

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Chelsea Manning Is Now On Twitter

Private Manning Support Network (Flickr)

Chelsea Manning, convicted nearly two years ago in the WikiLeaks scandal when she was known as Bradley Manning, has set up a Twitter account and will be sending messages “weekly to daily” from prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The former Army private first class was convicted in August 2013 of violating several parts of the Espionage Act, copying and disseminating classified military field reports and U.S. State Department cables–mostly related to detainees of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba–noted The Washington Post.

According to American military officials, the leak committed by Manning was the largest of its kind in history.

In February, Manning received approval for hormone therapy to transition from a man to a woman from Col. Erica Nelson, commandant of the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth. Manning legally changed her name last April, according to The Telegraph.

On Friday, Agence-France Presse (AFP) reported that the convict who is now presenting herself as a female now is now tweeting from the handle @xychelsea.

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She clarified that access to the Internet will not be available to her in prison, and will be using an outside source to send her messages.

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Manning has over 44,000 followers as of this publishing. Former Republican Congressman and retired Col. Allen West of Florida was not too happy about the news of Manning’s tweeting from federal prison:

Now, let me figure this one out, we have our young men and women — and their families — struggling to make ends meet and the Army is about to expend taxpayer dollars for hormone treatments for a Soldier convicted of espionage?

Our Army is nearing its lowest levels of personnel since 1939 and we’re taking orders from a judge as to how its soldiers are to be addressed?

h/t: Allen B. West

Share this if you share Allen West’s dismay.

Photo credit: Private Manning Support Network (Flickr)

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

Are Whistleblowers Terrorists Or Heroes?

When the Julian Assange (Wikileaks) and Edward Snowden stories were front page news around the globe, I did not know how I felt.  Much of what I am about to say will come across as just another ‘conspiracy theory’ by many-maybe most.  I hope you will read my thoughts to the end.  You might, as I did, come to a different conclusion.  Maybe not.

I recently watched a movie titled “The 5ifth Estate.” It is based on true events surrounding Julian Assange and his creation called Wikileaks (an Internet movement based on exposing corruption in government agencies), and the waves it made in many governments around the world.

There is no doubt that Assange has a huge ego; but perhaps he, Snowden, and other whistleblowers uncovered information that the power players on the world stage do not want made public and will attempt to discredit at any cost. Including murder, perhaps.

After watching this movie, a lot of thoughts were banging around inside my head.  I did some more research on Wikileaks.  I also began to put other pieces of a fragmented puzzle together.  The possibility frightens me because it may explain a whole lot of what is going on in our world today.

The thought that scares me the most is the very real possibility that the NSA’s snooping on private citizens is an attempt to protect the behind-the-scenes real world power players and prevent any future attempts to uncover an orchestrated world manipulation of the population.  I know that sounds “conspiratorial,” but I just ask you to follow my analysis.

It would seem that the NSA has justified this unprecedented snooping in an attempt to protect everyone against “terrorists.”  That might be an easier pill to swallow IF it had not already been made clear by elitists that the real ‘terrorists’ are: conservatives … patriot groups … returning military personnel … veterans … and those who want smaller government, more accountability, and fiscal responsibility.  The REAL enemy of peace and security (those who want to annihilate representative governments) is never mentioned.

Recently, President Obama’s administration negotiated a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan to free five REAL Gitmo ‘terrorists’ (enemies of the United States and those governments that oppose Shariah law) in exchange for one U.S. military deserter there.  Did our President do the ‘right thing’? Or was it just another agenda-driven elitist (one-world-government) move?

On the heels of that, our President met with the head of the Palestinian Authority, headed by Islamic terrorists, and offered them millions of American taxpayer dollars to support their terrorism. He has abandoned Israel, our ONLY real ally in the Middle East.

Think about it. We have groups that want to regulate the Internet. YOU may not like all that is available on the Internet.  Neither do I – BUT, I do not want some agenda-driven agency (whether left-leaning or right-leaning) dictating what I can opt to view.

Though tax dollars pay for local libraries, the issue is similar in many ways.  I do not like everything that is available at my local library.  I would consider some of the material downright obscene.  Should I call for a “book/DVD  burning”?  For the sake of us all, I would not–though for MY personal preferences, I WOULD!  These are often difficult decisions when we are challenged to think beyond ourselves.

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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom