So many leaks, so much to leak

The New York Times reports: Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Friday that the Justice Department was pursuing three times as many leak investigations as were open at the end of the previous administration, a significant devotion of law enforcement resources to hunt down the sources of unauthorized disclosures of information that have plagued the Trump administration.

Mr. Sessions vowed that the Justice Department would not hesitate to bring criminal charges against people who had leaked classified information. He also announced that the F.B.I. had created a new counterintelligence unit to manage these cases.

“I strongly agree with the president and condemn in the strongest terms the staggering number of leaks undermining the ability of our government to protect this country,” he said. The announcement by Mr. Sessions comes 10 days after President Trump publicly accused his attorney general of being “very weak” on pursuing these investigations. [Continue reading…]

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‘Tell on Trump’ appeals to potential leakers

The Wall Street Journal reports: With the Trump administration proving to be a leaky ship in its early days, one news outlet is launching an ad blitz to find the next Deep Throat.

The Gizmodo Media Group’s investigative team has taken to buying highly-targeted Facebook ads to steer potential leakers to a new website, TellOnTrump.com, which lays out a variety of secure methods to pass on sensitive information.

“One thing we know about Donald Trump is that there are a lot of things Donald Trump doesn’t want people to know about. If you’ve reached this page, you might have information about the conduct of Donald Trump or his administration that you’d like people to know about. Here’s how you can tell us,” the site explains.

The Univision Communications Inc.-owned media group, which operates sites like Fusion and the former Gawker Media sites like Gizmodo, Deadspin and Jezebel, started running ads on the social media platform within the last week that specifically target people who list certain government agencies as their employers. The ads don’t specify which news outlet is running the campaign, but the site which the ads point to clearly identifies the Gizmodo special projects desk.

“We are targeting people who are employed by federal agencies because we want them to know that if they see or know about something they think is newsworthy, we are here for them,” said John Cook, Gizmodo’s head of investigations.

Mr. Cook said Gizmodo is also working to purchase bus shelter ads near certain government agencies in Washington, D.C., encouraging people to contact them with information about the Trump administration. [Continue reading…]

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Eric Holder says Edward Snowden performed a ‘public service’

CNN reports: Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says Edward Snowden performed a “public service” by triggering a debate over surveillance techniques, but still must pay a penalty for illegally leaking a trove of classified intelligence documents.

“We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made,” Holder told David Axelrod on “The Axe Files,” a podcast produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics.

“Now I would say that doing what he did — and the way he did it — was inappropriate and illegal,” Holder added. [Continue reading…]

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Snowden calls for whistleblower shield after claims by new Pentagon source

The Guardian reports: Edward Snowden has called for a complete overhaul of US whistleblower protections after a new source from deep inside the Pentagon came forward with a startling account of how the system became a “trap” for those seeking to expose wrongdoing.

The account of John Crane, a former senior Pentagon investigator, appears to undermine Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other major establishment figures who argue that there were established routes for Snowden other than leaking to the media.

Crane, a longtime assistant inspector general at the Pentagon, has accused his old office of retaliating against a major surveillance whistleblower, Thomas Drake, in an episode that helps explain Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency disclosures. Not only did Pentagon officials provide Drake’s name to criminal investigators, Crane told the Guardian, they destroyed documents relevant to his defence. [Continue reading…]

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She spoke up about cooked ISIS intel. They booted her — for cursing

The Daily Beast reports: She worked on and off for five years identifying targets for the U.S. military’s Central Command.

And then, when, some believe, she spoke up about cherry-picked intelligence in the ISIS war, she was drummed out of her job—allegedly for cursing twice in the span of the year.

Those were just some of the surreal allegations thrown around last week in a Tampa law office conference room turned into a quasi-courtroom.

Had the case not involved the third-highest ranking person at the Defense Intelligence Agency, a two-star general, a military judge, and hours of testimony — all at a cost of thousands of dollars — it would have been hard to take seriously. Even with those high-ranking officials, at times it was hard not to do a double-take about what was happening.

After all, if cursing were really a fireable offense in the military, every soldier, sailor, Marine, and Defense Department civilian would have to be sent home. [Continue reading…]

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Panama paper trail goes online with massive searchable database

panama-papers

CNET reports: One of the biggest databases of leaked documents has just hit the internet, and what lies within is a massive and complicated web of corporate ownership that spans the globe.

The Panama Papers contain more than 2.5 million files, analysed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 112 reporters across 58 countries. Today’s data dump is just part of the picture, detailing the relationships between individuals, companies and offshore entities.

