Category Archives: Whistleblowing

Haugen isn’t really a “Facebook whistleblower” and it’s dangerous to imagine she is

The enthusiasm with which much of the media and political establishment have characterised Frances Haugen as a “Facebook whistleblower” requires that we pause to consider what exactly we think the term “whistleblower” means.

Haugen has brought to the surface a fuzziness in what many of us understand by the idea of whistleblowing.

Even Russell Brand, a comedian turned soothsayer, whose critical and compassionate thinking has been invaluable in clarifying our present moment, joined in the cheerleading of Haugen, calling her a “brave whistleblower”.

But what do Brand and other commentators mean when they use that term in relation to Haugen?

Manipulative feeds

But what do Brand and other commentators mean when they use that term in relation to Haugen?

There are two clues that what Haugen is doing may not properly count as whistleblowing – and that using the term in this way degrades the status and meaning of whistleblowing in ways that are likely to be harmful to whistleblowers themselves.

The first is that there seems to be little Haugen is telling us that we do not already know – either based on our own personal experiences of using social media (does anyone really not understand yet that Facebook manipulates our feeds through algorithms?) or from documentaries like The Social Dilemma, where various refugees from Silicon Valley offer dire warnings of where social media is leading society.

We did not call that movie’s many talking heads “whistleblowers”, so why has Haugen suddenly earned a status none of them deserved? (You can read my critique of The Social Dilemma here.)

But the real problem with calling Haugen a “whistleblower” is indicated by the fact that she has been immediately propelled to the centre of a partisan political row – yet another example of tribal politics that have become such a feature of the post-Trump era.

Democrats see Haugen as a hero, blowing the whistle not only on overweening tech corporations that are taking possession of our children’s minds and subverting social solidarity but that are also fuelling dangerous Trumpian delusions that paved the way to January’s riot at the Capitol building.

Republicans, by contrast, view Haugen as a Democrat partisan, trying to breathe life into a liberal conspiracy theory – about Republicans. In their view, she is bolstering a leftwing “cancel culture” that will see wholesome conservative values driven from the online public square.

Deep, dark dungeon

Let’s set aside this tribalism for the moment (we will return to it soon) and consider first what we imagine whistleblowing involves.

Haugen has indeed used her position as a former employee in a hyper-powerful corporation – the globe-spanning tech firm Facebook – to bring to light things that were supposed to be hidden from us.

That meets most people’s basic definition of a whistleblower.

But the term “whistleblower” also implicitly includes the idea of a cost – usually a heavy one – paid by the person blowing the whistle. When you take on powerful institutions, those institutions fight back, and do so in the dirtiest ways possible when their core interests are under threat.

That is evident in the treatment of the bravest whistleblowers and those who assist them. Some are prosecuted, jailed and near-bankrupted (Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, Craig Murray), others are driven into exile (Edward Snowden), while the unluckiest are vilified and disappeared into the modern equivalent of a deep, dark dungeon (Julian Assange).

It is by virtue of their treatment that we can be sure all these people are whistleblowers. It is because they are telling us secrets those in power are determined to keep concealed that they are forced to go through such terrible ordeals.

We might go so far as to argue that, as a rule of thumb, the more severe the penalty faced by a whistleblower, the greater threat they pose in bringing to light what is supposed to remain forever in the dark.

Hidden secrets

One problem with describing Haugen as a whistleblower is that it is far from clear that she has paid – or will pay – any kind of significant price for her disclosures.

And maybe more to the point, it seems that when she turned to 60 Minutes to help her “blow the whistle” on Facebook she knew she would have powerful allies – right up to those occupying the White House – offering her protection from any meaningful fallout from Facebook.

If reports are to be believed, she has already been signed up with the public relations firm that has represented Jen Psaki, the White House spokeswoman.

The support Haugen is being offered, of course, does not mean that she is not drawing attention to important matters. But it does mean that it is doubtful that “whistleblowing” is a helpful term to describe what she is doing.

This is not just a semantic issue. A lot hangs on how we use the term.

A proper whistleblower is trying to reveal the hidden secrets of the most powerful to bring about accountability and make our societies more transparent, safer, fairer places. Whistleblowing seeks to level the playing field between those who rule and those who are ruled.

At the national and international level, whistleblowers expose crimes and misdemeanours by the state, by corporations and by major organisations so that we can hold them to account, so that we, the people, can be empowered, and so that our increasingly hollow democracies gain a little more democratic substance.

But Haugen has done something different. Or at least she has been coopted, willingly or not, by those same establishment elements that are averse to accountability, opposed to the empowerment of ordinary people, and stand in the way of shoring up of democratic institutions.

Competing visions

To clarify this point, we need to understand that in our societies there are two kinds of ways power can be challenged: from outside the establishment, the power structure, that dominates our lives; or from within it.

These are two different kinds of activity, with different outcomes – both for the whistleblower and for us.

Scholars often refer to “elites” rather than one monolithic establishment to better capture the nature of power. We, as outside observers, often miss this important observation.

The establishment, in fact, any major organisation, is likely to have at least two major competing groups within it, unless it is entirely authoritarian. (Even then, leaders of dictatorial regimes have to worry about plots and coups.)

There are rival visions of what the organisation – or state – should do, how best to manage its interests and maximise its success or profits, and how best to shield it from scrutiny or reform. Those inside the organisation are united in their motivation to maintain their power, but they are often divided over how that can best be achieved.

In western societies, these opposing visions typically revolve around ideas associated with liberal and conservative values. In the case of states, that simple binary is often reinforced by electoral systems that encourage two parties, two political choices, two sets of values: Democrats versus Republicans; Labour versus Conservatives; and so on.

It is part of the establishment’s success – the way it preserves its power – that it can present these two choices as meaningful.

But, in reality, both choices support the status quo. Whichever party you vote for, you are voting for the same ideological system – currently a neoliberal version of capitalism. However you cast your vote, the same set of elites stay in power, with the same kinds of corporations funding them, and with the same revolving door between the political, media and business establishments.

Elite battles

So how does this relate to Haugen?

Our “Facebook whistleblower” is not helping to blow the whistle on the character of the power structure itself, or its concealed crimes, or its democratic deficit, as Manning and Snowden did.

She has not turned her back on the establishment and revealed its darkest secrets. She has simply shifted allegiances within the establishment, making new alliances in the constantly shifting battles between elites for dominance.

Which is precisely why she has been treated with such reverence by the 60 Minutes programme and other “liberal” corporate media and feted by Democratic party politicians. She has aided their elite faction over a rival elite faction.

Manning and Snowden challenged the very basis on which our societies are organised. They hurled a big rock into the placid lake that is the ideological background to our lives.

Manning exposed the reality of voracious war industries determined to control the resources of others at a terrible cost in human lives and blow to the ethical values to which we pay lip service. Snowden, meanwhile, showed that ultimately these same elites – whether Democrats or Republicans are formally in charge – view us as the enemy, surveilling us in secret to ensure we can never organise to replace them.

Both Manning and Snowden threatened the national security state, and were vilified by both sides of the aisle for doing so.

No left-right divide

Haugen’s relationship to power is different, and we can make sense of it only by understanding what Facebook is.

This tech giant stands at the centre of a major elite battle: between old media and new media; between traditional, analogue corporate power and new models of digital corporate power; between elites that benefit from unregulated “free” markets and those who gain their power from regulation.

Within Facebook, itself, there are battles: between those who hold to its original ambition to monetise an endlessly connected world where we all get an online loudspeaker, and those who want the platform to become even more deeply embedded within the national security state and serve its purposes.

This is not a simple Democrat versus Republican divide. Facebook and other social media platforms – with their raucous effects on public discourse and their ability to amplify non-elite voices – have had a polarising impact that has cut across the usual left-right lines.

