David Talbot starts Open America: “The only way to keep power honest is to keep its operations visible”

As the war on terror becomes a war on our privacy, Salon's former CEO launches project to encourage whistle-blowers

Topics: Leonard Cohen, Bradley Manning, Democracy, IRS, Google, Big Brother, Tony Blair, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, Open America, Justice Deparment,

“It’s coming from the feel
that this ain’t exactly real,
or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.”
– Leonard Cohen

A specter is haunting America – the specter of freedom. After 12 years of being surveilled, harassed and terrorized by our government and corporate overlords, the public seems increasingly fed up. The backlash ignited by the Justice Department’s crackdown on the press and by the politicization of the IRS is a turning point. The public push-back against creeping Big Brotherism is coming from all directions, from the left and right. This week as Bradley Manning – the heroic young whistle-blower who has become the face of the new defiance – went on trial for alleged national security crimes that could result in a life sentence, thousands of people all over the world rallied in his defense. More than 20,000 people have contributed a total of $1.25 million to Manning’s legal battle.

There is a growing sense that this is a critical moment for American democracy. A national security state engorged by war-on-terror spending has encroached so deeply on our civil liberties that unless we fight back now, those cherished freedoms might be lost forever.

President Obama came into office on a cloud of lofty rhetoric about the free flow of information. “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government,” he declared on Jan. 21, 2009, the day after being sworn in. “We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.” Those words now have a hollow ring. Under Obama, the government has sharply escalated its prosecution of security leaks and has blocked more Freedom of Information requests than it did under George W. Bush.

Unfortunately, the big press watchdogs that the public counts on to expose government wrongdoing have been slow to bark. When Army Pfc. Manning approached the New York Times and Washington Post with his huge military cache documenting U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, the newspapers were uninterested. It took the brave enterprise of Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks team to turn Manning’s raw material into news gold. And yet, even after profiting from Assange’s risk-taking, the New York Times later blithely threw him to the sharks. Former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, who partnered with Assange on distribution of the WikiLeak documents, has since made a habit of disparaging him in public. The new Alex Gibney documentary on WikiLeaks, “We Steal Secrets,” shows one of Keller’s editorial minions gleefully ridiculing Assange – who has been forced into a vagabond life to stay one step ahead of his government pursuers – for his poor hygiene and wardrobe.

But many journalists in the independent press feel a sense of solidarity with Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks. That’s why I’m joining with a group of dedicated editors and reporters from my days at Salon and Mother Jones magazine to start a new investigative media project that we’re calling Open America.

Inspired by the courage of Manning, Open America will encourage other whistle-blowers to reach out to us from behind the closed doors of power. We aim to “open-source” our democracy, revealing vital information that belongs to the public. Open America will publish its exposés in partnership with a wide variety of independent media platforms, including Salon and AlterNet.

We understand that our country has legitimate national security concerns that must be respected. But in today’s political climate, far too much information is hidden from view – not because its disclosure would threaten public safety, but because it would expose high crimes and malfeasance.

You Might Also Like

As journalist Chris Hedges has observed, we are witnessing “the terrifying metamorphosis of the ‘war on terror’ into a wider war on civil liberties. It has become a hunt not for actual terrorists, but a hunt for all those with the ability to expose the mounting crimes of the power elite.”

It’s not just Manning and Assange who have felt the full force of the secrecy state, it’s anyone who has given aid and comfort to the cause of open government. Hackers and journalists with connections to groups like Anonymous and WikiLeaks have been subjected to FBI harassment, airport detention, and arrests. Meanwhile, government agencies and the military have taken extraordinary steps to snoop on their personnel, out of mortal fear that other Bradley Mannings lurk in their midst.

The all-seeing Eye of Sauron is located not just in Washington, but in Silicon Valley. Digital corporate giants like Google and Facebook – which have grown fat and prosperous off their mantra that “information wants to be free” – are now arms of the new surveillance state. As Eric Schmidt, the company’s executive chairman, has smugly declared,  “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.” When federal prosecutors came to Google in search of account information on WikiLeaks, the company that promises to do no evil quickly turned it over to the government. (On the other hand, Twitter, to its credit, resisted the secret government subpoenas, fighting to make them public.) Google is quickly becoming the Biggest Brother of them all.

Schmidt’s new book, “The New Digital Age” — which he co-wrote with “Google Ideas” czar (whatever that is) Jared Cohen, a youthful product of the national security state – is a disturbing vision of our future, where all human information resides in the Cloud under the benevolent supervision of the digital elite. Schmidt and Cohen view Google as a soft war partner in the global crusade against terrorism, one more effective than drones. In fact, they write, Silicon Valley companies might be even more effective than government when it comes to fighting terror: “This is the industry that produces video games, social networks and mobile phones – it has perhaps the best understanding of how to distract young people of any sector, and kids are the very demographic being recruited by terror groups.” It’s jaw-dropping banalities like this about Google’s ability to solve the world’s problems that provoked Assange to call the book “a startlingly clear and provocative call for technocratic imperialism from two of its leading witch doctors.”

Elites like Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair have rushed to praise the Google manifesto. But more and more of us are questioning the wisdom of our betters these days, whether they reside in Washington or Silicon Valley. We know that the only way to keep power honest and accountable is to keep its operations visible.

When Bradley Manning, a young soldier blessed – or damned — with a soul, saw in grisly detail what the U.S. killing machine was doing in hidden corners of the empire, he knew he had to act. “I just couldn’t let these things stay inside of the system & inside my head,” he told the email confidant who later turned him in. “I’m just weird I guess. I … care.”

It’s time for all of us to get weird.

David Talbot
David Talbot, the founder of Salon, is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years.” He is now working on a book about the legendary CIA director Allen W. Dulles and the rise of the national security state.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>