Going into the Democratic National Convention, I've tried to regain the hope I had when I campaigned for, contributed to, and voted for Obama in 2008. Putting aside the multitude of human rights abuses - drones, assassination, indefinite preventative detention - I was mentally prepared to conjure up some enthusiasm when I was slapped in the face with the Obama campaign's shameful and misleading "Fact Check" on the war on whistleblowers.
First, the Obama campaign takes what should be a badge of shame - criminally prosecuting whistleblowers under the Espionage Act - and touts it as somehow "tough on national security."
Second, the campaign steals the line I have been using for two years now: that the Obama administration has brought more prosecutions than all past presidents combined.
Then, the campaign wraps its repugnant message to make it pore palatable by claiming the criticism that the Obama administration has received is coming from a "Swift Boaters" conservative super PAC, when, in fact, critics of the administration's hypocritical use of the Espionage Act to target whistleblowers include everyone from myself, to Glenn Greenwald, to the New York Times.
The Obama campaign should have left the war on whistleblowers alone - and that would have been bad enough. Obama full well knows that the administration's flag ship Espionage Act prosecution against vindicated National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake, who went through proper internal channels and never disclosed classified information, collapsed in spectacular fashion days before trial. Apparently the Obama campaign is counting on the American public to have ignored Jane Mayer's must-read investigative piece on Drake's whistleblowing and the fact that the Justice Department dropped all felony charges against Drake.
UPDATED: Glenn Greenwald gets it right in a must-read column today:
Leave aside that this is a total nonsequitur: the fact that Obama has persecuted whistleblowers hardly negates, or even pertains to, the charge that he has leaked classified information when doing so benefits him politically. Indeed, that's precisely what makes his behavior so pernicious: that his administration exploits secrecy laws to punish those who expose high-level wrongdoing while leaking at will for political gain.
More remarkable is that a Democratic presidential candidate is sticking his chest out and proudly touting that he has tried to imprison more whistleblowers on espionage charges than all previous presidents in history combined: more than the secrecy-loving Bush/Cheney White House, more than the paranoid, leak-hating Nixon administration, more than anyone in American history.
The Obama administration's war on whistleblowers -- which the campaign now spins as "tough on national security" -- is really a war on journalists, a point I've been making for years. I also represent Drake and current Espionage Act defendant and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) torture whistleblower John Kiriakou. But don't take my word for it.
Here is what others had to say about the case against Thomas Drake.
--The L.A. Times editorial board:
That smacks of retaliation, not legitimate protection of sensitive information.--The Washington Post editorial board:
Mr. Drake’s prosecution smacks of overkill and could scare others with legitimate concerns about government programs from coming forward.--Morton Halperin of the Open Society Institute:
Because reporters often retain unauthorized defense documents, Drake’s conviction would establish a legal precedent making it possible to prosecute journalists as spies. “It poses a grave threat to the mechanism by which we learn most of what the government does,” Halperin, says.--Former classification czar under G.W. Bush, J William Leonard, who was slated to testify as a defense expert for Drake, called the case the most "deliberate and willful example of government officials improperly classifying a document," he had ever seen.
--Federal Judge Richard D. Bennett, who presided over Drake's case:
The government was deservedly berated by Judge Richard Bennett of Federal District Court in Maryland for an “unconscionable” pursuit of the accused across “four years of hell.”--Domestic surveillance whistleblower Mark Klein:
Mark Klein, the former A.T. & T. employee who exposed the telecom-company wiretaps, is also dismayed by the Drake case. “I think it’s outrageous,” he says. “The Bush people have been let off. The telecom companies got immunity. The only people Obama has prosecuted are the whistle-blowers.”Far from criticizing Obama for being weak on leaks, neo-con Gabriel Schoenfeld - the brainchild of using the Espionage Act to target the media - told Jane Mayer:
Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history—even more so than NixonMeanwhile, the criticism of the record-setting Espionage Act prosecutions is not coming from neo-cons:
Jack Balkin, a liberal law professor at Yale, agrees that the increase in leak prosecutions is part of a larger transformation. “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state,” he says.The New York Times editorial board echoed that criticism:
The Obama administration has misguidedly used the Espionage Act in five such cases of news media disclosures . ... Treating potentially embarrassing information as a state secret is the antithesis of healthy government.The Obama campaign's misleading "Fact" Check is even more outrageous considering the FACT that just three months ago, Obama administration officials were telling the New York Times that the record-setting Espionage Act prosecutions were not the result of some policy decision.
Like most presidents, Mr. Obama has been infuriated by some leaks, but aides say he never ordered investigations.So, when the Espionage Act prosecutions are accurately described as attacks on Free Speech and the media, the Obama administration does not want credit for them, and the "policy" is really just an accident. But, that doesn't stop the Obama campaign from the self-serving, shameless, spin of touting this supposedly "accidental policy" - which should be a badge of shame - as some "tough on national security policy."
Obama should be embarrassed by such transparent spin intended to obscure the truth and ashamed of the way his administration has treated whistleblowers, who Obama himself pledged to protect in 2009.