The complex skirmishes between elites have been further complicated by the increasingly libertarian, free market impulses within the current Republican party establishment (in tension with the right’s traditional focus on conservative and family values) and the “Big Government”, identity politics-obsessed impulses within the current Democratic party establishment (in tension with the left’s traditional attachment to more liberal, free speech values).

Paradoxically for many of us, Democratic elites often appear more visibly wedded to the national security state – and have stronger allies within it – than Republican elites. Just ask Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi how they respectively feel about the intelligence agencies.

Silicon Valley elites similarly straddle this divide, with some in favour of profiting from an online free-for-all and others in favour of tight regulation.

Secret algorithms

Haugen’s “whistleblowing” on Facebook is simply her going public that she favours one side of this elite competition over the other. She is not batting for us, the public, she is assisting one set of elites against another set of elites.

Which is precisely why her message to 60 Minutes and Congress reduces to a simple one: more regulation of social media, more use of secret algorithms, more darkness rather than light.

Those politicians who want greater regulation of social media platforms to keep out independent voices and critical thinking; the billionaires who want to reassert their gatekeeping media power against the tech upstarts; the Silicon Valley visionaries who want to poke their digital tools deeper into our lives have all found an ally in Haugen.

She does not threaten the status quo, a status quo that continues to plunder the planet’s finite resources to exhaustion, that wages endless resource wars around the globe, that is driving our species to the edge of extinction. No, she is upholding a status quo that will ensure the same psychopaths remain in power, their crimes even further out of view.

That is why Haugen is not really a whistleblower, brave or otherwise. Because whistleblowers pay a heavy price for standing up for truth, for humanity, for life. She is simply shoring up one elite path of several to more corruption, more deceit, more suffering, more death.

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Blowing the Whistle at Facebook

The only surprise was that it did not come sooner.  Big Tech whistleblowers are not exactly running out of the offices of Silicon Valley, so it was with some excitement that Facebook could produce a person willing enough to show us the laundry, with the dirt still caking the content.

And the laundry in question proved to be bountiful, with internal company documents running into the thousands showing a fruit salad range of mendacity, deception and approaches to combating hate, violence and misinformation on its platform.  The Wall Street Journal capitalised.

Before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Production, Product Safety, and Data Security, Frances Haugen, who revealed her identity on October 3, elaborated.  Lawmakers were certainly more pleased with Haugen’s frankness, a far cry from the testimony of Facebook global head of Safety, Antigone Davis, who gave little away the week prior.

As an algorithm specialist, Haugen spent time at Facebook dealing with civic misinformation, counterespionage and democracy.  She also had previous stints at Google, Pinterest and Yelp. “Having worked on four different types of social networks, I understand how complex and nuanced these problems are,” she claimed in her opening statement.  “However, the choices being made inside Facebook are disastrous – for our children, for our public safety, for our privacy and for our democracy – and that is why we must demand Facebook make changes.”

Where there were conflicts between profits and safety, these were resolved in favour of the former. “The result has been more division, more harm, more lies, more threats, and more combat.”  Online discussions (Haugen calls it “dangerous online talk”) had, in some cases, “led to violence that harms and even kills people.”

The hearing itself spent much time on Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm, which emphasises interactions (likes and comments) from those the company deems the use closest to.  While not in of itself pernicious, data scientists, Haugen’s documents reveal, were concerned that this focus was having a skewed effect.

Another concern for Haugen is the company’s use of engagement-based ranking.  Content receiving more reactions from users are given ranking in terms of priority, meaning that violence and misinformation receive prominence.  In “basically damning 10 years of my own work”, Haugen suggested that a chronological ranking system would be preferable.

Facebook’s relationship with information – and misinformation – is deeply problematic.  Safeguards were implemented in the leadup to the 2020 US presidential election, only to be removed.  After the Capitol riot of January 6, they were reintroduced.  This, Haugen suggests, demonstrates a false logic at play: that using its current algorithms is necessary for profits while stressing safety would diminish them.  Not so, claims the whistleblower: having oversight governed by researchers, academics, and government bodies could actually aid growth.  “With appropriate oversight and some of these constraints, it’s possible that Facebook could actually be a much more profitable company five or ten years down the road, because it wasn’t as toxic, and not as many people quit it.”

These suggestions are not free of their own problems.  Government oversight is hardly a guarantee on the veracity and verity of information and having an example of it set in the United States is bound to see it replicated in other countries.  Nor is it a guarantee against censorship, ever the prerogative of moralising lawmakers keen to use the message of safety to block material.

Haugen also wishes to see reforms to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which protects the social media platforms from legal liability.  Should the algorithms in question be shown to cause harm, then the company should be made liable.  “Facebook should not be given a free pass on choices it makes to prioritize growth and reactiveness over public safety.”

Zuckerberg’s response to the Haugen show was predictably filled with denial.  “We care deeply about issues like safety, well-being and mental health.”  He found it “difficult to see coverage that misrepresents our work and our motives.”  The examples he adduced were themselves suggestive of how deep the mire has become: the creation of “an industry-leading research program to understand these important issues”; the employment of “so many people” in “fighting harmful content”.  But what really irked Zuckerberg was the suggestion that “we prioritize profit over safety and well-being.”

The company chief can hardly be too bothered: he is vacationing.  It fell to the demons of Facebook PR to go to work.  “Today,” Director of Policy Communications Lena Pietsch fired in statement, “a Senate Commerce subcommittee held a hearing with a former product manager at Facebook who worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives – and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question.”

The statement had it all: demeaning the whistleblower’s testimony as irrelevant, ill-informed and unimportant, largely because she was unimportant to begin with, lacked access to the relevant channels and could not possibly have formed a valid opinion about the company.  That said, Facebook did agree that it was “time to begin to create standard rules for the internet.”  This involved an over to you message to Congress.  “It’s been 25 years since the rules of the internet have been updated and instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions that belong to legislators, it is time for Congress to act.”

Beyond these disclosures, Facebook will be fighting with committed savagery to convince those on the Hill that change, were it to happen, should be minimal.  From the company’s perspective, it has to be, given the central tenets of surveillance capitalism that underpin its success.

The post Blowing the Whistle at Facebook first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Sorry Cover-Up for US Mass Murder

AP Photo / Kirsty Wigglesworth, File

So a top US commander has come clean on primetime TV about the killing of 10 civilians in Afghanistan with a drone missile. Seven of the victims were children packed into a car.

CentCom General Kenneth McKenzie said the deadly strike was a “tragic mistake” and he offered his “deep condolences”. In an unprecedented televised press conference, the general said he took personal responsibility for the atrocity and that there would be financial compensation paid out to the victims’ families.

He didn’t offer his resignation though, which might seem appropriate for someone taking responsibility for such a heinous event. Neither did the Pentagon commander explain how compensation would be arranged given that the US evacuated from Afghanistan on 30 August with no officials now present in the country.

General McKenzie went to great lengths in his press conference to claim that the vehicle was surveilled carefully for several hours before the drone missile was launched, killing all the occupants. He presented a graphic to illustrate the detailed movements of the targeted car near Kabul international airport on 29 August. This was the day after a suicide bomber killed 13 US troops at the airport along with over 100 Afghan civilians trying to join the frenzied American airlift.

This handout photo courtesy of the US Air Force obtained on November 7, 2020 shows an armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) as it flies over the Nevada Test and Training Range on July 15, 2019. © AFP 2021 / Haley Stevens/US Air Force

The general emphasised how his staff were under immense time pressure when they were assessing the target whom they believed was an ISIS terror team on its way to bomb the airport again.

What is objectionable about McKenzie’s apology live on TV is the impression of an exceptional error by US forces.

