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Whistleblower Chelsea Manning wrote a timely and important op-ed in the New York Times this weekend. From jail, Chelsea warns that excessive secrecy has kept Americans in the dark about Iraq’s fragility and press censorship during the war mislead Americans and policymakers into believing our own propaganda.

If you were following the news during the March 2010 elections in Iraq, you might remember that the American press was flooded with stories declaring the elections a success, complete with upbeat anecdotes and photographs of Iraqi women proudly displaying their ink-stained fingers. The subtext was that United States military operations had succeeded in creating a stable and democratic Iraq.
Those of us stationed there were acutely aware of a more complicated reality.
Chelsea’s op-ed details how the military’s embedded press embed program encourages reporters to write uncritical and favorable stories the U.S. military or face expulsion or blacklisting from the program.
Journalists have an important role to play in calling for reforms to the embedding system. The favorability of a journalist’s previous reporting should not be a factor. Transparency, guaranteed by a body not under the control of public affairs officials, should govern the credentialing process. An independent board made up of military staff members, veterans, Pentagon civilians and journalists could balance the public’s need for information with the military’s need for operational security.
Chelsea’s letter from jail and call for an end to government secrecy, like John Kiriakou’s “Letters from Loretto” and Edward Snowden’s continued appearances from Russia, show that despite solitary confinement, jail, and exile whistleblowers cannot be silenced.  Government secrecy and cover-ups make national security whistleblowers essential for holding our leaders accountable. Despite the war on whistleblowers they have managed to find a voice and we are much better off because of it.

One year after whistleblower Edward Snowden brought to light the National Security Agency's (NSA) out of control mass surveillance apparatus and exposed Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as having lied to Congress, Clapper is again changing his story, shifting away from the doom and gloom administration claims about how many documents Snowden took and how bad the damage was.

WaPo's David Ignatius commented on the shift:

This assessment contrasts with the initial view in which officials, unsure of what Snowden had taken, assumed the worst — including the possibility that he had compromised the communications networks that make up the military’s command and control system. Officials now think that dire forecast may have been too extreme.
After proving himself to be at least somewhat untruthful or the least untruthful he can be when testifying before Congress, it's certainly ill-advised to take anything Clapper says at face value. Still, the latest interview sounds a lot closer to the truth after a year of chicken-little style reaction from NSA and its apologists with NO concrete evidence to support the claims of "grave harm" to national security - a term the government also used to falsely portray NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake's actions.
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This week is the one year anniversary of whistleblower Edward Snowden's groundbreaking revelations about the National Security Agency's (NSA) mass surveillance apparatus.

Last week, Edward Snowden appeared on NBC News and gave an interview completely consistent with the first interviews he gave when we voluntarily went public as the source for Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras' award-winning reporting on NSA mass surveillance.

Meanwhile, in the decade since NSA used 9/11 as the excuse to engage in mass surveillance of hundreds of millions of innocent people, senior government officials have treated the public with disdain, engaging in a pattern of misleading explanations and outright lies to preserve the ability to continue NSA's invasive surveillance in secrecy and without oversight from Congress or the courts.

Specifics after the jump.

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The U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA) scandal has started to take on a life of its own, as lawmakers and veterans are sharply criticizing VA head Eric Shinseki after employees called attention to VA schemes to obscure long wait times for medical care.

The Department of Veterans Affairs warned its health clinics as early as 2010 to stop manipulating scheduling records to hide treatment delays, but the practice continued for years, according to whistleblowers.
One whistleblower - Sam Foote - explained his decision to come forward in the clearest possible terms:
MY decision to become a whistle-blower after 24 years as a physician in a Veterans Affairs hospital was, at first, an easy one. I knew about patients who were dying while waiting for appointments on the V.A.’s secret schedules, and I couldn’t stay silent.
While lawmakers will no doubt pounce on the scandal to score as many political points possible, they should endeavor to protect the whistleblowers who brought the scandal to light. The VA whistleblowers deserve protection from retaliation and deserve to have the issue taken seriously. Too often members of Congress forget the whistleblowers who created the situation that makes real reform politically feasible, and even politically expedient.
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The Obama administration has set the transparency bar for revealing secret law dreadfully low. WaPo reports:  

The Justice Department will publicly release a secret 2011 memo that provided the legal justification for the killing of American terrorism suspects overseas, according to a U.S. official, following extensive pressure on the administration to do so.

The department had been weighing whether to appeal a court order to disclose the memo but informed the White House on Tuesday that it would not, the official said. The decision came on the eve of a Senate vote on President Obama’s nomination of David J. Barron, one of the memo’s authors, to a federal appeals court judgeship.

