When Jesse Thorn's college radio show got picked up for national distribution by Public Radio International in 2007, he became the youngest national host in public radio history.
Today, President Barack Obama will announce his picks to lead the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency. If confirmed, Chuck Hagel and John Brennan will help steer a national security team that has expanded controversial counter-terrorism policies and prosecuted a record number of current and former officials accused of leaking information to the press. We consider the effect whistleblowers have in the field and implications of these nominations.
- Jesselyn Radack National Security & Human Rights Director, Government Accountability Project; author "Traitor: The Whistleblower and the "American Taliban" (Whistleblower Press)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the future of the National Zoo, Director Dennis Kelly will join us in studio. But, first, whistleblowers and national security. In a little less than an hour, President Obama will announce major changes to his national security team for his second term.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe's expected to name former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as his choice the head the Department of Defense and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to take over as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Hagel choice has already stirred partisan passions on the Hill, but the elevation of Brennan, an architect of the administration's aggressive and controversial anti-terror policies, may signal more about president -- about the president's plans for his second term.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOver the last four years, the administration has ventured into murky ethical waters with drone strikes and targeted killings even as it has disavowed so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. It's also aggressively pursued leakers and whistleblowers who talk to the press about these new measures. Joining us to discuss this is Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights director with the Government Accountability Project. She joins us by telephone. Jesselyn Radack, Thank you for joining us.
MS. JESSELYN RADACKThank you for inviting me, Kojo.
NNAMDIThe big story today from the administration's standpoint will be major changes to its national security team with nominees to head the Pentagon and the CIA, but I'd like to start with a different local storyline. Later this month, former CIA agent John Kiriakou is scheduled to be sentenced to 30 months in prison for violating a law called the Identities Protection Act by emailing the name of a covert CIA officer to a reporter who is John Kiriakou, and what did he do?
RADACKJohn Kiriakou is a former CIA officer who served for about 14 years and survived two assassination attempts and helped catch al-Qaida's number three person. He made the mistake of doing an interview in 2007 in which he confirmed that there was, in fact, a formal torture program and that waterboarding is torture, and he dared to call torture wrong.
RADACKHe also gave a name of a torturer, someone who was the head of the rendition detention and interrogation program, to an investigator who was gathering names of torturers for defense lawyers defending Guantanamo detainees so that they could identify the people who tortured them. For that, he will be going to jail for two and a half years, so it's really a tragic story.
NNAMDIEven though the name he revealed was, it is my understanding, never made public.
RADACKThe name was never made public. It was in a sealed defense filing. It was never printed anywhere. It was never made public. So, yes, that makes it all the more problematic. But, again, it wasn't so much about the name being revealed; it was about wanting to silence a whistleblower. And the two whistleblowers who exposed the biggest scandals of the Bush administration, namely torture and secret domestic surveillance, who are John Kiriakou and Tom Drake respectively, have been prosecuted.
RADACKSo while none of the people who engaged in torture, none of the lawyers who justified it, none of the officers who ordered it and none of the agents who destroyed the videos of it are ever going to be prosecuted. The guy who blew the whistle on it is going to be going to jail.
NNAMDIIn case you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to email@example.com, or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make a comment. We're talking with Jesselyn Radack, national Security and human rights director of the Government Accountability Project. This administration has alarmed a lot of people in your field with its aggressive pursuit of officials who leak information or talk to the press.
NNAMDIWe now know that Kiriakou will be going to prison, but there have been some other high-profile cases in the news that perhaps indicate that this is a kind of selective hunt. For example, "Zero Dark Thirty," the movie opens in D.C. this Friday, and while it's clear that somebody talked to the filmmakers, nobody seems likely to be punished. What do you make of that?
RADACKWell, it shows the absolute hypocrisy of the selective and vindictive use of the Espionage Act to go after people who say things that the administration doesn't like because it turns out that another person who was chattered about as being a potential CIA nominee, Michael Vickers, outed a U.S. Special Operations command officer to help Hollywood make "Zero Dark Thirty," and he's not getting in any trouble over that.
RADACKBut John Kiriakou who revealed the name of a torturer is going to jail, and this shows the complete hypocrisy of the government who happens to be the biggest leaker of all in the United States getting a complete pass when it comes to disclosing classified information, including sources and methods, yet the people who are blowing the whistle on it being prosecuted as enemies of the state.
NNAMDIWell, allow me to push back here for a second because the government isn't here so I guess I'll speak on behalf of it. Because while it's true that the administration has cracked down on whistleblowers and leakers, they're following the letter of the law, and these whistleblowers are breaking the lawmaker, especially the Espionage Act.
NNAMDIAt the same time, the administration has created new protections for whistleblowers around the government to report wrongdoing through official channels. For example, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, which the president signed last week, expanded protections for Department of Defense and NASA employees. What do you say to that?
RADACKWell, first of all, these officials didn't break the law. People like Tom Drake went through all the proper channels, and both Tom Drake and John Kiriakou, the government ended up throwing out all of the Espionage Act charges against both of them. In terms of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, while we're glad that has gone into law, it specifically excludes national security and intelligence employees who are precisely the category of whistleblowers that are being prosecuted.
RADACKAnd in terms of the whistleblower protection in the National Defense Authorization Act, Obama issued a signing statement saying that he would not be following that whistleblower protection, and again, that desperately impacts government contractors in the intel field. So even though that provision enjoyed bipartisan support and made it into law, Obama's signing statement specifically said that he won't be following that part.
NNAMDIHow much of what we know about the Obama administration's anti-terror policies comes from leakers and whistleblowers?
