The Guardian writes in an editorial this morning: “A diverse quartet of characters share a platform at the Foreign Press Association in London on Friday 21 November. They are a mix of effusive and reserved, leftist, conservative libertarian and politically unaffiliated. But all four have worked for US or UK security agencies, and all four have blown the whistle on misconduct as they saw it. They’ve won accolades for their integrity, yet none was in the end able to remain in post with his or her employer after airing inconvenient truths.
“Matthew Hoh, Colleen Rowley and Kirk Wiebe are, like Edward Snowden, all one-time servants of the American security state. The former GCHQ translator, Katharine Gun, exposed an NSA plan to bug the UN offices of countries that George W Bush and Tony Blair regarded as potential swing votes in their doomed quest for a security council rubber-stamp for an invasion of Iraq, on which they were already set. She was, until the prosecution proved unwilling or unable to muster any evidence, pursued under the Official Secrets Acts, legislation that has rendered the British state a notorious shadowland for a century. The US is traditionally seen as blessed with more open government, but the immediate backdrop to today’s event is the increasingly ruthless pursuit of American whistleblowers.
“For all Barack Obama’s background in civil rights law, his administration has charged more people under the Espionage Act, a 97-year old law rushed through in the first world war, than all previous administrations combined. Phone records covering journalists and, presumably, their sources have been subpoenaed. The trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer charged with revealing details of a botched US plan to feed Iran false nuclear leads, is pending. While British journalists are, as we report, resorting to legal action against Scotland Yard for monitoring their activities as part of a ‘domestic extremism’ programme, US government directives and information campaigns are being trained on the ‘insider threat’, the new parlance for employees who are not to be trusted with classified information.”
The whistleblowers — from the NSA, FBI, State Department and GCHQ — spoke about the effects of their governments’ policies on freedom of the press and democracy. They are traveling as a delegation co-sponsored by the U.S.-based organizations RootsAction.org and ExposeFacts, a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy. The U.S. whistleblowers will be back in the U.S. by Monday and are available for interviews. Brief bios of the delegation follow quotes from the U.S. whistleblowers:
J. KIRK WIEBE, jkwiebe at comcast.net
Wiebe, an NSA whistleblower, said today: “Of the ‘Five Eyes’ relationships, the one between NSA and GCHQ is the oldest, closest and most complex. It involves the sharing of data access, collection, processing, as well as the analysis and reporting of intelligence information on a wide variety of subjects of importance to the respective governments and other partners involved. The combined resources of these two behemoth intelligence organizations, augmented by their respective partner organizations in other countries, are collecting — on a 24/7 basis — massive amounts of global information belonging to millions of innocent phone and Internet users around the world. This deep betrayal of privacy on an epic scale constitutes the most egregious and most dangerous threat to democracy in the history of the world.”
COLEEN ROWLEY, rowleyclan at earthlink.net , @ColeenRowley
Rowley, an FBI whistleblower, said today: “I keep being questioned about governmental secrecy, what changes occurred after 9-11 and what level of secrecy is necessary to protect national security. These questions especially emerged after it was learned through whistleblower disclosures that the NSA and other U.S. and UK spy agencies were illegally collecting and storing massive amounts of (non-relevant) data on hundreds of millions of innocent people of the world. Paradoxically while individuals’ privacy has been greatly reduced, governmental secrecy greatly increased. People now wonder if their own privacy even matters anymore in this ‘collect it all’ system and don’t seem to appreciate the dangers created when citizens are kept in the dark about the actions of their governments, including the cover-up of fraud, waste and abuse, illegality and serious risks to public safety. They don’t understand that it was actually the failure to share relevant information which national security agencies already possessed before the 9-11 attacks: inside and between such agencies and with the general public that enabled the terrorism to occur in the first place and which continues to endanger citizens in many ways. Of course our very form of democratic government under the rule of law is also increasingly threatened given the current state of excessive government secrecy and little personal privacy.
“The answer therefore is to right this upside-down system. There should be increased sharing of governmental information while citizens’ privacy and their legal rights to free speech, association, religion and press, the right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, the right to due process, right to attorney, etc, should be afforded protection.”
MATTHEW HOH, mphoh1 at yahoo.com
Hoh, a State Department whistleblower, said today: “The U.S. and UK’s special relationship has evolved to the point where both governments rely upon one another, through personal relationships, infrastructure and ideological narrative to justify endless wars overseas, while engaging in a war against civil rights and individual liberties at home. It is imperative for the people of the United States and the United Kingdom to work together to resist and reform our governments’ perversion of a common and shared value system that was once dedicated to democracy, freedom and individual liberty.”
Katharine Gun is a former translator for GCHQ. In 2003, she leaked to the Observer a top-secret memorandum concerning an NSA operation to bug the United Nations offices of six countries regarded as swing votes that could determine whether the U.N. Security Council approved the invasion of Iraq. After the Observer article appeared, Gun confessed to her GCHQ superiors and was subsequently charged with violating the Official Secrets Act. The case was dropped after the prosecution declined to offer any evidence. For her whistleblowing, Gun was given the 2003 Sam Adams award by the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence. Daniel Ellsberg called Katharine Gun’s leak “the most important and courageous leak I have ever seen.” He added: “No one else — including myself — has ever done what Gun did: tell secret truths at personal risk, before an imminent war, in time, possibly, to avert it.”
Matthew Hoh, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, previously directed the Afghanistan Study Group, a collection of foreign and public policy experts and professionals advocating for a change in U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Prior to that, Hoh served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. Embassy teams in both Afghanistan and Iraq. During his service in Afghanistan, five months into his year-long contract in 2009, he resigned and became the highest-ranking U.S. official to publicly renounce U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Hoh was awarded The Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling in 2010.
Coleen Rowley, an attorney and former FBI special agent and division counsel whose May 2002 memo to the FBI Director exposed some of the agency’s pre-9/11 failures, was one of three whistleblowers named as Time magazine’s “Persons of the Year” in 2002. In February 2003, Rowley again wrote to the FBI Director questioning him and other Bush administration officials about the reliability of supposed evidence being used to justify the impending U.S invasion of Iraq. Under sharp criticism for her comments, Rowley stepped down from her legal position to go back to being an FBI Special Agent. She retired from the FBI in 2004 after 24 years with the agency.
Norman Solomon is the coordinator of ExposeFacts.org, a new project for whistleblowing and independent journalism in the United States. ExposeFacts is part of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, where Solomon is executive director. He is the author of a dozen books on media and public policy including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org, an online action group that currently has close to half a million active online members.
J. Kirk Wiebe is a retired National Security Agency whistleblower who worked at the agency for 36 years. Wiebe’s colleague William Binney developed the ThinThread information processing system that, arguably, could have detected and prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks. NSA officials, though, ignored the program in favor of Trailblazer, a program that ended in total failure with costs of billions of dollars. Wiebe and Binney blew the whistle internally on Trailblazer, but to no avail. Post 9/11, the NSA used ThinThread to illegally spy on U.S. citizens’ communications. Unable to stay at NSA any longer in good conscience, Wiebe retired in October 2001. Since retiring, Wiebe and Binney have made several key public disclosures regarding NSA’s massive surveillance program.
Katharine Gun, Matthew Hoh, Coleen Rowley and Kirk Wiebe are on the advisory board of ExposeFacts.org. Norman Solomon is on the ExposeFacts editorial board.