This is what transparency has come to. The Executive branch will comply with a court order to release the memo. And in exchange, the memo's author will get a lifetime federal judgeship.

I wrote last week about Barron's nomination. While it will certainly benefit the public to know the legal justification the Executive branch uses before it unilaterally decides it can kill U.S. citizens without due process, the Obama administration's "transparency" move is hardly voluntary. A court ORDERED the memo's release.

We are so desperate for a nugget of transparency that it is worth celebrating when the administration stops fighting in court to keep secret the legal justification for killing U.S. citizens without charge, trial, access to an attorney or the ability to confront their accusers in court.

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WaPo reports:

The Justice Department has indicted five members of the Chinese military on charges of hacking into computers and stealing valuable trade secrets from leading steel, nuclear plant and solar power firms, marking the first time that the United States has leveled such criminal charges against a foreign country.
Before the trolls accuse me of supporting Chinese hacking operations, let's get one thing clear - the allegations of hacking in this case certainly look and smell like the sort of Espionage the Justice Department should expend resources prosecuting.

Putting aside the pot-kettle situation these Espionage charges create for the U.S., created by the fact that the U.S. itself has come under criticism after being caught spying for apparent economic gain, the allegations against the Chinese military provide an instructive moment.

The Obama administration has brought twice as many Espionage Act prosecutions for alleged mishandling of classified information than all past administrations combined, creating a chilling atmosphere for national security whistleblowers and the media. The Chinese hacking case brings the most famous prosecution against National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden into sharp focus.

Snowden risked his life to provide journalists with documentary evidence of NSA's illegal, wasteful, ineffective, and invasive mass surveillance operations, including (ironically) NSA's attempts to infiltrate foreign industry. Whether Snowden's actions were in the global public interest is no longer a matter of debate. He won the most prestigious award and American whistleblower can win, the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, the country's paper of record agrees he is a whistleblower, and the journalists who reported on the revelations won The Pulitzer Prize for public service.

Yet the Obama administration tragically puts Snowden in the same category as the members of the Chinese military accused of actions far more befitting the Espionage label.

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Harkening back to the days of appointing torture memo author Jay Bybee to a lifetime position as a federal judge, the Obama administration has nominated David Barron, author of at least two Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) Justice Department memos authorizing the killing of American citizens without due process, to serve on the First Circuit Court of Appeals. WaPo reports:

Senate Democrats — and Rand Paul — are pressuring the administration to release at least two memos authored by Barron that justified the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and senior al-Qaeda operative. The administration has granted Senators access to the memos, which probably ensures that Barron will be confirmed.
In a climate where secret legal interpretations that depart significantly from the text of existing laws are far too commonplace, we are so desperate for a shred of transparency that the White House agreeing to show Senators the secret memos is enough to grease the wheels for Barron's confirmation.

The memos are indefensible. If the logic is anything like the New York Times described, they raise serious questions Barron should have to answer at a public confirmation hearing. Including, first and foremost, how can the Executive branch play judge, jury and executioner for American citizens far from any battlefield? But, even Senators who have seen the memo will be unable to publicly question Barron about the memos because they are classified, likely intentionally kept secret to avoid precisely the questions Senators (and the public) should be asking Barron.

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Governments have no shortage of ways to crackdown on internet freedom. The New York Times reports:

Russia has taken another major step toward restricting its once freewheeling Internet, as President Vladimir V. Putin quietly signed a new law requiring popular online voices to register with the government, a measure that lawyers, Internet pioneers and political activists said Tuesday would give the government a much wider ability to track who said what online.
If we question Russia about this clear censorship, we need clean our own backyard. Russia's new law is an aggressive government move against free speech and press. But Americans must ask, especially those who criticize whistleblower Edward Snowden for accepting asylum from political persecution from the country where the US stranded him, if Russia's action is more chilling than collecting all of bloggers' electronic records on an ongoing basis. Is it more chilling than recording hundreds of millions of Americans' phone calls, and then arguing that once something is collected or recorded, the government can use the information as it sees fit without meaningful oversight from the judicial and legislative branches.

The NSA's mass surveillance operations, coupled with the Obama administration's unprecedented prosecution of national security whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, has had an enormous chilling effect on the freedom of the press. Case in point: Laura Poitras, in accepting the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling last week explained that she simply cannot do her reporting from the United States. (Her must watch video acceptance with Edward Snowden is available here).

