High v. low-level leaking

Today brings more high-level classified disclosures from an administration fixated on punishing whistleblowers


Glenn Greenwald
July 20, 2012 4:18PM (UTC)

The Obama administration's war on whistlebowers continues unabated this week on two fronts. First, several hearings were held in the court-martial prosecution of Bradley Manning, during which military prosecutors argued that evidence that Manning's alleged leaks did no harm to national security, as well as evidence of his inhumane pre-trial detention conditions, should both be completely suppressed (in contrast to most American media outlets, which have ignored the proceedings entirely, Firedoglake's superb young writer, Kevin Gosztola, is providing typically comprehensive coverage). Meanwhile, in a federal court in Virginia this morning, former CIA official John Kiriakou is seeking dismissal of most of the criminal charges brought against him by the DOJ for allegedly leaking details of the Bush era torture program; Kiriakou is claiming he is the victim of vindictive prosecution (as former NSA official Thomas Drake, who himself was prosecuted (unsuccessfully) by the Obama DOJ for whistleblowing, put it this morning: "Commit torture: receive exec branch/DoJ protection. Whistleblow on torture w/lawful disclosures: become criminal defendant like John Kiriakou" [Twitter typos corrected]).

But the worst part of this whistleblower war, beyond the obvious threats it poses to transparency and a free press, is how purely selective it is. Just as Lynndie England went to prison for her detainee abuse while Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and John Yoo went on lucrative book tours for theirs, it is only low- to mid-level leakers who are punished by the Obama DOJ, and then only for the crime of embarrassing the U.S. Government rather than glorifying it. High-level Obama administration leakers disclose classified information at will, without the slightest fear of punishment. One can pick up a newspaper or listen to a television news broadcast almost every day and find examples of leaks from Obama's high-level officials far more serious than those allegedly committed by the Bradley Mannings and Thomas Drakes of the world. From today's New York Times article on Syria:

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In Washington, a senior American official who is tracking Syria closely said Thursday that American intelligence reports had concluded that Syrian forces were moving some parts of their chemical weapons arsenal to safeguard it from falling into rebel hands, not to use it. "They’re moving it to defend it in some of the most contested areas," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified intelligence reports.

Quoting classified American intelligence reports on Syria to The New York Times is a more serious leak than any of those serving as the basis for the multiple espionage prosecutions brought by the Obama DOJ. The difference is that this is a "senior official" rather than a low-level one, and it's not done with the intent to expose high-level corruption, deceit or illegality. Therefore, like all the other high-level crimes shielded from accountability by the Obama administration, it will be protected. Therein lies the clear lesson about the real purpose of the Obama war on whistleblowers.

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New York Times columnist David Brooks carefully cultivates a centrist demeanor on domestic political questions, but on foreign policy, the former Weekly Standard writer and full-fledged Iraq War advocate is as neoconservative as it gets. Today, following in the footsteps of the progressive Center for American Progress, Brooks devotes his column to hailing the grand success of President Obama's foreign policy. Entitled "Where Obama Shines," the column argues: "it should be noted that Barack Obama has been a good foreign policy president." Deeming this record "impressive," he gushes: "Obama has moved more aggressively both to defeat enemies and to champion democracy. He has demonstrated that talk of American decline is hooey. The U.S. is still responsible for maintaining global order, for keeping people, goods and ideas moving freely." Brooks concludes:

And, partly as a result of his efforts, the world of foreign affairs is relatively uncontentious right now. Foreign policy is not a hot campaign issue. Mitt Romney is having a great deal of trouble identifying profound disagreements. If that’s not a sign of success, I don’t know what is.

Again we see a prime legacy of the Obama presidency: the transformation of what had been contentious disputes into harmonious bipartisan consensus. And we also see again that one of the biggest myths of American political discourse is that bipartisanship is so terribly and tragically rare.


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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