Update March 13, 2014:
The Facebook block turns out to be a faulty link. But I'll keep this story up as Liz echoes many journalists' views.
by Liz Warren
I am an optimist by nature but lately I seem to have lost the tap shoes for my happy dance. Though some may be comforted by recent assurances from the White House that freedom of the press is alive and well in America, I remain a skeptic. Regrettably, I think I've passed the point of no return when it comes to trusting my president.
I really wish this weren't so.
His speech today was nothing more than damage-controlling spin at its finest. (I did a stint as a publicist and still have the BS decoder ring.) That L.A. Times reporter David Savage didn't question the obvious disingenuousness of the president's rhetoric is a bit surprising. But the fact that he simply hopped on board with the calculated qualifier "our focus must be on those who break the law" is heartbreaking.
"THE LAW" as it applies to a wide array of alleged national security concerns in post 9-11 America is so broad as to have effectively eliminated any remaining traces of civil liberties under the pretext of "keeping us safe." It took its first turn in the direction of neo-fascism with the ironically acronymic PATRIOT Act, which introduced us to the "everything's a secret, even our warrants" FISA courts, as well as our very own domestic surveillance organization: the Department of Homeland Security—bought and paid for with our tax dollars.
NDAA, the annual military budget bill, was expanded far beyond funding the purchase of Jeeps and the salaries of military personnel. Sneaky new language added a couple of years ago gave the president carte blanche to ignore inconvenient things like due process, and empowered him to order the military to round up anybody, anywhere, that he wanted to detain, torture or execute –without benefit of a trial—away from the prying eyes of the public. (Drones optional.)
NDAA also effectively turned the U.S. armed forces into the president's own secret police force here and abroad. Using fear as leverage, NDAA opened the door to arbitrary exceptions by the executive branch to due process for American citizens, and expanded the scope of acceptable government intrusion into our personal lives and communications. Nothing is off limits now. And just to be sure, NDAA broadened the definition of "terrorism" to give the DOJ a net wide enough to indict your invalid grandmother if she accidentally clicks on the wrong website one day.
Breaking the law (as interpreted for us by Savage from the president's comments about the unfortunate AP and Rosen incidents revealed this past week) refers to "those who leak secret information." The thing is—there is no law to prevent the press from sharing information—secret or otherwise. Even the boldest in Washington know they can't go at the First Amendment head-on, so to circumvent it, they must circumnavigate it. This requires creativity.
One strategy is to MAKE NEARLY EVERYTHING A "SECRET" CLASSIFIED DOCUMENT, and then construct a narrative to suggest that by publishing or airing details or images of events that have long since passed, the media – or at least those who supply them with material – are somehow imperiling this country IN THE FUTURE. (Quite a leap.)
In the post, 9-11 security state that is America, if the DOJ plays the all-purpose "national security" card to explain why information is classified "secret," then those who share it with the media are breaking the law.
The issue of national security came up in Bradley Manning's hearings as an excuse for keeping press out of the courtroom. (The irony–that Manning was charged with already revealing publicly the secret information the government didn't want press hearing about through testimony–clearly escaped prosecutors on the case.)
Nowadays, there are neither protocols nor limits to what our government can label "secret." Secret is what they say is secret. This means that a president or any number of cabinet departments or federal agencies may exploit the classification to effectively cover up their own crimes – and then make it a criminal act for someone to blow the whistle on them. A great example of that strategy in plain view right now: the ALEC-constructed Ag-Gag laws. If Richard Nixon were alive today, he'd be positively orgasmic, and if today's laws governing the classification of documents had been in place in 1973, he'd most likely have served out his term and the Watergate break-in story would have died. If these laws had been in place in 1971, Daniel Ellsberg would probably have gone to prison for releasing the Pentagon Papers.
The Obama administration had already classified a record number of documents as secret (including, incidentally, the ongoing negotiating text of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement.) Then the DOJ dusted off the Espionage Act, an antiquated 1917 law that until recently had only been used twice: to indict honest to goodness spies who sold sensitive information to unfriendly foreign governments.
Using that law, and the PATRIOT Act's broad definitions of terrorism (you're a terrorist if we say you are) this president has made the targeting of environmental activists, peaceful dissidents, reporters, and corporate and government whistleblowers routine.
The Obama administration has in fact prosecuted more whistleblowers than have ALL OTHER PREVIOUS PRESIDENTS COMBINED.
The DOJ's recent incursion into the phone records of AP reporters was an attempt to locate government "leaks" and plug them. This does not reflect well on the president's campaign promises of "transparency," or insistence that he values the First Amendment. (That a constitutional scholar would treat their creation so shabbily must surely be provoking much tossing and turning in the graves of the founding fathers.)
As a modern citizen who continues to hold the document near and dear, I must say to my president: no one has ever won my heart by pulling a bait-and-switch routine. If you were sincere about reversing the current White House policy of targeting anyone who speaks candidly to a reporter, I can think of some "good faith" gestures that might convince me I wasn't a complete fool to work on your reelection campaign.
A good start: pardoning Bradley Manning and letting our friends in London know that it's OK to call off their expensive, round-the-clock surveillance of Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy. (Dogging the guy at this point just makes the U.S. government look spiteful.) We're abusing our ally and wasting a goodwill chit. You could also instruct Eric Holder to drop the appeal in Hedges v. Obama. This would go a long way toward assuring reporters that their government has no intention of arresting them for simply doing their jobs.
Speaking as someone who has had a political love affair with this president ever since I first saw a young Illinois Senator deliver an awe-inspiring address at the 2004 Democratic Convention, I feel like I've been date-raped.
This epic betrayal – by someone I trusted so much – has been shocking and painful. So much so that I am not likely to be conned again by the same smooth line. I need a serious demonstration of good faith if this president ever wants me back on board. And my "patriotism"—as defined by a willingness to campaign for something—is waning. Or at least being redirected away from candidates and toward what defines us as Americans: The Bill of Rights. (Starting with the first one.)
In case you think I'm a bitter alarmist, here's a link to a very intelligent take on the situation delivered by former NSA official Thomas Drake at a meeting of the National Press Club in Washington on March 18, 2013. In 2010, Drake was indicted on espionage charges (among other things) for talking to the Baltimore Sun about fraud and abuse by a government contractor to the NSA. (He revealed that our tax money was wasted on an ill-conceived internet surveillance program of U.S. citizens.) He was eventually cleared of wrongdoing and the charges were dropped, but not before his life was nearly destroyed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Wp2BGLMqDM
Note: This was originally posted on May 23, 2013, 12 days before the Snowden revelations came to light. It was subsequently taken down by Facebook, reposted, and removed two more times. In the new postings, I included a note at the end with an update and link to the Snowden story. I removed that link (after Facebook told me I was linking to "dangerous" content and that they had had a "complaint") but the post was STILL removed, even after the only links were to the L.A. Times article and YouTube.
I have not reposted this as of February 26, 2014.