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The Washington Post reports:

Major U.S. technology companies have largely ended the practice of quietly complying with investigators’ demands for e-mail records and other online data, saying that users have a right to know in advance when their information is targeted for government seizure.
The WaPo report reads like the tech companies will no longer be secretly forking over private citizens' data:
. . . U.S. tech companies will ignore the instructions stamped on the fronts of subpoenas urging them not to alert subjects about data requests, industry lawyers say. Companies that already routinely notify users have found that investigators often drop data demands to avoid having suspects learn of inquiries.
While this step is better than nothing, the devil is always in the details, and the tech companies new-found "strong stance" does not apply to much of NSA's (and the FBI's) mass information-gathering tactics.
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In a clear extension of the war on whistleblowers, led by the Obama administration's record-setting number of Espionage Act prosecutions for alleged mishandling of classification, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper issued a draconian directive barring employees from "unauthorized contact" with the media.

It is more than a little ridiculous for Clapper to be restricting what the public knows about its government when it is Clapper and the other leaders of the Intelligence Community who have been responsible for systematically misleading, misdirecting, and outright lying to the public about the U.S. government's surveillance activities. Exhibit A is of course the now infamous exchange between Clapper and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) where Clapper described himself being the "least untruthful" he could be.

Under Clapper's regime, the press and the public will have to settle for Executive branch talking points, which may be truthful or, if history is any lesson, will more likely be at least somewhat untruthful if not drastically misleading.

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Less than a week after whistleblower Edward Snowden was a US Main Stream Media darling as The Guardian and The Washington Post secured the Pulitzer Prize, the media proves itself rapidly willing to revert to rabidly trashing the whistleblower whose revelations made their Pulitzer Prize for Public Service possible.

WaPo - in addition to running a story about Putin with Snowden's picture, implying completely incorrectly and without evidence that the two are in cahoots - gives commentator Steven Stromberg a platform to resurrect the long-disproven "Russian spy" narrative while attempting to tarnish Snowden with a tired list of negative personality traits like "contemptible" and lacking "a shred of dignity."

If only commentators were as skeptical of the U.S. government officials who lied to the US about surveillance, torture and the "evidence" for wars - lies the media eagerly reprinted. No matter how often named and "anonymous" government officials mislead the public, the media is always willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But, the whistleblower Edward Snowden, someone who has told only the truth in the past 10 months, receives no benefit of the doubt and instead gets the scrutiny that should be aimed at our elected officials.  

What did Snowden do to unleash these latest personal attacks? After being damned by critics for not questioning the Russian government more, Snowden asked Russian President Putin a question - the same question that Senator Ron Wyden asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who lied.

Instead of reading an uninformed commentator, hear it from Snowden himself, who eloquently explained in The Guardian, which deserves credit for running the piece:

But to me, the rare opportunity to lift a taboo on discussion of state surveillance before an audience that primarily views state media outweighed that risk. Moreover, I hoped that Putin's answer – whatever it was – would provide opportunities for serious journalists and civil society to push the discussion further.

. . .
I blew the whistle on the NSA's surveillance practices not because I believed that the United States was uniquely at fault, but because I believe that mass surveillance of innocents – the construction of enormous, state-run surveillance time machines that can turn back the clock on the most intimate details of our lives – is a threat to all people, everywhere, no matter who runs them.

Last year, I risked family, life, and freedom to help initiate a global debate that even Obama himself conceded "will make our nation stronger". I am no more willing to trade my principles for privilege today than I was then.

I understand the concerns of critics, but there is a more obvious explanation for my question than a secret desire to defend the kind of policies I sacrificed a comfortable life to challenge: if we are to test the truth of officials' claims, we must first give them an opportunity to make those claims.

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National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden to receive Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling. The New York Times reports:

The Ridenhour prize for truth-telling will be given to Edward J. Snowden and Laura Poitras, the filmmaker and journalist who helped Mr. Snowden disclose his trove of documents on government surveillance.

The award, named for the Vietnam veteran who helped expose the My Lai massacre and later became an investigative journalist, is expected to be announced on Monday morning.

The Ridenhour Prize is validation for Snowden from the U.S. First Amendment, transparency and open government community.

While he has received some 25 international awards, the Ridenhour is only his second major U.S. award. (Snowden received the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence in October 2013). Snowden joins winners like Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, and fellow NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake.

Laura Poitras, a key journalist and documentary filmmaker who received Snowden's revelations will receive the Truth-Telling prize with Snowden, a deserving recognition of her courageous effort to report Snowden's revelations. Poitras, along with Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Barton Gellman will receive the prestigious Polk Award for their reporting later this week.

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