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Daniel Ellsberg

Trump’s War on the Press

ACLU lawyers believe that Trump is likely to prosecute journalists and editors for publishing leaks of classified information, for the first time, using the Espionage Act. So far, the Espionage Act has been used for leaks to the American public only against government officials or former ones, of which I was the first, for the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

There were only two other such prosecutions before Obama; he prosecuted nine cases, or three times as many as all previous presidents together. It’s being taken for granted that Trump will follow Obama’s pattern, but also believed that he will go further to use the Act against reporters for the first time.

The Supreme Court might (or might not) find this application unconstitutional under the First Amendment (though the plain language of the Act–which was meant for spies, not leakers, and used only for spies before my case, applies as well to anyone who copies, holds, or passes on information “related to the national defense” including journalists, publishers (like Julian Assange or the New York Times) or even readers of the newspapers (!) as well as to officials.

Even if the Court eventually ruled against the use of the Espionage Act in this application (as I believe they clearly should, on First Amendment grounds), the costly and stressful legal proceedings, perhaps taking years, would have a frigidly “cooling” effect on the journalistic process.

What is almost unknown is that Richard Nixon intended to use the Espionage Act to prosecute journalists from the New York Times (including Neil Sheehan and Hedrick Smith) in the Pentagon Papers case covered by the upcoming movie “The Post”, along with academics and others (possibly Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Richard Falk) to whom I had given parts of the Pentagon Papers.

A grand jury in Boston was sitting for this purpose, and indictments were expected by defense lawyers (see “Fighting for the Press” by James Goodale, the Times’ lawyer) but it was dissolved after my charges were dismissed in 1973 in part on grounds of warrantless wiretapping that would undoubtedly have applied to some or all of these other defendants.

Thus Trump would simply be following in the footsteps–on this path as on others–of Richard Nixon: whether or not the final result for himself is the same.

All this makes “The Post”–due out in late December and early January–all the more timely! More about “The Post” here:  https://movieweb.com/post-movie-2017-photo-steven-spielberg-tom-hanks-meryl-streep/

Announcing Our New Freedom of the Press Foundation Board Member, Edward Snowden

I’m proud and honored to announce our new Freedom of the Press Foundation board member, Edward Snowden.

Here’s what I said in today’s press release:

[Snowden] is the quintessential American whistleblower, and a personal hero of mine, Leaks are the lifeblood of the republic and, for the first time, the American public has been given the chance to debate democratically the NSA’s mass surveillance programs. Accountability journalism can’t be done without the courageous acts exemplified by Snowden, and we need more like him. . . .

The secrecy system in this country is broken. No one is punished for using secrecy to conceal dangerous policies, lies, or crimes, yet concerned employees who wish to inform the American public about what the government is doing under their name are treated as spies. Our ‘accountability’ mechanisms are a one-sided secret court, which acts as a rubber stamp, and a Congressional ‘oversight’ committee, which has turned into the NSA’s public relations firm. Edward Snowden had no choice but to go to the press with information. Far from a crime, Snowden’s disclosures are a true constitutional moment, where the press has held the government to account using the First Amendment, when the other branches refused.

Edward Snowden said:

It is tremendously humbling to be called to serve the cause of our free press. . . on FPF’s Board of Directors. The unconstitutional gathering of the communications records of everyone in America threatens our most basic rights, and the public should have a say in whether or not that continues. Thanks to the work of our free press, today we do, and if the NSA won’t answer to Congress, they’ll have to answer to the newspapers, and ultimately, the people.

Here’s what I told the New York Times in their blog post on the announcement: “Snowden is no more of a traitor than I am, and I am not a traitor. He has done more for our Constitution in terms of the Fourth and First Amendment than anyone I know.”

Here’s the interview I did on CNN:

[1/15/13] And here’s a dialogue I did about the announcement, on Reddit

Edward Snowden: Saving Us from the United Stasi of America

My opinion piece in the Guardian today:

In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago. Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an “executive coup” against the US constitution.