RADACKA huge amount comes from leakers and whistleblowers. The entire Abu Ghraib prison scandal came to light because of whistleblower Joe Darby. The fact that torture was an official program and not the behavior of a few rogue agents was revealed because of John Kiriakou. Information about the assassination memo that justified the killing of an American citizen, Awlaki, and his completely innocent 16-year-old son, that was -- came about because of so-called leaks or, as I prefer to say, disclosures of information to the press.
RADACKA press -- a free press is critical to an open democratic society in our debate, and whistleblowers had brought some of the worst scandals to the attention of our country for public debate.
NNAMDIShould there be a distinction made between protections for people who are leakers or whistleblowers in particular internally and people who are leakers or whistleblowers to the public and the press?
RADACKThe law doesn't make that distinction, and I think that's what some of these, you know, end-runs like the signing statement tried to do. They want to prevent whistleblowers from, for example, going to Congress, which is an avenue that any American has a right to take under the First Amendment, to petition Congress for redress of grievances.
RADACKAnd as Thomas Drake illustrated, complaining about it through internal channels didn't help him avoid prosecution by an irate administration that was mad at him for revealing electronic eavesdropping. People going to the press that has been considered a valid way to blow the whistle, and in fact, the patriarch of whistle-blowing in our country, Daniel Ellsberg, is revered for having given the Pentagon papers to the press.
NNAMDIIt seems like whistleblowers are very rarely the demons or the angels they're made out to be by different sides. In fact, most people decide to speak up it would appear out of a combination of motivations. You've mentioned his name several times because you've worked with former national security agency employee Thomas Drake who to this date has been the most controversial case involving the Espionage Act. How do you think his case, Thomas Drake, compares to Kiriakou's, and what do we know about why Kiriakou passed on that information?
RADACKTheir cases are actually very similar in a number of ways. In fact, Tom Drake says John Kiriakou is the new Tom Drake, and that's coming from his own lips. In terms of their motivations, motivation actually doesn't really matter. I know people like to say whistleblowers are crazy or vengeful or out for self-promotion or profit or fame. Motivation under the law in the Whistleblower Protection Act is actually not -- it doesn't matter at all.
RADACKI think both Tom and John had good motivations in doing what they did. Tom went through different channels than John went through, but the end result for both men unfortunately is to leave them broken and bankrupted, and they both face spending the rest of their lives in prison for trying to correct wrongs and illegalities that they saw which embarrassed the administration. You get in trouble if you embarrass the administration, but if you'll expose these illegalities, you're going to go to jail.
NNAMDIDo you think those cases both Drake's and, well, frankly, Daniel Ellsberg's or Kiriakou's compares with Private Bradley Manning?
RADACKI think they're similar to Bradley Manning in terms of Bradley Manning, again, exposed information that evidenced war crimes. He exposed a lot of other information, and people have accused of him exposing too much. But whistleblowers are often accused of exposing too much or too little that the law actually turns on the quality of their disclosure, and clearly, the collateral murder video evidenced blatant war crimes.
RADACKAgain, nobody is being investigated or held responsible for those, yet he's being court-martialed and face spending the rest of his life in jail. Again, all of these men are in the national security or intelligence arenas, and they all exposed conduct that evidences fraud, waste, abuse or blatant illegality, which meets the definition of a whistleblower disclosure. So I do think it's similar to Manning. I'll be attending Bradley Manning's hearings tomorrow through Friday in Fort Meade.
NNAMDIHere is Adam in Washington, D.C. Adam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ADAMHi. Thanks for taking my call. I wanted to ask a question about Vice President Cheney. John Addington, (sic) who was his chief of staff, and John Yoo, who was at the Office of Legal Counsel and was acknowledged to be the author of the memos and these opinions that sent us down this road.
ADAMAnd my question is, do you think that there is mechanism for any of those people being -- the charges being filed against any of those people because the dynamic of how Vice President Cheney and Addington, who was his chief of staff, used the Office of Legal Counsel to basically -- I think the term is a golden shield.
ADAMThey basically rewrote the interpretations of the law as they went along. And I don't know if it's possible to call that illegal or not. But Jane Mayer's masterful book, "The Dark Side," does expose -- or does highlight a lot of the -- this history. And I wonder if you could comment on whether or not there's any sort of renewed chance that any of those men would be named -- any kind of new suit or action. And then the second thing...
NNAMDIWell, we could only -- we only have time for one of those questions, I'm afraid. Jesselyn Radack, could you care to respond?
RADACKSure. Really quickly. None of those men will be held responsible because Obama basically conferred blanket immunity on them and none have been charged. I guess people could still refer people like David Addington and John Yoo to the bar where they're licensed to practice law. But other than that, they're not going to be criminally prosecuted.
RADACKThey have been given immunity and are beneficiaries of President Obama's look forward, not backwards policy. He only seems to look backwards at whistleblowers. And yes, while, in my opinion, all the people you named have facilitated war crimes and human rights violations, including torture, none of them will be held accountable. They could've been. But the executive branch has decided not to.
NNAMDIAdam, thank you very much for your call. Jesselyn Radack, you've got experience with this. You were prosecuted yourself as a whistleblower during the Bush administration. Under what conditions do you believe that someone who leaks classified information should be prosecuted?
RADACKI think someone who leaks classified information should be prosecuted if they do it with the Espionage Act standard of an intent to harm the United States or benefit a foreign nation. Also, people should be prosecuted if they leak sources and methods, which, by the way, both the White House and the CIA did when they cooperated with the making of the film "Zero Dark Thirty." Of course, no one will be prosecuted for their role in that, even though it sparked a Pentagon inspector general investigation of certain people for outing other people.
NNAMDIJesselyn Radack is national security and human rights director with the Government Accountability Project. Thank you for joining us.
RADACKThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDITaking a short break. When we come back, the future of the National Zoo. Director Dennis Kelly joins us in studio. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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