The reality is that civilians are routinely murdered by US drones in Afghanistan and several other countries where the Pentagon is operating, oftentimes illegally in violation of international law. Killing innocent people is not an “exceptional error” for US forces, it is the norm.

Daniel Hale, a former US Air Force analyst who turned whistleblower, was imprisoned in July for revealing the horror of civilian casualties from drone strikes in Afghanistan. He told a judge that 90 percent of victims were innocent civilians. Hale said he was sickened by the indiscriminate slaughter. For his truth-telling, he is now behind bars.

The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles was expanded under the Obama administration and they were deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya. Obama personally selected targets every week in briefings from the CIA in what became known as “Terror Tuesdays”.

U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley discusses the end of the military mission in Afghanistan during a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., September 1, 2021 © REUTERS / Evelyn Hockstein

It was claimed that during the Obama drone assassination programme that the total number of civilians mistakenly killed was just 117. That figure was derided as a gross underestimate. The Bureau for Investigative Journalism puts a more accurate death toll at six times higher. Even the latter may be an underestimate.

Hale, the whistleblower, was prosecuted and jailed by the Trump administration. Public calls for a pardon have been so far ignored by the Biden administration.

The fate of truth-tellers who reveal the murderous nature of US military occupations in foreign countries is to be buried behind bars. Julian Assange’s biggest “crime” was showing to the world the systematic killing of civilians by US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Assange is being held in a maximum-security prison in England awaiting the outcome of an extradition order by the US where he faces 175 years in jail for “espionage”.

People like Julian Assange and Daniel Hale are heroes who should be venerated publicly and given lifetime awards.

Meanwhile, the real criminals are given primetime TV to parade their insipid apologies while taking no responsibility for the murder. Saying “sorry” means nothing when the killings will go on and on. It’s just a sorry cover-up for US imperialism and its routine war crimes.

US soldiers stand guard behind barbed wire as Afghans sit on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan © AFP 2021 / Wakil Kohsar

Unlike many other US drone murders of civilians that are brushed away into oblivion, the killing of 10 civilians in Kabul only came to light because one of the victims worked for a US charity. Otherwise, the Pentagon would have ensured that the atrocity was buried in a bureaucratic cover-up. The innocent victims like the truth-tellers are always buried.

General McKenzie’s “honourable” mea culpa is sick performance art. It is aimed at reassuring the American public that we really are the good guys who rarely commit atrocities. And when we do, then it is an exceptional “tragic mistake” for which we are truly “sorry”. That gives US imperialism a license to continue criminal wars, aggression, occupations and Mass Murder Inc.

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The Rise of the Security-Industrial Complex from 9/11 to COVID-19

I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people in — and the West in general — into an unbearable hell and a choking life.

— Osama bin Laden (October 2001), as reported by CNN

What a strange and harrowing road we’ve walked since September 11, 2001, littered with the debris of our once-vaunted liberties. We have gone from a nation that took great pride in being a model of a representative democracy to being a model of how to persuade a freedom-loving people to march in lockstep with a police state.

Our losses are mounting with every passing day.

What began with the post-9/11 passage of the USA Patriot Act  has snowballed into the eradication of every vital safeguard against government overreach, corruption and abuse.

The citizenry’s unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security has resulted in a society where the nation has been locked down into a militarized, mechanized, hypersensitive, legalistic, self-righteous, goose-stepping antithesis of every principle upon which this nation was founded.

Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, overcriminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, police violence and the like—all of which have been sanctioned by Congress, the White House and the courts—our constitutional freedoms have been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded.

The rights embodied in the Constitution, if not already eviscerated, are on life support.

Free speech, the right to protest, the right to challenge government wrongdoing, due process, a presumption of innocence, the right to self-defense, accountability and transparency in government, privacy, press, sovereignty, assembly, bodily integrity, representative government: all of these and more have become casualties in the government’s war on the American people, a war that has grown more pronounced since 9/11.

Indeed, since the towers fell on 9/11, the U.S. government has posed a greater threat to our freedoms than any terrorist, extremist or foreign entity ever could.

While nearly 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government and its agents have easily killed at least ten times that number of civilians in the U.S. and abroad since 9/11 through its police shootings, SWAT team raids, drone strikes and profit-driven efforts to police the globe, sell weapons to foreign nations (which too often fall into the hands of terrorists), and foment civil unrest in order to keep the security industrial complex gainfully employed.

The American people have been treated like enemy combatants, to be spied on, tracked, scanned, frisked, searched, subjected to all manner of intrusions, intimidated, invaded, raided, manhandled, censored, silenced, shot at, locked up, denied due process, and killed.

In allowing ourselves to be distracted by terror drills, foreign wars, color-coded warnings, pandemic lockdowns and other carefully constructed exercises in propaganda, sleight of hand, and obfuscation, we failed to recognize that the U.S. government—the government that was supposed to be a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”—has become the enemy of the people.

Consider that the government’s answer to every problem has been more government—at taxpayer expense—and less individual liberty.

Every crisis—manufactured or otherwise—since the nation’s early beginnings has become a make-work opportunity for the government to expand its reach and its power at taxpayer expense while limiting our freedoms at every turn: The Great Depression. The World Wars. The 9/11 terror attacks. The COVID-19 pandemic.

Viewed in this light, the history of the United States is a testament to the old adage that liberty decreases as government (and government bureaucracy) grows. Or, to put it another way, as government expands, liberty contracts.

This is how the emergency state operates, after all, and we should know: after all, we have spent the past 20 years in a state of emergency.

From 9/11 to COVID-19, “we the people” have acted the part of the helpless, gullible victims desperately in need of the government to save us from whatever danger threatens. In turn, the government has been all too accommodating and eager while also expanding its power and authority in the so-called name of national security.

This is a government that has grown so corrupt, greedy, power-hungry and tyrannical over the course of the past 240-plus years that our constitutional republic has since given way to idiocracy, and representative government has given way to a kleptocracy (a government ruled by thieves) and a kakistocracy (a government run by unprincipled career politicians, corporations and thieves that panders to the worst vices in our nature and has little regard for the rights of American citizens).

What this really amounts to is a war on the American people, fought on American soil, funded with taxpayer dollars, and waged with a single-minded determination to use national crises, manufactured or otherwise, in order to transform the American homeland into a battlefield.

Indeed, the government’s (mis)management of various states of emergency in the past 20 years has spawned a massive security-industrial complex the likes of which have never been seen before. According to the National Priorities Project at the progressive Institute for Policy Studies, since 9/11, the United States has spent $21 trillion on “militarization, surveillance, and repression.”

Clearly, this is not a government that is a friend to freedom.

Rather, this is a government that, in conjunction with its corporate partners, views the citizenry as consumers and bits of data to be bought, sold and traded.

This is a government that spies on and treats its people as if they have no right to privacy, especially in their own homes while the freedom to be human is being erased.

This is a government that is laying the groundwork to weaponize the public’s biomedical data as a convenient means by which to penalize certain “unacceptable” social behaviors. Incredibly, a new government agency HARPA (a healthcare counterpart to the Pentagon’s research and development arm DARPA) will take the lead in identifying and targeting “signs” of mental illness or violent inclinations among the populace by using artificial intelligence to collect data from Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo and Google Home.

This is a government that routinely engages in taxation without representation, whose elected officials lobby for our votes only to ignore us once elected.

This is a government comprised of petty bureaucrats, vigilantes masquerading as cops, and faceless technicians.

This is a government that railroads taxpayers into financing government programs whose only purpose is to increase the power and wealth of the corporate elite.

This is a government—a warring empire—that forces its taxpayers to pay for wars abroad that serve no other purpose except to expand the reach of the military industrial complex.