Since 9/11, there has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the bill of rights for which this country fought over 200 years ago. In particular, the fourth and fifth amendments of the US constitution, which safeguard citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government into their private lives, have been virtually suspended.

The government claims it has a court warrant under Fisa – but that unconstitutionally sweeping warrant is from a secret court, shielded from effective oversight, almost totally deferential to executive requests. As Russell Tice, a former National Security Agency analyst, put it: “It is a kangaroo court with a rubber stamp.”

For the president then to say that there is judicial oversight is nonsense – as is the alleged oversight function of the intelligence committees in Congress. Not for the first time – as with issues of torture, kidnapping, detention, assassination by drones and death squads –they have shown themselves to be thoroughly co-opted by the agencies they supposedly monitor. They are also black holes for information that the public needs to know.

The fact that congressional leaders were “briefed” on this and went along with it, without any open debate, hearings, staff analysis, or any real chance for effective dissent, only shows how broken the system of checks and balances is in this country.

Obviously, the United States is not now a police state. But given the extent of this invasion of people’s privacy, we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. If, for instance, there was now a war that led to a large-scale anti-war movement – like the one we had against the war in Vietnam – or, more likely, if we suffered one more attack on the scale of 9/11, I fear for our democracy. These powers are extremely dangerous.

There are legitimate reasons for secrecy, and specifically for secrecy about communications intelligence. That’s why Bradley Mannning and I –both of whom had access to such intelligence with clearances higher than top-secret – chose not to disclose any information with that classification. And it is why Edward Snowden has committed himself to withhold publication of most of what he might have revealed.

But what is not legitimate is to use a secrecy system to hide programs that are blatantly unconstitutional in their breadth and potential abuse. Neither the president nor Congress as a whole may by themselves revoke the fourth amendment – and that’s why what Snowden has revealed so far was secret from the American people.

In 1975, Senator Frank Church spoke of the National Security Agency in these terms:

“I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

The dangerous prospect of which he warned was that America’s intelligence gathering capability – which is today beyond any comparison with what existed in his pre-digital era – “at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left.”

That has now happened. That is what Snowden has exposed, with official, secret documents. The NSA, FBI and CIA have, with the new digital technology, surveillance powers over our own citizens that the Stasi – the secret police in the former “democratic republic” of East Germany – could scarcely have dreamed of. Snowden reveals that the so-called intelligence community has become the United Stasi of America.

So we have fallen into Senator Church’s abyss. The questions now are whether he was right or wrong that there is no return from it, and whether that means that effective democracy will become impossible. A week ago, I would have found it hard to argue with pessimistic answers to those conclusions.

But with Edward Snowden having put his life on the line to get this information out, quite possibly inspiring others with similar knowledge, conscience and patriotism to show comparable civil courage – in the public, in Congress, in the executive branch itself – I see the unexpected possibility of a way up and out of the abyss.

Pressure by an informed public on Congress to form a select committee to investigate the revelations by Snowden and, I hope, others to come might lead us to bring NSA and the rest of the intelligence community under real supervision and restraint and restore the protections of the bill of rights.

Snowden did what he did because he recognised the NSA’s surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity. This wholesale invasion of Americans’ and foreign citizens’ privacy does not contribute to our security; it puts in danger the very liberties we’re trying to protect.

Secrecy and National Security Whistleblowing

[Originally published in Social Research]

I) Reflections on Secret-keeping and Identity

In the “national security” area of the government–the White House, the departments of state and defense, the armed services and the “intelligence community,” along with their contractors–there is less whistleblowing than in other departments of the executive branch or in private corporations. This despite the frequency of misguided practices and policies within these particular agencies that are both more well-concealed and more catastrophic than elsewhere, and thus even more needful of unauthorized exposure.

The mystique of secrecy in the universe of national security, even beyond the formal apparatus of classification and clearances, is a compelling deterrent to whistleblowing and thus to effective resistance to gravely wrongful or dangerous policies. In this realm, telling secrets appears unpatriotic, even traitorous. That reflects the general presumption–even though it is very commonly false–that the secrecy is aimed not at domestic, bureaucratic or political rivals or the American public but at foreign, powerful enemies, and that breaching it exposes the country, its people and its troops to danger.