Think of it like a searchable corporate registry. But in this case, it’s a network made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals and companies, with seemingly endless links criss-crossing from Australia to Zimbabwe. The question now is which of these links can be used to prove the companies involved were attempting to hide massive wealth overseas.

While there’s no evidence that any of the entities have acted illegally, the “John Doe” behind the leak argues the data dump exposes the names behind growing income inequality, saying “it doesn’t take much to connect the dots.” [Continue reading…]

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Snowden seeks assurance from Norway it won’t extradite him

The Wall Street Journal reports: Edward Snowden, the former defense contractor charged by U.S. authorities for leaking classified documents to the media, is seeking assurance that Norway won’t extradite him if he comes here to collect a free-speech prize.

Mr. Snowden, who resides in Russia, has petitioned a Norwegian court, asking it to rule that the espionage charges filed by the U.S. Justice Department against him wouldn’t constitute grounds for extradition.

The Schjodt law firm, which filed the motion with the Oslo District Court on Mr. Snowden’s behalf, said Thursday that political crimes were formally excluded from a bilateral treaty and other rules governing extradition between Norway and the U.S.

“Mr. Snowden’s whistleblower activities must undoubtedly be seen as matters of political character,” the law firm said in its motion to the court.

The law firm said it has evidence that the U.S. has filed an extradition request to Norwegian authorities in the event Mr. Snowden arrives in Norway.

A spokesman at Norway’s Justice Ministry declined to comment on a court matter. The court said it hadn’t yet received Mr. Snowden’s documents. The U.S. Justice Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Debates inside and outside the courts over Mr. Snowden’s petition could challenge relations between the U.S. and the small Nordic country, traditionally a strong U.S. ally but also a strong advocate of whistleblower rights. [Continue reading…]

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German spies imply Snowden leaked files for Russia

The Local reports: NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden could have been acting under the influence of the Russian government, the heads of Germany’s foreign and domestic intelligence agencies said on Friday.

“It’s very remarkable that he exclusively published files about the work of the NSA with the BND [Germany’s foreign intelligence service] or the British secret service GCHQ,” BND head Gerhard Schindler told Focus magazine.

“Leaking the secret service files is an attempt to drive a wedge between western Europe and the USA – the biggest since the Second World War,” Hans-Georg Maaßen, head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (Verfassungsschutz), told Focus in the double interview. [Continue reading…]

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Pentagon, CIA instructed to re-investigate whistleblower cases

McClatchy reports: A government watchdog has ordered the CIA and the Pentagon to re-investigate retaliation allegations brought by two intelligence employees who accused their agencies of major institutional failings.

The action by the intelligence community inspector general is the first public indication that a new intelligence appeals system is underway. The panel was set up by President Barack Obama as an independent forum that can evaluate whether whistleblowers were improperly fired or otherwise punished for disclosures after their agencies rejected their claims.
The humvee in which Mike Helms was traveling and serving as a gunner in Iraq on June 16, 2004 hit a roadside bomb that shredded the left front side of the vehicle while it was traveling about 60 miles per hour. Helms was later denied treatment at military hospitals for his injuries. He alerted Congress to the inadequate medical care he and others received. However, he still struggles to find a job in his field after the Army revoked his clearance in what he says was illegal retaliation for his disclosures to Congress.

The cases, nonetheless, demonstrate that the whistleblower system continues to be beset with problems and bureaucratic delays despite being overhauled by Congress and the Obama administration.

“Navigating the system as an intelligence employee is still very burdensome and overwhelming,” said Michael Helms, a former Army intelligence officer whose case is one of the two being kicked back. “A decade after I blew the whistle on inadequate care for military civilians, I’m still waiting for justice.”

Obama pointed to the reforms when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed he had decided to go to the media with classified documents about the spy agency’s data collection programs instead of relying on the whistleblower system. Snowden asserted that intelligence agencies couldn’t be trusted to look into serious malfeasance or to protect high-profile whistleblowers. [Continue reading…]

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Barbara Myers: The unknown whistleblower

Rambo! In my Reagan-era youth, the name was synonymous with the Vietnam War — at least the Vietnam War reimagined, the celluloid fantasy version of it in which a tanned, glistening, muscle-bound commando busted the handcuffs of defeat and redeemed America’s honor in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Untold millions including the Gipper himself, an inveterate Vietnam revisionist, were enraptured.