This is a government that subjects its people to scans, searches, pat downs and other indignities by the TSA and VIPR raids on so-called “soft” targets like shopping malls and bus depots by black-clad, Darth Vader look-alikes.

This is a government that uses fusion centers, which represent the combined surveillance efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement, to track the citizenry’s movements, record their conversations, and catalogue their transactions.

This is a government whose wall-to-wall surveillance has given rise to a suspect society in which the burden of proof has been reversed such that Americans are now assumed guilty until or unless they can prove their innocence.

This is a government that treats its people like second-class citizens who have no rights, and is working overtime to stigmatize and dehumanize any and all who do not fit with the government’s plans for this country.

This is a government that uses free speech zones, roving bubble zones and trespass laws to silence, censor and marginalize Americans and restrict their First Amendment right to speak truth to power.

This is a government that persists in renewing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the president and the military to arrest and detain American citizens indefinitely based on the say-so of the government.

This is a government that saddled us with the Patriot Act, which opened the door to all manner of government abuses and intrusions on our privacy.

This is a government that, in direct opposition to the dire warnings of those who founded our country, has allowed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish a standing army by way of programs that transfer surplus military hardware to local and state police.

This is a government that has militarized American’s domestic police, equipping them with military weapons such as “tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; a million hollow-point bullets; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft,” in addition to armored vehicles, sound cannons and the like.

This is a government that has provided cover to police when they shoot and kill unarmed individuals just for standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some trigger-centric fear in a police officer’s mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety.

This is a government that has created a Constitution-free zone within 100 miles inland of the border around the United States, paving the way for Border Patrol agents to search people’s homes, intimately probe their bodies, and rifle through their belongings, all without a warrant. Nearly 66% of Americans (2/3 of the U.S. population, 197.4 million people) now live within that 100-mile-deep, Constitution-free zone.

This is a government that treats public school students as if they were prison inmates, enforcing zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior, and indoctrinating them with teaching that emphasizes rote memorization and test-taking over learning, synthesizing and critical thinking.

This is a government that is operating in the negative on every front: it’s spending far more than what it makes (and takes from the American taxpayers) and it is borrowing heavily (from foreign governments and Social Security) to keep the government operating and keep funding its endless wars abroad. Meanwhile, the nation’s sorely neglected infrastructure—railroads, water pipelines, ports, dams, bridges, airports and roads—is rapidly deteriorating.

This is a government that has empowered police departments to make a profit at the expense of those they have sworn to protect through the use of asset forfeiture laws, speed traps, and red light cameras.

This is a government whose gun violence—inflicted on unarmed individuals by battlefield-trained SWAT teams, militarized police, and bureaucratic government agents trained to shoot first and ask questions later—poses a greater threat to the safety and security of the nation than any mass shooter. There are now reportedly more bureaucratic (non-military) government agents armed with high-tech, deadly weapons than U.S. Marines.

This is a government that has allowed the presidency to become a dictatorship operating above and beyond the law, regardless of which party is in power.

This is a government that treats dissidents, whistleblowers and freedom fighters as enemies of the state.

This is a government that has in recent decades unleashed untold horrors upon the world—including its own citizenry—in the name of global conquest, the acquisition of greater wealth, scientific experimentation, and technological advances, all packaged in the guise of the greater good.

This is a government that allows its agents to break laws with immunity while average Americans get the book thrown at them.

This is a government that speaks in a language of force. What is this language of force? Militarized police. Riot squads. Camouflage gear. Black uniforms. Armored vehicles. Mass arrests. Pepper spray. Tear gas. Batons. Strip searches. Surveillance cameras. Kevlar vests. Drones. Lethal weapons. Less-than-lethal weapons unleashed with deadly force. Rubber bullets. Water cannons. Stun grenades. Arrests of journalists. Crowd control tactics. Intimidation tactics. Brutality. Contempt of cop charges.

This is a government that justifies all manner of government tyranny and power grabs in the so-called name of national security, national crises and national emergencies.

This is a government that exports violence worldwide, with one of this country’s most profitable exports being weapons. Indeed, the United States, the world’s largest exporter of arms, has been selling violence to the world in order to prop up the military industrial complex and maintain its endless wars abroad.

This is a government that is consumed with squeezing every last penny out of the population and seemingly unconcerned if essential freedoms are trampled in the process.

This is a government that routinely undermines the Constitution and rides roughshod over the rights of the citizenry, eviscerating individual freedoms so that its own powers can be expanded.

This is a government that believes it has the authority to search, seize, strip, scan, spy on, probe, pat down, taser, and arrest any individual at any time and for the slightest provocation, the Constitution be damned.

In other words, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, this is not a government that believes in, let alone upholds, freedom.

 

The post The Rise of the Security-Industrial Complex from 9/11 to COVID-19 first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Why Is No One Talking About Whistleblower Daniel Hale?

Daniel Hale, a former US air force intelligence analyst, leaked information about how trigger happy the US military was when it came to drones and innocent civilians in Afghanistan. Aaaaaand for having a conscience, he’s been slapped with a 4 year prison sentence! As RT’s Polly Boiko explains.

The post Why Is No One Talking About Whistleblower Daniel Hale? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Craig Murray’s jailing is the latest move in a battle to snuff out independent journalism

Craig Murray, a former ambassador to Uzbekistan, the father of a newborn child, a man in very poor health and one who has no prior convictions, will have to hand himself over to the Scottish police on Sunday morning. He becomes the first person ever to be imprisoned on the obscure and vaguely defined charge of “jigsaw identification”.

Murray is also the first person to be jailed in Britain for contempt of court in half a century – a period when such different legal and moral values prevailed that the British establishment had only just ended the prosecution of “homosexuals” and the jailing of women for having abortions.

Murray’s imprisonment for eight months by Lady Dorrian, Scotland’s second most senior judge, is, of course, based entirely on a keen reading of Scottish law rather than evidence of the Scottish and London political establishments seeking revenge on the former diplomat. And the UK supreme court’s refusal on Thursday to hear Murray’s appeal despite many glaring legal anomalies in the case, thereby paving his path to jail, is equally rooted in a strict application of the law, and not influenced in any way by political considerations.

Murray’s jailing has nothing to do with the fact that he embarrassed the British state in the early 2000s by becoming that rarest of things: a whistleblowing diplomat. He exposed the British government’s collusion, along with the US, in Uzbekistan’s torture regime.

His jailing also has nothing to do with the fact that Murray has embarrassed the British state more recently by reporting the woeful and continuing legal abuses in a London courtroom as Washington seeks to extradite Wikileaks’ founder, Julian Assange, and lock him away for life in a maximum security prison. The US wants to make an example of Assange for exposing its war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and for publishing leaked diplomatic cables that pulled the mask off Washington’s ugly foreign policy.

Murray’s jailing has nothing to do with the fact that the contempt proceedings against him allowed the Scottish court to deprive him of his passport so that he could not travel to Spain and testify in a related Assange case that is severely embarrassing Britain and the US. The Spanish hearing has been presented with reams of evidence that the US illegally spied on Assange inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he sought political asylum to avoid extradition. Murray was due to testify that his own confidential conversations with Assange were filmed, as were Assange’s privileged meetings with his own lawyers. Such spying should have seen the case against Assange thrown out, had the judge in London actually been applying the law.

Similarly, Murray’s jailing has nothing to do with his embarrassing the Scottish political and legal establishments by reporting, almost single-handedly, the defence case in the trial of Scotland’s former First Minister, Alex Salmond. Unreported by the corporate media, the evidence submitted by Salmond’s lawyers led a jury dominated by women to acquit him of a raft of sexual assault charges. It is Murray’s reporting of Salmond’s defence that has been the source of his current troubles.

