The Chaos Communication Congress (29C3), which organizers describe as “an annual four-day conference on technology, society and utopia,” began on December 27. Yesterday, this blog featured Tor software developer and WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Appelbaum’s talk. Later in the day, three United States whistleblowers gave presentations, which should be considered required viewing.
Jesselyn Radack, who blew the whistle on ethics violations in the case of John Walker Lindh when she was an ethics adviser under Attorney General John Ashcroft, describes what led to her resignation and whistleblowing.
Lindh was interrogated and tortured. FBI agents went ahead with an interrogation without proper authorization. Ashcroft made public statements when a criminal complaint was filed that he had not chosen to be represented by a lawyer and his rights had been “scrupulously guarded.” Radack knew this all to be lies.
“Our first glimpse of torture in the United States and nobody flinched. He was naked, blindfolded, gagged, duct taped to a board. He had a bullet in his leg, no medical treatment,” Radack declares. “He was found nearly dead and this is how we treated an American, which can give you a little insight into how we treat people who have the misfortune of being an Arab or Muslim in our country.”
The pivotal moment for her was when she realized the Justice Department was concealing work on the case from her. A judge had issued a court order for all communications but only handed over two of her emails. She went to a hard copy file to look for her emails, which included an assessment that the FBI had committed an ethics violation in its interrogation and torture of Lindh. Those emails were missing.
“My heart sank,” Radack states. “I literally felt sick. They were seeking the death penalty for this person and the relevant evidence had not made it to the court, evidence that would have a bearing on whether or not his confession would be admissible against him.”
She was eventually able to recover the missing emails. Under the Whistleblower Protection Act, which ultimately gave her no protection, she handed over evidence of misconduct and wrongdoing to Newsweek. She had no idea what would happen as the “full force of the entire Executive Branch of the United States government” was unleashed.
Radack was forced out of her job at a private law firm, fired from another job after the government told them she was a criminal, placed under criminal investigation but never told what for and no charges were ever brought against her, referred to a state bar based on a secret report that she didn’t have access to, which made it very hard to fight the secret charges and she was put on a “No Fly” list.
The experience led to her deciding to dedicate her life to representing whistleblowers.
In addition to sharing her own whistleblowing experience, she speaks about the role of technology helping whistleblowers. Technology helped her get emails from the Justice Department, which at the time was prosecuting Enron for destroying evidence and obstructing justice.
Before she came to the conference, she met with WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange. She states that he solidified her belief as “whistleblower myself and and as a lawyer for whistleblowers that WikiLeaks is one of the only safe ways in the world to get large amounts of information out to the public anonymously on a mass scale. The government realizes this and is therefore very threatened by WikiLeaks.”
And, after that, she continues:
The war on terrorism should not be a war on ethics, integrity, technology and the rule of law. Stopping terrorism should not include terrorizing whistleblowers and truth tellers who raise concern when the government cuts corners to electronically surveill, torture and assassinate its own people. And it is not okay for a president to grant himself the power to play prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner of anyone on the entire fucking planet.
Employees should never have to choose their conscience over their careers and especially their freedom, Radack concludes.
Thomas Drake, who blew the whistle on government misconduct and illegalities at the National Security Agency, speaks after Radack and describes what it was like to see the rise of the Surveillance State after the September 11th attacks. He compares the rise to the Stasi secret police in East Germany, which operated under the motto, “To know everything.”
In the Cold War, everything was suspect. “Today in the post Cold War era,” Drake states, “I do find myself asking myself and others, how can an open and vibrant democracy exist next to a secret security state?”
Drake faced the prospect early that he could be indicted and sentenced to prison for life if he did not cooperate. He was charged under the Espionage Act, as part of an escalating government trend to turn whistleblowers and truth tellers into criminals.
In the few days after 9/11, “I had people coming to me in private extremely concerned saying, Tom, why are they taking equipment that we normally use to monitor foreign nations and we’re now redirecting it against our own people?” he recounts. He learned the secret surveillance program was authorized by the White House and, as President Richard Nixon said, “If the President says it’s okay, it’s legal.”
“All hell broke loose within the government” when Eric Lichtblau and James Risen wrote a story for the New York Times on the warrantless wiretapping program at the NSA. A criminal leak investigation was launched of which he became subject. FBI agents raided his home and applied immense pressure to him for two and a half years trying to get him to plead out. It was a nightmare.
He concludes, “Besides fearing for the future of the United States I do fear the creation of a universal wiretap record of a person’s life—the ability to have vast access to databases and on the fly be able to profile anybody at anytime anywhere.”
Finally, William Binney, a former NSA technical director who was raided and subject to investigation like Thomas Drake, speaks.
In June 2001, Binney retired because he could no longer tolerate the corruption between employees and private contractors, the incestuous relationship where security was being traded for money.
Binney learned about a program called Stellar Wind, where the NSA was spying on Americans. He knew it was pointless to go to heads of the NSA because he knew the people running it. He went to the House Intelligence Committee because they were supposed to, under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other intelligence laws, monitor any spying on citizens. He told them and all they did is send someone to talk to then-NSA director Michael Hayden. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss did nothing. Nancy Pelosi, a ranking member of the Committee, did nothing about violations being committed because she was “co-opted into the program” and agreed not to push for Bush’s impeachment if she was kept informed of covert programs.
Binney says, “AT&T was providing 320 million records a day of US citizens talking to other US citizens.” And, “You can quickly build a communities on virtually everybody in the country.” There were no limits. This extended to all the people of the world.
He also recounts what happened during an FBI raid. Binney was asked if he could inform on a crime. They wanted information on Drake but what he said was that there was this Stellar Wind program and Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA director George Tenet and Hayden were all involved. Only one agent there listening to him was cleared for the program. Binney explains he was the one who signed the warrant and all he could do is look at the floor while he described violations of Americans’ privacy, etc.
“They were trying to keep me quiet,” Binney says. “They put the guns on me and my family because they wanted to keep me quiet.”
There’s also a profound anecdote he shares involving James Bamford, a journalist known for his work on the operations of the NSA. He submitted a FOIA request for documents the government was using to prosecute Drake and got documents the NSA had stamped “Top Secret” after drawing a pencil line through the word, “Unclassified.” They gave it to Bamford and he took it into the judge and showed it to him. It was proof Drake was being setup and framed, which is a felony. They should have been charged but nobody was charged with any crime for trying to set him up.
It is an excellent trio of talks. I strongly encourage you to watch all 1 hour and 22 minutes.