Even those insiders who have come to understand that the presumption is frequently false and that particular facts are being wrongly and dangerously kept secret not so much from foreigners but from Congress, courts or the public are strongly inhibited from speaking out by an internalized commitment to keep official secrets from outsiders, which they have promised to do as a condition of employment or access.

To be sure, there are strong, usually more than adequate careerist incentives not to break those promises. Being found to do so exposes officials to loss of access to meetings and information, loss of clearance, demotion or loss of promotion, loss of job or career, loss of retirement benefits, harm to marriage or to children’s prospects that comes with loss of income, even danger of prosecution and prison. The last risk is much less likely than they are led to believe—at least, that was true prior to the present Obama administration — but the other job-related penalties are not, and they prove more than sufficient to keep most secret-keepers from breaking the rules in ways that would expose them to such losses, even when the welfare of many others is at stake.

However, as a former insider I can attest to psychological dimensions of this behavior that seem rarely to have been discussed. They seem worthy of some extended reflection here, given my own motive to understand this behavior in order in some respects to change it. In my experience, the psychological stakes for officials in keeping their commitment to keep secrets-even what appear to be “guilty” secrets that not only preclude democratic accountability but endanger the welfare of many people–go beyond careerist calculations of keeping a job or possible punishments for disobedience, influential and even sufficient as those considerations generally are. Continue Reading

Progressives: Defeat Romney/Ryan in Swing States

I agree with nearly everything Jill Stein of the Greens and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party say: except when they say “vote for me” in swing states.

Here’s why:

It is critical to prevent a Republican administration under Romney/Ryan from taking office in January 2013.

The election is just a week away, and I want to urge those whose values are generally like mine—progressives, especially activists—to make this a high priority.

An activist colleague recently said to me: “I hear you’re supporting Obama.”  I was startled, and took offense.

“I lose no opportunity,” I told him angrily, “to identify Obama publicly as a servant of Wall Street: a man who’s decriminalized torture and is still complicit in it, a drone assassin, someone who’s launched an unconstitutional war, who claims authority to detain American citizens and others indefinitely without charges or even to execute them without due process, and who has prosecuted more whistleblowers like myself than all previous presidents put together. Would you call that support?”

My friend said, “But on Democracy Now you urged people in swing states to vote for him!  How could you say that?  I don’t live in a swing state, but I will not and could not vote for Obama under any circumstances.”

I said to him: “Like it or not, we have a two-party system in America. The only real alternative for the next four years is Mitt Romney, who has endorsed every one of those criminal and unconstitutional offenses. And those are promises I believe he will keep.  That’s a terrible situation, but it won’t be improved by replacing Obama with Romney.

“I don’t ‘support Obama’. I oppose the current Republican party. Obama’s policies, as I see them, range from criminal to—at their best—improvements on the recent past, partial and inadequate.  But current Republican policies range from criminal to disastrous. That’s not really a hard choice.”

This not a contest between Barack Obama and a progressive—primary challenger or major candidate—or even a Republican who’s good on foreign policy and civil liberties like Ron Paul or Gary Johnson. What voters in a handful or a dozen close-fought swing states are going to determine on November 6 is whether or not Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going to wield great political power for four, maybe eight years.

A Romney/Ryan administration would be no better on any of the constitutional violations I mentioned, or on anything else. But it would be catastrophically worse on many other important issues: The likelihood of attacking Iran, Supreme and Federal Court appointments, the economy and jobs, women’s reproductive rights, health coverage, the safety net, green energy and the environment.

As Noam Chomsky said recently,“The Republican organization today is extremely dangerous, not just to this country, but to the world. It’s worth expending some effort to prevent their rise to power, without sowing illusions about the Democratic alternatives.”

He also told an interviewer: “Between the two choices that are presented, there are I think some significant differences. If I were a person in a swing state, I’d vote against Romney/Ryan, which means voting for Obama because there is no other choice. I happen to be in a non-swing state, so I can either not vote or—as I probably will—vote for [Green Party candidate] Jill Stein.”