Many years later, studying war crimes in Vietnam, I would come across a real Rambo — or maybe you’d call him an anti-Rambo. To the best of my knowledge, this Rambo didn’t fire a machine gun one-handed or use explosive-tipped arrows. But his work was a powder keg with a short fuse and his conscience a bright flame. While conducting research for a Pentagon-funded project on refugees, A. Terry Rambo turned up evidence that South Korean troops, functionally serving as America’s mercenaries in Vietnam, had massacred a large number of civilians. That Rambo “presented the findings” to, he said, “a whole slew of colonels — 10 or 12” of them. He thought the American brass would take action. Instead, a U.S. officer instructed him to leave that information out of his report. “I told [the officer] as a civilian I didn’t feel myself bound by [U.S. military] orders and that I was going to submit a report on it.” Rambo eventually went public with the story.

He was far from alone.

The criminality, the madness of the Vietnam War seemed to compel many to act in similar ways even when it put them at great peril, threatened to upend their lives, sink their careers, and leave them at odds with their families. Many took to the streets; many who knew secrets spilled them; and the phenomenon spread. It became a golden age of whistleblowing: veterans exposing U.S. atrocities, civilians exposing FBI dirty tricks and domestic surveillance, governmentofficials exposing White House crimes and NSA spying. Truth-telling seemed to be in the air. And, of course, a former Pentagon analyst and employee of the military-funded RAND Corporation, Daniel Ellsberg, rocked the world with his exposure of the U.S. military’s secret history of the Vietnam War — known as the Pentagon Papers — laying bare decades of lies foisted upon Congress and the American people. Today, in another great age of whistleblowers, only Ellsberg’s name remains.

The real Rambo, Ron Ridenhour, Jamie Henry, Perry Fellwock, Peter Buxtun, and so many others are known only to a tiny minority. In 1970, A. Terry Rambo told the New York Times that he had heard about a RAND study that also found evidence of South Korean atrocities. A RAND spokesman said they had turned up “rumors about Korean troop behavior… but since they did not involve RAND research, we can only regard them as hearsay.” Decades later — no thanks to RAND — it’s well-documented that South Korean forces slaughtered large numbers of Vietnamese civilians. It might never have been so if the real Rambo hadn’t had the courage to come forward.

Without whistleblowers, citizens are at the mercy of massaged truths and fine-crafted fictions spun by officials who prefer shadows to sunlight. If you can imagine a world in which the Pentagon Papers were never leaked, in which the burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office by President Nixon’s “Plumbers” was never uncovered, in which decades of blood-soaked lies were kept secret from the American people, then you can imagine a world in which the late Anthony Russo, another former RAND analyst and whistleblower in danger of evaporating into history’s mists, never had a crisis of conscience.

Today, Russo has been reduced to a footnote and his shining accomplishment assumed to be, as he put it, as a “Xerox aide” to Ellsberg, a man who did little more than help physically copy documents. As Barbara Myers writes in her inaugural (and epic) TomDispatch piece, Russo was far more instrumental in the leaking of the Pentagon Papers than most know — and that may have been only his second most important act of whistleblowing. With news of a final Rambofilm starring Stallone on the horizon, the time seems ripe to remember the real Rambos and Russos who took great risks to tell hard truths, exposing misery, malfeasance, and murder that the powerful would rather have kept hidden. Nick Turse

The other conspirator
The secret origins of the CIA’s torture program and the forgotten man who tried to expose it
By Barbara Myers

The witness reported men being hung by the feet or the thumbs, waterboarded, given electric shocks to the genitals, and suffering from extended solitary confinement in what he said were indescribably inhumane conditions. It’s the sort of description that might have come right out of the executive summary of the Senate torture report released last December. In this case, however, the testimony was not about a “black site” somewhere in the Greater Middle East, nor was it a description from Abu Ghraib, nor in fact from this century at all.

The testimony came from Vietnam; the year was 1968; the witness was Anthony J. Russo, one of the first Americans to report on the systematic torture of enemy combatants by CIA operatives and other U.S. agents in that long-gone war. The acts Russo described became commonplace in the news post-9/11 and he would prove to be an early example of what also became commonplace in our century: a whistleblower who found himself on the wrong side of the law and so was prosecuted for releasing the secret truth about the acts of our government.

Determined to shine a light on what he called “the truth held prisoner,” Russo blew the whistle on American torture policy in Vietnam and on an intelligence debacle at the center of Vietnam decision-making that helped turn that war into the nightmare it was. Neither of his revelations saw the light of day in his own time or ours and while Daniel Ellsberg, his compatriot and companion in revelation, remains a major figure for his role in releasing the Pentagon Papers, Russo is a forgotten man.

That’s too bad. He shouldn’t be forgotten. His is, unfortunately, a story of our times as well as his.

