Several news sources are reporting on efforts by the U.S. Department of Defense to find Julian Assange, a founder of WikiLeaks. I reported here last week about the government's detention of Army Specialist Bradley Manning (and how Manning could have blown the whistle with legal protections). Phil Shenon writes in The Daily Beast that the government is concerned that Manning may have given WikiLeaks.org 260,000 classified State Department cables relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Shenon quotes an unnamed U.S. official saying, "We'd like to know where he is; we'd like his cooperation in this." Assange canceled an appearance in Las Vegas for the Investigative Reporters and Editors' conference citing unspecified security concerns. Daniel Ellsberg told The Daily Beast that, "Assange is in some danger." WikiLeaks has previously reported that it relies on a panel of confidential experts to assess the authenticity and public interest in releasing documents submitted to them. I can imagine that it might take them some time to review 260,000 documents that could become the Pentagon Papers of this millennium's new wars.
The Jamaican Senate is scheduled to debate a comprehensive whistleblower bill this Friday. Justice Minister Senator Dorothy Lightbourne released the proposed text of the Protected Disclosure Act (Whistle-blower Law) 2010, according to Jamaica Observer. The bill fulfills a 2007 election promise of the Jamaican Labour party. It would protect both public and private sector employees, including independent contractors and non-profit organizations. It would require employers to designate an official who would be responsible for investigating whistleblower disclosures. The bill would also make it a criminal offense to retaliate against a whistleblower, and provide a witness protection program. However, the bill would not protect disclosures that violate attorney-client or medical privileges, the Official Secrets Act, or the Corruption Prevention Act. Debate is scheduled to begin this Friday.
Speigel Online is today releasing an interview with Daniel Ellsberg in which Ellsberg criticizes the Obama administration for increasing the use of criminal prosecutions against whistleblowers. Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers to reveal how numerous previous administrations had resorted to lying to the American people to conceal the real purposes of the Vietnam War. The Nixon Administration's prosecution of Ellsberg ended in dismissal after the infamous White House plumbers broke into the offices of Ellsberg's psychiatrist to steal records about Ellsberg's treatment.
In the Speigel Online interview Ellsberg says this about the prosecution of Thomas Drake:
For Obama to indict and prosecute Drake now, for acts undertaken and investigated during the Bush administration, is to do precisely what Obama said he did not mean to do -- "look backward." Of all the blatantly criminal acts committed under Bush, warrantless wiretapping by the NSA, aggression, torture, Obama now prosecutes only the revelation of massive waste by the NSA, a socially useful act which the Bush administration itself investigated but did not choose to indict or prosecute!
Bush brought no indictments against whistleblowers, though he suspended Drake's clearance. Obama, in this and other matters relating to secrecy and whistleblowing, is doing worse than Bush.
Science journalist Ed Brayton cheers on Ellsberg in this blog.
The U.S. government has arrested another whistleblower. Wired.com reports that the government is holding Specialist Bradley Manning in detention in Kuwait pending charges that he supplied a classified video to WikiLeaks.org. I reported here in April that this video depicts US armed forces killing about a dozen civilians in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists. Manning had reached out to convicted computer hacker Adrian Lamo who has now acknowledged that he told authorities about Manning's role in leaking the video to WikiLeaks. The government had previously identified WikiLeaks as a security threat (see my prior blog entry about this government memo), and threatened to prosecute anyone leaking classified information. Together with the Thomas Drake prosecution, we see that the present administration is picking up the pace in using criminal charges against whistleblowers. The administration also continues to hold UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld while his pardon petition awaits actions.
It is early in the case, and we cannot expect that all the facts are out yet. Still, I am already concerned about whether the government's prosecution is selective, or retaliatory for the critical content of the Wikileaks video. I would ask that the government make a measured response that is proportionate to the violation of classification rules and not affected by the government's embarrassment over the publicity about its violence in Iraq.
Also, it appears that Specialist Manning was not aware of some of the basics in how to protect yourself as a whistleblower. Instead of going to a convicted criminal who has had time in jail to appreciate the government's interest and power, whistleblowers should go to a personal lawyer. The communications with the lawyer for the purpose of getting legal advice and counsel are privileged. The sooner a whistleblower gets a good lawyer, the better off the whistleblower can be in the end. A lawyer could have advised Manning about his right to make disclosures to members of Congress under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, 10 U.S.C. § 1034. With thoughtful selection of the right material for the right member of Congress, Manning might have accomplished his disclosures in a way that would have protected him from this arrest. Perhaps others will learn from this experience.Continue Reading...