I see it the same way. Chomsky lives in Massachusetts, a “safe” blue state.  I too live in a non-swing state, blue California, so I too intend to vote for a progressive candidate, either Jill Stein or (as a write-in) my friend Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party.

Along with Jim Hightower, Barbara Ehrenreich, Frances Fox Piven, Cornel West and others, I have encouraged others in non-swing states (including red states like Texas and Mississippi) to consider doing the same, in contrast to what we urge progressives in swing states to do, which is to vote against Romney/Ryan by voting for Obama/Biden.

We see long-term merit for our movement in registering a large protest vote against both major candidates and in favor of a truly progressive platform.  In the almost 40 non-swing states—red or blue—that can be done without significant risk of affecting the electoral votes of those states or the final outcome in favor of the Republicans.

But that isn’t true in the dozen or less battleground states—Ohio, Virginia Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, along with Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania—where decisions by relatively small numbers of progressives to vote for a third party or not to vote at all would risk and might well result in a Republican triumph. That risk, as we see it, outweighs any benefits there might be in pursuing votes for a progressive third party in those states.

I personally agree with almost everything Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson have to say—except when they say “Vote for me” in a swing state.

This election is a toss-up. That means this is one of the uncommon occasions when we progressives—a small minority of the electorate—could actually determine the outcome of a national election. We might swing it one way or the other by how we vote and what we say about voting to fellow progressives in the battleground states.

Given that third party candidates with genuinely progressive platforms are on the ballots of most of these swing states, their supporters—who might successfully encourage those with the same values to vote for Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson instead of Obama—could well provide the margin for Romney that would send him to the White House.

If, to the contrary, such voters in those states could be convinced  to overcome their disinclination to vote for Obama, they could crucially block the far more regressive agenda of the Republican Party.

Our task is clear. The only way to block Romney/Ryan from office is to persuade enough people in swing states to vote for Obama—not stay home or vote for someone else.  And that has to include progressives and disillusioned liberals who are inclined not to vote at all or vote for a third-party candidate (because like me, they’re not just disappointed but disgusted and even enraged by much of what Obama has done in the last four years and will probably keep doing).

This is not easy. But it’s precisely the effort that is worth expending right now to prevent the Republicans’ rise to power.  And it will take progressives—some of you reading this, I hope—to make that effort effectively.

It’s true the differences between the major parties are not nearly as large as they and their candidates claim, let alone what we would want. In many aspects, especially in the areas of foreign and military policy and civil liberties that are the focus of my own activism, their policies closely converge (though small differences remain significant, all favoring Obama/Biden over Romney/Ryan).

It’s even fair to use Gore Vidal’s metaphor that they form two wings (“two right wings”) of a single party, the Money or Plutocracy Party, or as Justin Raimondo calls it, the War Party.

Still, the reality is there are two distinguishable wings, and one is even worse than the other. To deny that reality serves only the possibly imminent, yet still avoidable, victory of the worse.

The traditional third-party mantra, “There’s no significant difference between the major parties” amounts to saying: “The Republicans are no worse, overall.” And that’s absurd. It constitutes shameless apologetics for the Republicans, however unintended. It’s crazily divorced from the present reality.  (I say that although I agree with virtually every passionate criticism of Obama’s policies I’ve ever heard from the left. What I don’t hear from third-party partisans is comparable realism about the Republicans.)

Some progressives who do acknowledge that the Romney/Ryan party is “marginally” worse in some respects nevertheless believe that “worse is better” for progress in the longer run, by evoking more effective protest and resistance—especially from Democrats in Congress and the media—and a popular turn to leftist leadership and policies. But, historically, they’re profoundly wrong. That hoary theory would seem to have been well tested and demolished by eight years under George W. Bush.

And it’s very harmful to be propagating either of those false perspectives. They encourage progressives in battleground states either to refrain from voting or to vote for someone other than Obama, and more importantly, to influence others to do the same. That serves no one but the Republicans and  the 1%, and not only in the short run.