[Read more…]

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Snowden sees some victories, from a distance

Scott Shane reports: For an international fugitive hiding out in Russia from American espionage charges, Edward J. Snowden gets around.

May has been another month of virtual globe-hopping for Mr. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, with video appearances so far at Princeton and in a “distinguished speakers” series at Stanford and at conferences in Norway and Australia. Before the month is out, he is scheduled to speak by video to audiences in Italy, and also in Ecuador, where there will be a screening of “Citizenfour,” the Oscar-winning documentary about him.

But there have been far more consequential victories for Mr. Snowden’s cause two years after he flew from Hawaii to Hong Kong carrying laptops loaded with N.S.A. secrets.

Two weeks ago, a federal appeals court ruled that the first N.S.A. program he disclosed, which collects the phone call records of millions of Americans, is illegal. Last week, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to transform the program by keeping the bulk phone records out of government hands, a change President Obama has endorsed and the Senate is now debating. And Apple and Google have angered the F.B.I. by stepping up encryption, including on smartphones, to scramble communications and protect customers from the kind of government surveillance Mr. Snowden exposed. [Continue reading…]

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The whistleblower’s tale: How an accountant took on Halliburton

By Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica, April 21, 2015

This story was co-produced with Marketplace.

The email that ruined Tony Menendez’s life arrived on a warm and sunny February afternoon in 2006. Menendez is, by nature, precise and logical, but his first instinct was somewhat irrational. He got up to close the door to his office, as if that might somehow keep the message from speeding across cyberspace. Then he sat down at his desk to puzzle out what had just happened.

The email was sent by Mark McCollum, Halliburton’s chief accounting officer, and a top-ranking executive at Halliburton, where Menendez worked. It was addressed to much of the accounting department. “The SEC has opened an inquiry into the allegations of Mr. Menendez,” it read. Everyone was to retain their documents until further notice.

Panic gripped Menendez. How could McCollum have learned he had been talking to the SEC? The substance of the email was true. After months of raising concerns inside the company, Menendez had filed a complaint with regulators and Halliburton’s audit committee that accused the giant oil services company of violating accounting rules. But those complaints were supposed to be kept strictly confidential. Did the agency violate that trust? Did a board member? Somebody had talked.

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U.S. government still hunting WikiLeaks as Obama targets whistleblowers

The Guardian reports: The US government is conducting an active, long-term criminal investigation into WikiLeaks, a federal judge has confirmed in court documents.

Five years after Julian Assange and his team began publishing the massive dump of US state secrets leaked by an army intelligence analyst, two wings of the Department of Justice and the FBI remain engaged in a criminal investigation of the open-information website that is of a “long-term duration”, “multi-subject” in nature and that “remains in the investigative state”.

The disclosure was made in the course of a ruling from the US district court for the District of Columbia, the jurisdiction of which covers federal agencies, and underlines the Obama administration’s dogged pursuit of WikiLeaks and its unprecedentedly aggressive legal campaign against official whistleblowers. [Continue reading…]

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Petraeus and Washington’s culture of leaks

Former CIA director General David Petraeus is getting a slap on the wrists for leaking classified information to his biographer and then lying about it to the FBI. Eli Lake notes the double standards that operate in Washington when it comes to its treatment of leakers.

If the decision of which leakers to investigate and charge seems arbitrary, then the punishments they receive are even more so. While Petraeus is unlikely to spend time behind bars, John Kiriakou, a former CIA employee who pleaded guilty to disclosing the identity of an undercover officer, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison — even though the employee’s identity was never made public. Stephen Kim, a federal contractor, went to prison for a year after leaking secrets about North Korea to a Fox News reporter. Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer, is facing a longer prison term for leaking secrets to a New York Times reporter.

Steve Aftergood, director of the project on government secrecy of the Federation of American Scientists, noted the disparity: “Petraeus is getting off much more easily than people who committed similar offenses. In the Kiriakou case, as in the Petraeus case, the identity of an undercover officer was disclosed without becoming public. But the outcomes of the two cases are radically different. Either they should both go to jail or they should pay a fine.”

Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, praised Petraeus’s service. He also told me, “I am reminded every day of the critical importance of safeguarding classified information and all individuals — no matter how senior — must be held to account when they fail in this duty.”

But classified information hasn’t been safe in Washington for some time now. The Petraeus affair is in this sense a small scandal. The much larger one is that some leakers are punished mildly, others are punished harshly and most are not punished at all.

