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Hullabaloo


Monday, May 23, 2016

 

The pre-history of "civil disobedience whistleblowing”

by Tom Sullivan


Edward Snowden. Photo by Laura Poitras / Praxis Films
CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

The Guardian has a lengthy read about a Department of Defense figure involved in handling DoD whistleblowers. So far, John Crane has escaped the media spotlight surrounding the case of Edward Snowden. Crane worked in the Department of Defense's inspector general office for handling internal whistleblowers when – ten years before Snowden – Thomas Drake came to report the same illegal activities Snowden revealed to the press. Mark Hertsgaard sets the stage:

Drake was a much higher-ranking NSA official than Snowden, and he obeyed US whistleblower laws, raising his concerns through official channels. And he got crushed.

Drake was fired, arrested at dawn by gun-wielding FBI agents, stripped of his security clearance, charged with crimes that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life, and all but ruined financially and professionally. The only job he could find afterwards was working in an Apple store in suburban Washington, where he remains today. Adding insult to injury, his warnings about the dangers of the NSA’s surveillance programme were largely ignored.
According to the account Crane gave to Hertsgaard, DoD officials first illegally disclosed Crane's identity to the Justice Department, then "withheld (and perhaps destroyed) evidence after Drake was indicted; finally, they lied about all this to a federal judge."

And what lesson do we think Edward Snowden took from Drake's case?
Snowden saw what had happened to Drake and other whistleblowers like him. The key to Snowden’s effectiveness, according to Thomas Devine, the legal director of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), was that he practised “civil disobedience” rather than “lawful” whistleblowing. (GAP, a non-profit group in Washington, DC, that defends whistleblowers, has represented Snowden, Drake and Crane.)

“None of the lawful whistleblowers who tried to expose the government’s warrantless surveillance – and Drake was far from the only one who tried – had any success,” Devine told me. “They came forward and made their charges, but the government just said, ‘They’re lying, they’re paranoid, we’re not doing those things.’ And the whistleblowers couldn’t prove their case because the government had classified all the evidence. Whereas Snowden took the evidence with him, so when the government issued its usual denials, he could produce document after document showing that they were lying. That is civil disobedience whistleblowing.”
Crane's account blows a hole in the insistence by Washington insiders that Snowden should have used official channels only in raising his concerns about NSA mass surveillance. If his allegations are confirmed in court, writes Hertsgaard, they "could put current and former senior Pentagon officials in jail." Read on for details of Crane's treatment at the hands of his employers. If your morning coffee doesn't raise your eyebrows, this will.