Monday, April 16, 2012

The United States is having a Pakistan moment

It may (or may not) be surprising to note that the Obama administration has utilized the Espionage Act of 1917 (18 U.S.C. §792 et seq) more times than any other president in recent history. As with many aspects of this administration, it seems his assertion to protect whistle blowers in his White House transitional statement (circa 2007) seems to mismatch entirely with his actions over the last few years, most notably the case of  NSA whistleblower Tom Drake, who seems to have the rather dubious honor of being one of four individuals in American history of being charged with "willful retention" of "national defense" information (in case you were wondering all charges were dropped), ex-CIA Agent Jeffrey Sterling (arrested and charged in 2011 for allegedly revealing details of Operation Merlin), and John Kiriakou (charged in January 2012 and indicted a few days ago on confirming the use of waterboarding in interrogation during the Bush administration).

If this wasn't disturbing enough, many journalists are being forcibly involved by the government to testify in these hearings. For the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling, the Obama administration subpoenaed NYT journalist James Risen three time to testify about whether Sterling was a source. In the case John Kiriakou, veiled references to “Journalist A” (Matthew Cole of ABC News),  “Journalist B” (Scott Shane of the New York Times) and “Journalist C” (Richard Esposito of ABC News) were mentioned in the charges, but ultimately dropped from the indictment report. 

This trend underlies a clear message. When it comes to national security and intelligence, raising alarm on harmful/unlawful practices or abuse is not "whistle blowing", it's "espionage". Of course, the involvement of journalists in these legal proceeding casts a chill on future journalists considering using intelligence source.  Legal impunity for intelligence agencies AND institutionalized harassment of journalists.... 

Welcome to Pakistan*. 

* I would like to point out that I am completely aware that the United States is nowhere near as unstable politically, socially or economically as Pakistan, but in making the intelligence apparatus immune to oversight I feel is a step in the same direction, although in Pakistan journalists are threatened, beaten or killed (see Javed Naseer Rind, Saleem Shahzad, Umar Cheema) and security agencies (there are more than one) deal with "whistle blowers" outside of the legal system.