And most assuredly, Murray’s jailing has precisely nothing to do with his argument – one that might explain why the jury was so unconvinced by the prosecution case – that Salmond was actually the victim of a high-level plot by senior politicians at Holyrood to discredit him and prevent his return to the forefront of Scottish politics. The intention, says Murray, was to deny Salmond the chance to take on London and make a serious case for independence, and thereby expose the SNP’s increasing lip service to that cause.

Relentless attack

Murray has been a thorn in the side of the British establishment for nearly two decades. Now they have found a way to lock him up just as they have Assange, as well as tie Murray up potentially for years in legal battles that risk bankrupting him as he seeks to clear his name.

And given his extremely precarious health – documented in detail to the court – his imprisonment further risks turning eight months into a life sentence. Murray nearly died from a pulmonary embolism 17 years ago when he was last under such relentless attack from the British establishment. His health has not improved since.

At that time, in the early 2000s, in the run-up to, and early stages of, the invasion of Iraq, Murray effectively exposed the complicity of fellow British diplomats – their preference to turn a blind eye to the abuses sanctioned by their own government and its corrupt and corrupting alliance with the US.

Later, when Washington’s “extraordinary rendition” – state kidnapping – programme came to light, as well as its torture regime at places like Abu Ghraib, the spotlight should have turned to the failure of diplomats to speak out. Unlike Murray, they refused to turn whistleblower. They provided cover to the illegality and barbarism.

For his pains, Murray was smeared by Tony Blair’s government as, among other things, a sexual predator – charges a Foreign Office investigation eventually cleared him of. But the damage was done, with Murray forced out. A commitment to moral and legal probity was clearly incompatible with British foreign policy objectives.

Murray had to reinvent his career, and he did so through a popular blog. He has applied the same dedication to truth-telling and commitment to the protection of human rights in his journalism – and has again run up against equally fierce opposition from the British establishment.

Two-tier journalism

The most glaring, and disturbing, legal innovation in Lady Dorrian’s ruling against Murray – and the main reason he is heading to prison – is her decision to divide journalists into two classes: those who work for approved corporate media outlets, and those like Murray who are independent, often funded by readers rather than paid big salaries by billionaires or the state.

According to Lady Dorrian, licensed, corporate journalists are entitled to legal protections she denied to unofficial and independent journalists like Murray – the very journalists who are most likely to take on governments, criticise the legal system, and expose the hypocrisy and lies of the corporate media.

In finding Murray guilty of so-called “jigsaw identification”, Lady Dorrian did not make a distinction between what Murray wrote about the Salmond case and what approved, corporate journalists wrote.

That is for good reason. Two surveys have shown that most of those following the Salmond trial who believe they identified one or more of his accusers did so from the coverage of the corporate media, especially the BBC. Murray’s writings appear to have had very little impact on the identification of any of the accusers. Among named individual journalists, Dani Garavelli, who wrote about the trial for Scotland on Sunday and the London Review of Books, was cited 15 times more often by respondents than Murray as helping them to identify Salmond’s accusers.

Rather, Lady Dorrian’s distinction was between who gets protected when identification occurs. Write for the Times or the Guardian, or broadcast on the BBC, where the audience reach is enormous, and the courts will protect you from prosecution. Write about the same issues for a blog, and you risk being hounded into prison.

In fact, the legal basis of “jigsaw identification” – one could argue the whole point of it – is that it accrues dangerous powers to the state. It gives permission for the legal establishment to arbitrarily decide which piece of the supposed jigsaw is to be counted as identification. If the BBC’s Kirsty Wark includes a piece of the jigsaw, it does not count as identification in the eyes of the court. If Murray or another independent journalist offers a different piece of the jigsaw, it does count. The obvious ease with which this principle can be abused by the establishment to oppress and silence dissident journalists should not need underscoring.

And yet this is no longer Lady Dorrian’s ruling alone. In refusing to hear Murray’s appeal, the UK supreme court has offered its blessing to this same dangerous, two-tiered classification.

Credentialed by the state

What Lady Dorrian has done is to overturn traditional views of what constitutes journalism: that it is a practice that at its very best is designed to hold the powerful to account, and that anyone who engages in such work is doing journalism, whether or not they are typically thought of as a journalist.

That idea was obvious until quite recently. When social media took off, one of the gains trumpeted even by the corporate media was the emergence of a new kind of “citizen journalist”. At that stage, corporate media believed that these citizen journalists would become cheap fodder, providing on-the-ground, local stories they alone would have access to and that only the establishment media would be in a position to monetise. This was precisely the impetus for the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” section, which in its early incarnation allowed a varied selection of people with specialist knowledge or information to provide the paper with articles for free to increase the paper’s sales and advertising rates.

The establishment’s attitude to citizen journalists, and the Guardian’s to the “Comment is Free” model, only changed when these new journalists started to prove hard to control, and their work often highlighted, inadvertently or otherwise, the inadequacies, deceptions and double standards of the corporate media.

Now, Lady Dorrian has put the final nail in the coffin of citizen journalism. She has declared through her ruling that she and other judges will be the ones to decide who is considered a journalist and thereby who receives legal protections for their work. This is a barely concealed way for the state to license or “credentialise” journalists. It turns journalism into a professional guild with only official, corporate journalists safe from legal retribution by the state.

If you are an unapproved, uncredentialed journalist, you can be jailed, as Murray is being, on a similar legal basis to the imprisonment of someone who carries out a surgical operation without the necessary qualifications. But whereas the law against charlatan surgeons is there to protect the public, to stop unnecessary harm being inflicted on the sick, Lady Dorrian’s ruling will serve a very different purpose: to protect the state from the harm caused by the exposure of its secret or most malign practices by trouble-making, sceptical – and now largely independent – journalists.

Journalism is being corralled back into the exclusive control of the state and billionaire-owned corporations. It may not be surprising that corporate journalists, keen to hold on to their jobs, are consenting through their silence to this all-out assault on journalism and free speech. After all, this is a kind of protectionism – additional job security – for journalists employed by a corporate media that has no real intention to challenge the powerful.

But what is genuinely shocking is that this dangerous accretion of further power to the state and its allied corporate class is being backed implicitly by the journalists’ union, the NUJ. It has kept quiet over the many months of attacks on Murray and the widespread efforts to discredit him for his reporting. The NUJ has made no significant noise about Lady Dorrian’s creation of two classes of journalists – state-approved and unapproved – or about her jailing of Murray on these grounds.

But the NUJ has gone further. Its leaders have publicly washed their  hands of Murray by excluding him from membership of the union, even while its officials have conceded that he should qualify. The NUJ has become as complicit in the hounding of a journalist as Murray’s fellow diplomats once were for his hounding as an ambassador. This is a truly shameful episode in the NUJ’s history.

Free speech criminalised

But more dangerous still, Lady Dorrian’s ruling is part of a pattern in which the political, judicial and media establishments have colluded to narrow the definition of what counts as journalism, to exclude anything beyond the pap that usually passes for journalism in the corporate media.

Murray has been one of the few journalists to report in detail the arguments made by Assange’s legal team in his extradition hearings. Noticeably in both the Assange and Murray cases, the presiding judge has limited the free speech protections traditionally afforded to journalism and has done so by restricting who qualifies as a journalist. Both cases have been frontal assaults on the ability of certain kinds of journalists – those who are free from corporate or state pressure – to cover important political stories, effectively criminalising independent journalism. And all this has been achieved by sleight of hand.

In Assange’s case, Judge Vanessa Baraitser largely assented to US claims that what the Wikileaks founder had done was espionage rather than journalism. The Obama administration had held off prosecuting Assange because it could not find a distinction in law between his legal right to publish evidence of US war crimes and the New York Times and the Guardian’s right to publish the same evidence, provided to them by Wikileaks. If the US administration prosecuted Assange, it would also need to prosecute the editors of those papers.