It is true that Obama has often acted outrageously, not merely timidly or “disappointingly.”  If impeachment on constitutional grounds were politically imaginable, he’s earned it (like George W. Bush, and many of his predecessors.)  It is entirely understandable to not want to reward him with another term or a vote that might be taken to mean trust, hope or approval.

But to punish Obama by depriving him of progressives’ votes in battleground states and hence of office, in favor of Romney and Ryan, would serve to punish most of the poor and marginal in society, along with women, workers and the middle class. It would mean the end of Roe v. Wade, via Supreme Court appointments.

And the damaging impact would be not only in the U.S. but worldwide. In terms of the economy, I believe the Republicans would not only deepen the recession, but could convert it to a Great Depression.  They would attack women’s reproductive rights globally, and further worsen the environment and the prospects of climate change. Disastrously, it could lead to war with Iran  (a possibility even with Obama, but far more likely under Romney).

The re-election of Obama, in itself, is not going to bring serious progressive change, end militarism and empire, or restore the Constitution and the rule of law. That’s for us and the rest of the public to bring about after this election and for the rest of our lives—through organizing, building movements and agitating.

But to urge people in swing states to “vote their conscience” by voting for a third-party candidate is dangerously misleading advice. I would say to a progressive in a battleground state that if your conscience is telling you to vote for someone other than Obama, you need a second opinion. Your conscience seems to be ignoring the realistic impact of your actions or inactions. You need to reexamine your estimates of likely consequences and moral reasoning.

Our demonstrations, petitions, movement building and civil disobedience—including protest and resistance to the wrongful practices of the incumbent administration—are needed every month, every year, including campaign seasons like this one. (I faced trial two weeks ago, with fourteen others, for civil disobedience protesting Obama’s continued tests of the Minuteman III ICBM’s, my fifth arrest protesting policies of President Obama, including the treatment of Bradley Manning and the continuation of war in Afghanistan).

But it has been clear for months that this is a moment when effective resistance to an even worse alternative administration that is within sight of power is also urgently needed, leading up to and on Election Day.

In this last week of this campaign, there is no more effective or pressing political effort which progressives can undertake than to make their voices heard—through e-mails, blogs, social media and public appearances—to encourage citizens in swing states to vote against a Romney victory by voting for the only real alternative, Barack Obama.

A Memory of Howard Zinn

I just learned that my friend Howard Zinn died today. Earlier this morning, I was being interviewed by the Boston Phoenix, in connection with the release in Boston February of a documentary in which he is featured prominently. The interviewer asked me who my own heroes were, and I had no hesitation in answering, first, “Howard Zinn.” Continue Reading

Eulogy for Tony Russo

Tony Russo came to be my best friend at Rand after I came back from Vietnam in 1967, and we became even closer after he left. He was fired from Rand, despite my efforts to keep him, for the best of reasons: He had, in classified reports, analyzed the class basis of the Vietnam conflict, and he had exposed the widespread use of torture by our Vietnamese forces, with American involvement. I learned more from Tony than from anyone else about the nature of the National Liberation Front, some members of which had impressed him deeply when he interviewed them about a Rand research project. He was brilliant and funny, with a very original and creative mind. He was also very warm — more likeable than me, as many who attended our trial discovered.

Just before I decided to copy the Pentagon Papers, with Tony’s help, he made a suggestion that played a key role in my decision. Tony did not know that the Pentagon Papers were being held at Rand, or were in my safe, or even that I had worked on the study, because I was under orders not to tell anyone. But I did tell him in late September 1969 that I had been reading a study (which later became the basis of the Pentagon Papers) that revealed a lot of high-level lying. He said to me, “You ought to put that out.” This was an extraordinary thing for someone who had until recently held a top secret clearance to say to anyone, least of all to someone who still had a clearance. In fact, I never heard of such a suggestion being made before or since (except of course by me, later). A week after this conversation, with other events working on my mind, I called him up and said, “Tony, do you know a study that I mentioned last week? Well, I’ve got it, and I think I will put it out. Can you help?” Continue Reading