“War on Whistleblowers,” a documentary movie subtitled Free Press
and the National Security State
, was shown to an invited audience recently and followed by a panel discussion moderated by Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of The New York Times
The film, while coolly presented, is deeply disturbing. The attacks on those who would bring government wrongdoing to light also constitute a war on communications media. Particular targets are The New York Times
and “60 Minutes,” but also Newsweek
, The Washington Post
, The Baltimore Sun
, and The New Yorker
, among others.
“War on Whistleblowers” focuses on four cases: Michael DeKort, Thomas Drake, Franz Gayl and Thomas Tamm
. Of disparate backgrounds, ages, fields of expertise and sources of wrongdoing on which they were shining the light, their commonality was conscience, doing what was right, what needed to be done, irrespective of the consequences to themselves. All were attempting to defend the US Constitution.
What happened to them as a result of their courageous service to the public is as frightening as it is outrageous.
Franz Gayl took on his beloved Marine Corps for failing to provide mine-resistant (MRAPs) vehicles in Iraq, which had been requested. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was later to credit the MRAPs with saving thousands of lives. Yet Gayl was the target of retaliation for years. This self-styled “conservative” who comes from a family of FBI agents and whose prize possessions include a photo of himself as a boy with J Edgar Hoover, was, among other punishments, stripped of his security clearance, which had a deleterious effect on employment opportunities.
Michael DeKort was also attempting to save lives in reporting the dangerous inadequacies of the Coast Guard Deepwater program, including radios for emergency vessels that were not waterproof and hulls that would buckle in rough seas. DeKort, who was a Lockheed Martin project manager, brought his concerns up the chain of command to no avail. In desperation he posted the ugly story on YouTube. While DeKort finally received an award for outstanding service in the public interest at the US House of Representatives, finding employment remains a problem because of the allegations made against him during the government inquiry.
Thomas Tamm, a former attorney in the US Dept. of Justice, uncovered warrantless wiretapping by the NSA. While he received the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling
in 2009, his economic life has suffered. He left the DoJ and formed his own law firm but he noted wryly that customers are not streaming in the doors.
Thomas Drake, a former senior executive of the National Security Agency, faced the harshest threats for his disclosures of waste, fraud and illegal activities by the government. He cited a boondoggle program called Trailblazer while an alternative program called Thinthread was a fraction of the cost and not only provided superior intelligence but was designed to protect 4th Amendment rights under the Constitution. He exposed the Stellar Wind program, a super-secret warrantless surveillance program approved by the Bush White House that violated Americans’ privacy rights. Drake was charged under the 1917 Espionage Act and faced 35 years in prison.
Ultimately the DoJ’s criminal case against him collapsed. He won the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling in 2011, and with Jesselyn Radack, of the Government Accountability Project, the
Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award
Drake, called by some “the smartest man in the room,” was financially devastated by his legal bills and now works in an Apple store.
Along with these heroic whistleblowers, the reporters who wrote their stories and the publishers who ran them, were/are subject to harassment and threats. There are ever more laws against shining the light into government’s dark secrets. It has been said, “Doctors bury their mistakes,” governments stamp them “classified.”
Eisenhower’s warning “Beware the military-industrial complex” was never more apt. The events of 9/11 became the carte blanche for anything labeled “security.” While the Bush-Cheney administration set up the framework, the Obama administration, while publicly proclaiming “transparency,” has intensified the program and added penalties for whistleblowers.
A bright light is then Senator, now, VP Joe Biden, who was cited as having come to the aid of whistleblowers.
Among the journalists in the movie are Seymour Hersh; Bill Keller (New York Times
Op-Ed columnist); Dana Priest (Washington Post
); David Carr (The New York Times
); Michael Isikoff (NBC News) Jane Mayer (The New Yorker
); Glenn Greenwald (The Guardian
); Tom Vanden Brook (USA Today
) and Eric Lipton (The New York Times
There was unanimity regarding the burgeoning of the “security state” based on “endless war” and the chilling effect on journalism and its practitioners.
Also in the movie is CIA/torture whistleblower John Kiriakou, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison while the torturers he exposed are free (one thinks of VP Dick Cheney, who still defends the torture program and insists water-boarding is just enhanced interrogation). Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, was prominent and articulate. Toward the end of the film the Bradley Manning case was examined, including his three years mostly in solitary confinement and being kept incommunicado.
While the movie consists largely of talking heads—some eloquent, others measured, but all informative—there is also footage of raids being made with dozens of agents turning homes upside down, multiple police cars and frightened families.
The most dramatic scene, showing the weakness of Humvees, has us, the audience, seemingly in one such vehicle as it hits an insurgent’s mine and blows up. It was because of such incidents that Franz Gayl blew the whistle while every means was taken by the government and the Humvee manufacturer to suppress the information.
The public’s right to know, indeed need to know, lies buried beneath the security bureaucracy.
The panel after the showing thoughtfully assessed the ever worsening situation of government acting illegally.
It was moderated by Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of The New York Times
; panelists were Amy Goodman, broadcast journalist and host of “Democracy Now!”; Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation
; and Tom Vanden Brook, Pentagon reporter for USA today
The bottom line is that “War on Whistleblowers” is a must-see movie: every citizen should be made aware of the misfeasance of those in power. How else can the abuses be curbed?
The movie, from Brave New Foundation, was produced by Robert Greenwald, Jim Miller and Natalie Kottke and executive produced by Jeff Cole. It was directed by Robert Greenwald and edited by Joseph Suzuki.