Donald Trump’s officials bypassed that problem by creating a distinction between “proper” journalists, employed by corporate outlets that oversee and control what is published, and “bogus” journalists, those independents not subject to such oversight and pressures.

Trump’s officials denied Assange the status of journalist and publisher and instead treated him as a spy who colluded with and assisted whistleblowers. That supposedly voided the free speech protections he constitutionally enjoyed. But, of course, the US case against Assange was patent nonsense. It is central to the work of investigative journalists to “collude” with and assist whistleblowers. And spies squirrel away the information provided to them by such whistleblowers, they do not publicise it to the world, as Assange did.

Notice the parallels with Murray’s case.

Judge Baraitser’s approach to Assange echoed the US one: that only approved, credentialed journalists enjoy the protection of the law from prosecution; only approved, credentialed journalists have the right to free speech (should they choose to exercise it in newsrooms beholden to state or corporate interests). Free speech and the protection of the law, Baraitser implied, no longer chiefly relate to the legality of what is said, but to the legal status of who says it.

A similar methodology has been adopted by Lady Dorrian in Murray’s case. She has denied him the status of a journalist, and instead classified him as some kind of “improper” journalist, or blogger. As with Assange, there is an implication that “improper” or “bogus” journalists are such an exceptional threat to society that they must be stripped of the normal legal protections of free speech.

“Jigsaw identification” – especially when allied to sexual assault allegations, involving women’s rights and playing into the wider, current obsession with identity politics – is the perfect vehicle for winning widespread consent for the criminalisation of the free speech of critical journalists.

Corporate media shackles

There is an even bigger picture that should be hard to miss for any honest journalist, corporate or otherwise. What Lady Dorrian and Judge Baraitser – and the establishment behind them – are trying to do is put the genie back in the bottle. They are trying to reverse a trend that over more than a decade has seen a small but growing number of journalists use new technology and social media to liberate themselves from the shackles of the corporate media and tell truths audiences were never supposed to hear.

Don’t believe me? Consider the case of Guardian and Observer journalist Ed Vulliamy. In his book Flat Earth News, Vulliamy’s colleague at the Guardian, Nick Davies, tells the story of how Roger Alton, editor of the Observer at the time of the Iraq war, and a credentialed, licensed journalist if ever there was one, sat on one of the biggest stories in the paper’s history for months on end.

In late 2002, Vulliamy, a veteran and much trusted reporter, persuaded Mel Goodman, a former senior CIA official who still had security clearance at the agency, to go on record that the CIA knew there were no WMD in Iraq – the pretext for an imminent and illegal invasion of that country. As many suspected, the US and British governments had been telling lies to justify a coming war of aggression against Iraq, and Vulliamy had a key source to prove it.

But Alton spiked this earth-shattering story and then refused to publish another six versions written by an increasingly exasperated Vulliamy over the next few months, as war loomed. Alton was determined to keep the story out of the news. Back in 2002 it only took a handful of editors – all of whom had risen through the ranks for their discretion, nuance and careful “judgment” – to make sure some kinds of news never reached their readers.

Social media has changed such calculations. Vulliamy’s story could not be quashed so easily today. It would leak out, precisely through a high-profile independent journalist like Assange or Murray. Which is why such figures are so critically important to a healthy and informed society – and why they, and a few others like them, are gradually being disappeared. The cost of allowing independent journalists to operate freely, the establishment has understood, is far too high.

First, all independent, unlicensed journalism was lumped in as “fake news”. With that as the background, social media corporations were able to collude with so-called legacy media corporations to algorithm independent journalists into oblivion. And now independent journalists are being educated about what fate is likely to befall them should they try to emulate Assange or Murray.

Asleep at the wheel

In fact, while corporate journalists have been asleep at the wheel, the British establishment has been preparing to widen the net to criminalise all journalism that seeks to seriously hold power to account. A recent government consultation document calling for a more draconian crackdown on what is being deceptively termed “onward disclosure” – code for journalism – has won the backing of Home Secretary Priti Patel. The document implicitly categorises journalism as little different from espionage and whistleblowing.

In the wake of the consultation paper, the Home Office has called on parliament to consider “increased maximum sentences” for offenders – that is, journalists – and ending the distinction “between espionage and the most serious unauthorised disclosures”. The government’s argument is that “onward disclosures” can create “far more serious damage” than espionage and so should be treated similarly. If accepted, any public interest defence – the traditional safeguard for journalists – will be muted.

Anyone who followed the Assange hearings last summer – which excludes most journalists in the corporate media – will notice strong echoes of the arguments made by the US for extraditing Assange, arguments conflating journalism with espionage that were largely accepted by Judge Baraitser.

None of this has come out of the blue. As the online technology publication The Register noted back in 2017, the Law Commission was at the time considering “proposals in the UK for a swingeing new Espionage Act that could jail journalists as spies”. It said such an act was being “developed in haste by legal advisers”.

It is quite extraordinary that two investigative journalists – one a long-term, former member of staff at the Guardian – managed to write an entire article in that paper this month on the government consultation paper and not mention Assange once. The warning signs have been there for the best part of a decade but corporate journalists have refused to notice them. Similarly, it is no coincidence that Murray’s plight has also not registered on the corporate media’s radar.

Assange and Murray are the canaries in the coal mine for the growing crackdown on investigative journalism and on efforts to hold executive power to account. There is, of course, ever less of that being done by the corporate media, which may explain why corporate outlets appear not only relaxed about the mounting political and legal climate against free speech and transparency but have been all but cheering it on.

In the Assange and Murray cases, the British state is carving out for itself a space to define what counts as legitimate, authorised journalism – and journalists are colluding in this dangerous development, if only through their silence. That collusion tells us a great deal about the mutual interests of the corporate political and legal establishments, on the one hand, and the corporate media establishment on the other.

Assange and Murray are not only telling us troubling truths we are not supposed to hear. The fact that they are being denied solidarity by those who are their colleagues, those who may be next in the firing line, tells us everything we need to know about the so-called mainstream media: that the role of corporate journalists is to serve establishment interests, not challenge them.

The post Craig Murray’s jailing is the latest move in a battle to snuff out independent journalism first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Papers Instead of Human Lives: The Sentencing of Daniel Hale

In May 2019, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, that famous bastion of anti-whistleblowing fervour, unsealed an indictment charging former intelligence analyst Daniel Everett Hale with five counts of providing classified information to a reporter.  The first four focused on obtaining national defense information, retaining and transmitting that information, causing the communication of that same information and disclosing classified communications intelligence information. The fifth alleged the theft of government property.

Yet again, the US government was making use of the beastly Espionage Act of 1917.  Between 2009 and 2013, Hale worked with the US Air Force and National Security Agency.  He was then contracted by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to work as a toponymist.

His work during his time in the NSA and as part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force – to identify targets for assassination for the US drone program – was performed at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.  His sin, or what his attorney Jesselyn Radack prefers to call “committing the truth”, was to reveal classified documents revealing the distinct viciousness, and essential senselessness, of the US military’s drone program.  His motivation: “to dispel the lie that drone warfare keeps us safe, that our lives are worth more than theirs.”

The contribution made by Hale in revealing the costs occasioned by drone deployment is impossible to diminish.  The documents, numbering some 150, showed how the policy of selecting targets was presumptuous rather than thorough.  The targeting was also far from precise.