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Torture if you must, but do not under any circumstances call the New York Times

Dan Froomkin writes: Monday’s guilty verdict in the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling on espionage charges — for talking to a newspaper reporter — is the latest milepost on the dark and dismal path Barack Obama has traveled since his inaugural promises to usher in a “new era of openness.”

Far from rejecting the authoritarian bent of his presidential predecessor, Obama has simply adjusted it, adding his own personal touches, most notably an enthusiasm for criminally prosecuting the kinds of leaks that are essential to a free press.

The Sterling case – especially in light of Obama’s complicity in the cover-up of torture during the Bush administration – sends a clear message to people in government service: You won’t get in trouble as long as you do what you’re told (even torture people). But if you talk to a reporter and tell him something we want kept secret, we will spare no effort to destroy you.

There’s really no sign any more of the former community organizer who joyously declared on his first full day in office that “there’s been too much secrecy in this city… Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known.”

Instead, as author Scott Horton explained to me a few weeks ago, Obama’s thinking on these issues was swayed by John Brennan, the former senior adviser he eventually named CIA director. And for Brennan and his ilk, secrecy is a core value — partly for legitimate national security reasons and partly as an impregnable shield against embarrassment and accountability. [Continue reading…]

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A mysterious Twitter whistleblower is trying to take down the president of Turkey

Vice News reports: An anonymous whistleblower is captivating Turkey by tweeting revelations from the upper echelons of Turkish politics. The latest claims are the most explosive yet: The whistleblower says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plotted terrorist-style attacks on Turkish civilians to frame his opponents.

The whistleblower, who operates on Twitter as Fuat Avni (@FuatAnvi, or @FuatAvniEng for tweets in English), claims he’s male, works alone, and is part of Erdogan’s inner circle. In Turkey, a country that ranks 154th out of 180 in the press freedom index compiled by Reporters without Borders, Fuat Avni has shattered the tightly controlled political discourse and enthralled Turks.

“Fuat Avni’s consistent credibility has established him as a reliable source of information,” Greg Barton, an expert on Turkish politics at Monash University, told VICE News. “The tweets are taken seriously because they have substance behind them; they predict something breaking that is then confirmed to be true.”

In the latest series of tweets, posted January 9, he claims Erdogan and the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, Hakan Fidan, are planning “a terror act that would kill dozens of innocent people in a large city,” while framing the Gülenists — a splinter faction of Erdogan’s government and his main opposition — for the attack. [Continue reading…]

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Intelligence, defense whistleblowers remain mired in broken system

McClatchy reports: When Ilana Greenstein blew the whistle on mismanagement at the CIA, she tried to follow all the proper procedures.

First, she told her supervisors that she believed the agency had bungled its spying operations in Baghdad. Then, she wrote a letter to the director of the agency.

But the reaction from the intelligence agency she trusted was to suspend her clearance and order her to turn over her personal computers. The CIA then tried to get the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation of her.

Meanwhile, the agency’s inspector general, which is supposed to investigate whistleblower retaliation, never responded to her complaint about the treatment.

Based on her experience in 2007, Greenstein is not surprised that many CIA employees did little to raise alarms when the nation’s premier spy agency was torturing terrorism suspects and detaining them without legal justification. She and other whistleblowers say the reason is obvious.

“No one can trust the system,” said Greenstein, now a Washington attorney. “I trusted it and I was naive.”

Since 9/11, defense and intelligence whistleblowers such as Greenstein have served as America’s conscience in the war on terrorism. Their assertions go to the heart of government waste, misconduct and overreach: defective military equipment, prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, surveillance of Americans.

Yet the legal system that was set up to protect these employees has repeatedly failed those with the highest-profile claims. Many of them say they aren’t thanked but instead are punished for speaking out. [Continue reading…]

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After CIA gets secret whistleblower email, Congress worries about more spying

McClatchy reports: The CIA obtained a confidential email to Congress about alleged whistleblower retaliation related to the Senate’s classified report on the agency’s harsh interrogation program, triggering fears that the CIA has been intercepting the communications of officials who handle whistleblower cases.

The CIA got hold of the legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring, people familiar with the matter told McClatchy. It’s unclear how the agency obtained the material.

At the time, the CIA was embroiled in a furious behind-the-scenes battle with the Senate Intelligence Committee over the panel’s investigation of the agency’s interrogation program, including accusations that the CIA illegally monitored computers used in the five-year probe. The CIA has denied the charges.

The email controversy points to holes in the intelligence community’s whistleblower protection systems and raises fresh questions about the extent to which intelligence agencies can elude congressional oversight. [Continue reading…]

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