House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was quick to condemn NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden when he revealed the U.S. government’s vast surveillance programs. “I think that he should be prosecuted,” Pelosi told reporters, just days after Snowden’s name became public in June 2013.
Later that month, speaking about Snowden at a Netroots Nation conference, Pelosi rendered a quick summary judgment: “He did violate the law in terms of releasing those documents.” Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” she reiterated that Snowden “did break the law” — and added the flagrant lie that “he’s threatening in any event to share information with Russia and China.”
Sticking to a basic script for leaders of both major parties, Pelosi has vehemently denied the systematic violations of the Fourth Amendment that Snowden exposed. Such denial is routine, while sometimes going over-the-top to blame the messenger for the accurate news. “Edward Snowden is a coward,” the Obama administration’s top diplomat, Secretary of State John Kerry, said in a TV interview one year after Snowden’s revelations. “He is a traitor. And he has betrayed his country.”
Uncompromised, uncompromising news
Get reliable, independent news and commentary delivered to your inbox every day.
Fast-forward to the present: House Speaker Pelosi, now the most powerful Democrat in the U.S. government, is suddenly voicing grave concern for the rights and safety of the whistleblower who filed the complaint that has led to an impeachment inquiry against President Trump. The intelligence agency insider, she declared, “must be provided with every protection guaranteed by the law to defend the integrity of our government and ensure accountability and trust.”
But leading Democrats and Republicans have shown scant interest in ensuring genuine “accountability and trust.” On many profound issues, whistleblowing is essential to fill the gap left by powerful politicians who use soothing rhetoric to fog up their dedicated service to corporate America and the military-industrial-surveillance complex.
Congressional Democrats and their Republican counterparts didn’t inform the public about a vast array of war crimes by the U.S. military in Iraq. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning did.
The bipartisan leadership in Congress didn’t inform the public about the torture procedures of the George W. Bush administration. CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou did.
Congressional leaders didn’t inform the public about the wholesale shredding of the Fourth Amendment by the Bush and Obama administrations. NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden did.
The persecution of “national security” whistleblowers is an ongoing effort to block the flow of crucial information. The entire concept of democracy is based on the informed consent of the governed. Without whistleblowers like Manning, Kiriakou, Drake and Snowden, we’re left with the uninformed “consent” of the governed, which is not meaningful consent at all.
With few exceptions, officials running all three branches of the U.S. government are unwilling to disrupt systems of secrecy that hide what cannot withstand the light of day. Those systems protect multibillion-dollar industries profiting from huge military budgets and surveillance operations. Without unauthorized disclosures, we would know far less about the destructive effects of what’s done with our tax dollars in our names.
Routinely, with its fabrications and omissions in realms of “national security,” the official story amounts to a lie. No wonder dissembling officials in high places are so eager to intimidate would-be whistleblowers by ferreting out and punishing those who reveal classified information.
Meanwhile, tacitly authorized disclosures of classified information — self-serving stories leaked by the powerful — are routine. The methods of such leaks are among the most pernicious open secrets in Washington: hidden in plain sight, ever-present and constantly useful to the powerful. One of the few lawmakers to publicly point out the glaring contradiction was Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who wrote in a September 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton that “leaking information to the press in order to bring pressure to bear on a policy question” had become “a routine aspect of government life.”
Moynihan added: “An evenhanded prosecution of leakers could imperil an entire administration.” But even-handed prosecution is nowhere in sight. Instead, selective prosecutions — and selective expressions of outrage, based on nationalistic fervor and partisan calculations — are standard operating procedures.
At the same time, while often eager to run with information provided by brave whistleblowers, the media establishment rarely stands up for them. Commonly — as in the cases of Manning, Kiriakou and Jeffrey Sterling — journalists get prizes while whistleblowers get prison. In a relay race for truth, reporters and editors cross the finish line to accolades, while severe punishment awaits the whistleblowers who handed them the baton.
Hypocrisy and double standards, of course, are nothing new in the nation’s capital or from corporate media outlets. But the current deluge of mainstream reverence for “national security” whistleblowing shouldn’t be taken at face value.
To a significant extent, similar problems exist among self-described liberal and progressive groups that are now so enthusiastic about the whistleblower who has exposed Trump’s indefensible efforts to manipulate the Ukrainian government for his political advantage. Organizations should look at themselves in the mirror and assess whether they’ve imitated the expedient double standards of the Democratic Party’s approach to whistleblowers.
When the largest online progressive group in the country, MoveOn.org, suddenly becomes a champion of a whistleblower who has exposed Trump — after refusing to support courageous whistleblowers like Manning, Snowden, Kiriakou, Drake, Sterling and others who were persecuted by the Obama administration — the corrosive effects of mimicking the Democratic leadership should be apparent.
None of this changes the reality that the Trump regime must be completely opposed and removed from power. Nor should we fall into conflating the two major parties across the board, when it’s clear that on numerous crucial issues — such as those often determined by Supreme Court decisions — the stark differences have huge consequences.
But Democratic Party leaders as champions of whistleblowers? The idea is a ridiculous fraud.