In the context of whistleblowing, the disclosure of the watchlisting rulebook became almost canonical in significance.  According to Betsy Reed, the editor-in-chief of The Intercept, which prosecutors imply to have been the recipient of Hale’s trove, the rulebook detailed “the parallel judicial system for watchlisting people and categorizing them as known or suspected terrorists without needing to prove they did anything wrong.”  Such rules, also applicable to US citizens, could be used to bar individuals from flying and permit their detention in airports and at borders “while being denied the ability to challenge government declarations about them.”  As Reed reminds us, the disclosure of the book fuelled “dozens of legal actions and important court victories for the protection of civil liberties.”

In March, Hale pleaded guilty to one count.  Defence attorneys Todd Richman and Cadence Mertz argued in their submission that altruistic motives, along with the fact that the government had adduced no evidence showing that actual harm had arisen from the leaks, should be taken into account in sentencing. “He committed the offense to bring attention to what he believed to be immoral government conduct under the cloak of secrecy and contrary to public statements of then-President Obama regarding the alleged precision of the United States drone program.”

In a handwritten letter to Judge Liam O’Grady, Hale describes a world of trauma, doubt and mourning.  There were the “bonding ceremonies” with peers over watching “war porn” featuring footage of previous drone strikes.  “I sat by watching too; said nothing and felt my heart breaking into pieces.”  There was the feeling of guilt as a defence contractor in participating in the “collective delusion and denial that was used to justify our exorbitant salaries”.

President Barack Obama’s remarks about the drone program again deserved a mention.  The president had praised the certitude in such strikes and their cautious discrimination.  “But from what I knew, of the instances where civilians plausibly could have been present, those killed were nearly always designated enemies killed in action unless proven otherwise.”

This was a form of war that could never claim to have a sliver of honour.  “The victorious rifleman, unquestionably remorseful, at least keeps his honor intact by having faced off against his enemy in the battlefield,” Hale reflects.  “But what possibly could I have done to cope with the undeniable cruelties that I perpetrated?”

In their sentencing papers, prosecutors Gordon Kromberg and Alexander Berrang countered by claiming that Hale’s actions enabled “the most vicious terrorists in the world” to obtain “documents classified by the United States as ‘Secret’ and ‘Top Secret’ – and thought that such documents were valuable enough to disseminate to their own followers in their own manuals.”  Kromberg, just as he did with his efforts to extradite Julian Assange from the United Kingdom, has a rather fanciful view about what damaging the US national interest looks like.

The prosecutors even insisted that the harm caused by Hale was more severe than that of former NSA contractor Reality Winner’s disclosures.  Winner’s sentence of five years was the harshest ever imposed on a whistleblower prosecuted for disclosing documents to a journalist in breach of the Espionage Act.

On July 27, Hale received his sentence of 45 months – less than Winner’s but brutal nevertheless.  “I am here because I stole something that was never mine to take – precious human life,” he told US District Judge Liam O’Grady.  “I couldn’t keep living in a world in which people pretend that things weren’t happening that were.  Please, your honour, forgive me for taking papers instead of human lives.”

O’Grady’s remarks to Hale were full of the casuistry typical behind punishing whistleblowers.  The gist here is that Hale could have done it differently.  The prosecution had not thrown the book at him “for speaking out about the drone program killing innocent people”.  “A majority of Americans would have commended you for coming forward.”  Hale could well have remained a whistleblower “without leaking any of these documents, frankly.”  A suggestion both implausible and foolish.

Using the press, in others, had been inappropriate, and probably the result of manipulation by the fourth estate.  “I think you were motivated because of your conscience, but I also think you were motivated because of your desire to please the journalists.”  The journalists in question “had to know you were facing almost certain prosecution, but they went forward and did what they did.”  With such views as those held by O’Grady, the deep state will have every reason to crow with satisfaction.

Despite having little time for the avenue Hale took to manifest his concerns, the judge left room in his remarks to reproach the Air Force for the “inexcusable decision” of sending such a man to Afghanistan and assigning him the task of analysing video footage of drone strikes.  Hale’s history of serious mental disturbance was ignored and his treatment, on returning, had been “a horrible injustice”.

The conviction and sentencing of Hale continues a tendency of successive administrations to target whistleblowers using a statute that negates the public interest defence.  Altruistic motives are irrelevant to the means by which information is disclosed.  In this case, exposing papers was far more serious to the imperium than the taking of human lives.

The post Papers Instead of Human Lives: The Sentencing of Daniel Hale first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Why Daniel Hale Deserves Gratitude, Not Prison

“Pardon Daniel Hale.”

These words hung in the air on a recent Saturday evening, projected onto several Washington, D.C. buildings, above the face of a courageous whistleblower facing ten years in prison.

The artists aimed to inform the U.S. public about Daniel E. Hale, a former Air Force analyst who blew the whistle on the consequences of drone warfare. Hale will appear for sentencing before Judge Liam O’Grady on July 27th.

The U.S. Air Force had assigned Hale to work for the National Security Agency. At one point, he also served in Afghanistan, at the Bagram Air Force Base.

“In this role as a signals analyst, Hale was involved in the identifying of targets for the US drone program,” notes Chip Gibbons, policy director for Defending Rights and Dissent, in a lengthy article about Hale’s case. “Hale would tell the filmmakers of the 2016 documentary National Bird that he was disturbed by ‘the uncertainty if anyone I was involved in kill[ing] or captur[ing] was a civilian or not. There’s no way of knowing.’”

Hale, thirty-three, believed the public wasn’t getting crucial information about the nature and extent of U.S. drone assassinations of civilians. Lacking that evidence, U.S. people couldn’t make informed decisions. Moved by his conscience, he opted to become a truth-teller.

The U.S. government is treating him as a threat, a thief who stole documents, and an enemy. If ordinary people knew more about him, they might regard him as a hero.

Hale was charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly providing classified information to a reporter. The Espionage Act is  an antiquated World War I era law, passed in 1917, designed for use against enemies of the U.S. accused of spying. The U.S. government has dusted it off, more recently, for use against whistle blowers.

Individuals charged under this law are not allowed to raise any issues regarding motivation or intent. They literally are not allowed to explain the basis for their actions.

One observer of whistleblowers’ struggles with the courts was himself a whistleblower. Tried and convicted under the Espionage Act, John Kiriakou spent two and a half years in prison for exposing government wrongdoing. He says the U.S. government in these cases engages in “charge stacking” to ensure a lengthy prison term as well as “venue-shopping” to try such cases in the nation’s most conservative districts.

Daniel Hale was facing trial in the Eastern District of Virginia, home to the Pentagon as well as many CIA and other federal government agents. He was facing up to 50 years in prison if found guilty on all counts.

On March 31, Hale pled guilty on one count of retention and transmission of national defense information. He now faces a maximum of ten years in prison.

At no point has he been able to raise before a judge his alarm about the Pentagon’s false claims that targeted drone assassination is precise and civilian deaths are minimal.

Hale was familiar with details of a special operations campaign in northeastern Afghanistan, Operation Haymaker. He saw evidence that between January 2012 and February 2013, “U.S. special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets. During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.”

Had he gone to trial, a jury of his peers might have learned more details about consequences of drone attacks. Weaponized drones are typically outfitted with Hellfire missiles, designed for use against vehicles and buildings.

Living Under Drones, the most complete documentation of the human impact of U.S. drone attacks yet produced, reports:

The most immediate consequence of drone strikes is, of course, death and injury to those targeted or near a strike.  The missiles fired from drones kill or injure in several ways, including through incineration, shrapnel, and the release of powerful blast waves capable of crushing internal organs.  Those who do survive drone strikes often suffer disfiguring burns and shrapnel wounds, limb amputations, as well as vision and hearing loss.

A new variation of this missile can hurl about 100 pounds of metal through the top of a vehicle or building; the missiles also deploy, just before impact, six long, whirring  blades intended to slice up any person or object in the missile’s path.

