Robert Gibbs, former White House Press Secretary, revealed the drone program on this weekend's Up with Chris Hayes. This is outrageous on a number of levels, not the least of which is that the Obama administration has steadfastly withheld information about the program--including the 7 Justice Department memos justifying it.
Gibbs said he was told:
You're not even to acknowledge the drone program. You're not even to discuss that it exists.The ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, which asked the government to disclose the legal basis for its use of predator drones to conduct "targeted killings" overseas. The CIA denied the request by refusing to confirm or deny whether the CIA drone strike program even exists. (I received a similar GLOMAR response to my FOIA).
Yet Gibbs, now with a new gig at MSNBC, felt he had to explain how uncomfortable it felt to lie to the American public, and in doing so, officially revealed one of the most closely-held secrets of the Obama administration.
With respect to Gibbs, I doubt we are going to hear Neil MacBride (the U.S. attorney in the case of CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou), smugly chastising that,
Leaks of highly sensitive, closely held and classified information compromise national security and can put individual lives in danger.Nor will we hear sanctimonious David Petraeus lecturing that
There are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that . . . enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.
Gibbs noted the absurdity of the White House's edict:
Here's what's inherently crazy about the proposition: you're being asked a question based on reporting of a program that exists. So you're the official government spokesperson acting as if the entire program . . . pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.I sympathize with how awkward it must have been for Gibbs to constantly have to dodge the elephant in the room. But what I find more infuriating than the White House's orchestrated lying by omission is that 1) groups that have spent years going through formal legal processes could not get the relevant memos, and 2) I have a client, John Kiriakou, who is going to jail on Thursday for "leaking" the name of a CIA torturer, which can be found via a simple Google search.
I have represented a number of whistleblowers, including Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, who have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act for allegedly mishandling allegedly classified information. Neither they (nor, theoretically, Gibbs) should be charged under this notoriously ambiguous, draconian, antiquated law that is meant to go after spies, not whistleblowers.
"Leak hypocrisy"--the government leaking like a sieve when it's in their interest, and prosecuting those who embarrass it or, God forbid, expose its crimes) enjoyed a brief glimpse of sunshine a few months ago, but died quietly. The war on whistleblowers, however, has continued unabated. The naysayers always claim:
It's not up to some single individual to unilaterally decide what can be public or not.But that's exactly what Gibbs did. I doubt, however, that we will hear David Petraeus lecturing that
There are consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that . . . enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.And Gibbs' public-right-to-know explanation sounds a lot like what a lot of whistleblowers have said:
This is my opinion, but . . . our denial of the existence of the program when it's obviously happening undermines people's confidence in the overall decisions that their government makes. . . In order to bolster that . . . you do have to lift the veil some.As I accompany John Kiriakou to jail on Thursday, he will become the only CIA officer connected to the torture program (one of the worst scandals of my generation) to go to prison--and he was the one who blew the whistle on the torture program, called waterboarding torture, and refused torture training. In another bitter irony, if Kiriakou had actually tortured someone, he would not be going to jail.