Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Truth To Power

There's an astounding op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times, and, no, I am not talking about Jonah Goldberg's latest smarm. Written by Jesselyn Radack, herself the target of harassment by the Justice Department for releasing information to the press when she was a Justice Department ethics attorney, the piece reminds us that there is a crucial difference between "leaker" and "whistleblower."

What undoubtedly provoked Ms. Radack's column was news that Thomas A. Drake, the former NSA official, had been indicted for releasing "classified" information to the press. She freely admits that the news brought back some unpleasant memories of what happened to her during her stint with the Justice Department and after, right up to the present day (she is still the subject of a DOJ investigation).

Here's a brief summary of the crime Mr. Drake allegedly committed:

I submit that Drake, the former NSA official, did not leak. He made valid disclosures revealing the failings of several major NSA programs that use computers to collect and sort electronic intelligence. These mistakes cost billions of dollars. He also described how the agency had rejected a program that would collect communications while protecting Americans' privacy — disclosures eerily similar to those made by Thomas M. Tamm, the former Justice Department lawyer who revealed the NSA's secret surveillance of Americans. Such disclosures are clearly in the public interest. They evidence a violation of law, a gross waste of funds and a patent abuse of authority — the very definition of a protected disclosure under the whistle-blower law. ...

The common denominator of whistle-blowers is the same: They disclose information of significant public importance that reveals illegal, unconstitutional or dangerous conduct, often at the highest levels of government. The government should not be allowed to hide illegal conduct under official-sounding labels such as "classified," "privileged" or "state secrets," which confer an aura of legitimacy on alleged crimes, and whistle-blowers should not be prosecuted. The billions of dollars wasted on modernizing the NSA's vast eavesdropping system is what needs to be investigated, not Drake.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Drake has been charged, essentially, with leaking "classified" information. Here is where Ms. Radack's steps in to note the profound difference between the terms "whistleblower" and "leaker, and she gives the perfect example of the latter:

In contrast, when I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, unmasked covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, he was not trying to disclose evidence of wrongdoing; in fact, quite the opposite. He put at risk national security and people's lives to undermine a critic. He was trying to punish former Ambassador Joseph Wilson by outing his wife. Libby was leaking, not whistle-blowing. His disclosure to the media had no intrinsic public value whatsoever, and he was rightly prosecuted and convicted. [Emphasis added]

The federal Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 was designed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation so that evidence of fraud, waste, or illegality can be brought to the public's attention. Instead of abiding by that law, the federal government continues to punish people for pointing out activities that harm the public interest, often in critical ways. The hope, obviously, is that people like Thomas Drake and Jesselyn Radack and, yes, Daniel Ellsberg will be frightened into silence.

What is so outrageous about the current case is that it was filed with President Barack Obama's implicit approval.

I guess we shouldn't expect too much change out of this guy.

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