Any drone operator or analyst should be aghast, as Daniel Hale was, at the possibility of killing and maiming civilians through such grotesque means. But Daniel Hale’s ordeal may be intended to send a chilling message to other U.S. government and military analysts: keep quiet.

Nick Mottern, of the Ban Killer Drones campaign, accompanied artists projecting Hale’s image on various walls in D.C. He engaged people who were passing by, asking if they knew of Daniel Hale’s case. Not a single person he spoke with had. Nor did anyone know anything about drone warfare.

Now imprisoned at the Alexandria (VA) Adult Detention Center, Hale  awaits sentencing

Supporters urge people to “stand with Daniel Hale.” One solidarity action involves writing Judge O’Grady to express gratitude that Hale told the truth about the U.S. use of drones to kill innocent people.

At a time when drone sales and usage are proliferating worldwide and causing increasingly gruesome damage, President Joe Biden continues to launch killer drone attacks around the world, albeit with some new restrictions.

Hale’s honesty, courage, and exemplary readiness to act in accord with his conscience are critically needed. Instead, the U.S. government has done its best to silence him.

Pedestrians in Washington, D.C. walk past an image of Daniel Hale projected on a D.C. building on June 26, 2021 (Photo Credit:  Nick Mottern)

• A version of this article appeared in The Progressive Magazine.

The post Why Daniel Hale Deserves Gratitude, Not Prison first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Clinching in the Breach: Matt Hancock Resigns

From his secure fortress of contented spite, Dominic Cummings, exiled from the power he once wielded at Number 10 as one of the chosen, must have felt a sense of satisfaction.  Biliously, the former top aide to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had scorned the now former UK Health Secretary in a performance before MPs lasting hours.  Matt Hancock, Cummings explained last month, could have been sacked for any number of things he did in responding to the pandemic.

With history moving from its tragic gear into a farcical one, Hancock has resigned.  It had all the makings of a tabloid fix: the minister’s name (Hancock), an aide, kissing, a leaking mole and CCTV.  But the departure was not for mendacity or want of competence so much as an ill-considered moment in breach of COVID-19 regulations.  With the country still continuing a lockdown that was meant to dramatically ease on June 21, a camera recording the Health Secretary snogging his aide, Gina Coladangelo, was leaked.  The camera footage of the office incident was recorded on May 6.

Johnson was never going to sack his minister on grounds of incompetence.  The leader has set the precedent others must follow.  According to the vengeful Cummings, it took a hail of 89 texts from Johnson’s wife Carrie to lessen the support.  It was left to Hancock to fall upon his sword, which he took some time to do.

In his resignation letter, priorities are reversed.  “The last thing I would want is for my private life to distract attention from the single-minded focus that is leading us out of this crisis.”  The actual reason comes afterwards.  “I want to reiterate my apology for breaking the guidance, and apologise to my family and loved ones for putting them through this.”  People who had “sacrificed so much in this pandemic” were owed a sense of honesty “when we have let them down as I have done by breaching this guidance.”  The Times tersely opined that such conduct suggested that “the government tolerates breaches of lockdown rules for themselves, while insisting the public adhere to higher standards.”

With the bigger picture of Hancock’s conduct miniaturised (the breach of social distancing rules, various questionable staff appointments – the list is long), Brandon Lewis, Northern Ireland Secretary, could now focus on the important matters: finding out how CCTV footage found its way into the pages of that undyingly malicious paper of poor record, The Sun.  The culprit is said to be lurking in the corridors of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

British press outlets suggested that the leaker had made contact via Instagram to an unnamed anti-lockdown activist.  “I have some very damning CCTV footage of someone that has been classed as completely f***ing hopeless. If you would like some more information please contact me.”  The same paper supplied readers with all the details, leaving little to the imagination.  Included was a crude outlay of Hancock’s office, including the positioning of the Union Jack, painting of the Queen, bookshelf, coat rack and, it transpires, the “kiss door”.

On Sky News, Lewis made the government’s priorities clear.  “I have seen some of the reports this morning outlining how different journalists think the tape might have got out there.  That is certainly a matter I know the Department of Health will be looking into to understand exactly how that was recorded, how it got out of the system.  It’s something we need to get to the bottom of.”

In comments that can only induce smirks of derision, Lewis preferred to focus on the principle that what took place in “government departments can be sensitive, important and people need to have confidence that what is happening in a government department is something that allows the government to be focused on these core issues, and the sensitivity sometimes in the security sense of those issues.”

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was also busy directing attention to the things that counted – at least from a government perspective.  By leaking footage of Hancock’s intimate moment, the leaker may well have sailed close to breaching the Official Secrets Act.  Paying lip service to the “open society” and protections “for whistleblowers who find things out and release them in the public interest”, Hunt told the Andrew Marr Show what really bothered him.  “[W]e need to understand how this happened, and to make sure that ministers are secure in their offices, to be able to have conversations that they know aren’t going to be leaked to hostile powers.”

A fevered panic swept through Johnson’s cabinet, with ministers fearing they might be the next one to be Hancocked.  Justice Minister Robert Buckland revealed that sweeps were being organised to identify any filming or listening devices that had escaped detection.  “I think there is an important principle here about need for ministers and civil servants who often are handling very sensitive material and information to have a safe space within which to work.”

The calls for investigation did not stop at the issue of a breach of ministerial confidence.  The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, wished to guide the debate back to the breach of those very regulations government ministers had insisted Britons follow. “What’s important now is for there to be proper investigations into which rules were broken in relation to use of private email, in relation to the appointment of senior staff and also in relation to the social distancing rules.”

Hancock had certainly built himself a fortress of impropriety during the course of the pandemic.  The Sunday Times, having seen minutes of various meetings, noted that the minister had been using a private email address from March 2020 to conduct departmental correspondence, making accountability for decisions regarding the novel coronavirus slippery at best.

The deflectors were also tapping away.  Those sympathising with Hancock within the government were aghast at the very existence of a camera in the office.  Had he been the victim of an orchestrated sting by enemies in Number 10?  Or did some meddlesome power such as China wish to cause ripples by installing a clinch catching “love bug”?

The smug Mail on Sunday poured water on suggestions of foul play. “In fact, pictures taken in September 2017, just before Hancock moved in, show that the camera which caught the clinch is clearly visible on the ceiling of his office.”  But the Tories were also searching for another alibi that would, if not exonerate Hancock then at least provide a distraction from his conduct.

To that end, suspicion started growing legs with commentary on the camera’s make.  While rented from a Singaporean firm, it stems from Chinese manufacturer Hikvision, a company under contract to supply surveillance equipment to the authorities in China’s Xinjiang region.  Despite being blacklisted by Washington in October 2019 for its role in conducting surveillance of Uighurs in the region’s network of “re-education camps”, US cities, counties and schools have made good use of them during the pandemic.  In Britain, city councils employ them in public spaces.

The China Research Group, run by Tory MPs keen to drum up fears about China, fastened on Hikvision’s role in the Hancock affair in a statement.  “There are questions over whether [Hikvision cameras] are currently used in Portcullis House (where MPs have their offices) and the Palace of Westminster (where the House of Lords and the House of Commons is located).”  The group feared “the potential for Chinese intelligence agencies to tap into camera feeds in sensitive locations”.

The nature and scope of the forthcoming inquiry is uncertain.  A full-blooded investigation, no holds barred, might well reveal a bit more than the Department of Health might want to reveal.  Investigators run the risk of lionising a potential whistleblower while uncovering a good deal of rot at the centre of the Johnson government.  And few civil servants, and certainly no government politician, would like to see that.

The post Clinching in the Breach: Matt Hancock Resigns first appeared on Dissident Voice.