A preeminent NSA whistle-blower salutes Bradley Manning
By Thomas Drake. January 14, 2013. This article was originally published on Politico.com
When President Barack Obama signed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act on Nov. 27 of last year, actual whistleblowers were notably absent from the event. Traditionally, supporters are invited to witness the signing of legislation, so where were the whistleblowers? The sad truth is that the “Whistleblower Protection” statements issued by the Obama administration are more public relations than actual practice. Despite Obama’s promise to create the most transparent government in U.S. history, the number of annual classifications continues to skyrocket and a record number of government whistleblowers have been charged under the Espionage Act.
Pfc. Bradley Manning, the 25-year-old soldier arrested in May 2010 for revealing documents via WikiLeaks, is a victim of this war on whistleblowers. I attended Bradley’s December pretrial hearing at Fort Meade, Md., in which the defense sought accountability for the unlawful pretrial punishment Bradley endured at the Quantico Marine brig in Virginia. For nine months, Bradley was held isolated in a 6-by-8 cell, and allowed only 20 minutes of sunlight and exercise per day, in violation of Navy instructions and also, as Judge Denise Lind this week determined, in violation of military law.
The U.N. Chief Rapporteur on Torture called these conditions “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” and any reasonable person would see them as torture. Brig staff knew that their actions were under intense scrutiny from three-star Gen. George Flynn and the Pentagon, leaving no doubt that the command structure exercised undue influence over Quantico’s “poor” decision making.
I would be more shocked by this egregious treatment of a U.S. soldier were it not for the malicious prosecution I experienced. Just before Sept. 11, I was hired by the National Security Agency as a senior change leader. However, when I disclosed how NSA officials perpetrated fraud with the multibillion-dollar Trailblazer program and exposed NSA as the White House executive agent for the illegal secret surveillance of U.S citizens with the Stellar Wind program (when a superior, legal and far cheaper alternative existed), the government came after me as an enemy of the state. I was subsequently targeted by the Justice Department in 2006 as part of a “leak” investigation. In November 2007, I was unceremoniously visited in a dawn raid by a dozen agents from the FBI and indicted in April 2010 by the Department of Justice.
Deplorably, the Obama administration has dropped whistleblower protections at the door for intelligence and national security issues. The words “national security” alone should not exempt any person or program from public scrutiny and questioning. But as I saw firsthand, the U.S. intelligence community today remains plagued with over-classification, the politics of personal ego among high-ranking officials and a willingness to trample on human rights and civil liberties for negligible benefit.
When I joined the military, I took a solemn oath to defend the Constitution. I have always operated with that principle in mind, and I believe Bradley did as well. In Iraq, Bradley came face to face with the dark underbelly of U.S. activities around the world. He saw activists in Iraq detained and tortured with tacit U.S. support, and when he brought his concerns to his chain of command, they told him not to bother. He found evidence in Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and the video of indiscriminate killing of civilians, unpunished torture and corruption. He saw the diplomatic cables detailing the State Department’s role in suppressing minimum wage legislation in Haiti and supporting corrupt authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. As a former veteran, I believe this critical information regarding our government is in the public interest.
Bradley, like myself, placed his conscience above his career. Yet those whose careers were embarrassed by the truth targeted the messenger with a chilling vengeance. As in my case, the government is unable to show any evidence of actual harm or advantage to a foreign nation or enemy as a result of Bradley’s actions. Also, as in my case, the prosecution has tried to prevent the defense from referencing any evidence of Bradley’s good intentions. Bradley stated prior to arrest, “I want people to see the truth, regardless of who they are, because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public.” For his honorable actions, Bradley faces life in prison.
An informed citizenry is the bedrock of democracy. Absent transparency in government operations, the executive increasingly rules through secrecy and propaganda, shielding its conduct from the press and public accountability. By condemning and vilifying Bradley so extremely, the prosecuting authority Gen. Karl Horst, and others in the Pentagon and State Department have merely highlighted their misplaced priorities. The aggressive persecution and prosecution that Bradley has experienced are not the result of his connection to WikiLeaks; it is part of a larger pattern, and increasingly the norm for how our government reacts to whistleblowers and truth tellers. Dissent is the highest form of patriotism — and for that, I salute Bradley.
Thomas Andrews Drake is a former senior executive of the U.S. National Security Agency and a decorated U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy veteran.