Whistleblowers and the hypocrisy of the ruling class
A redacted version of the complaint filed in August by an anonymous whistleblower was declassified and released to the public last week. The complaint avers that “the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election,” in particular, asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to “initiate or continue an investigation” of presidential hopeful and former vice president Joe Biden.
Democrats have lined up to laud the whistleblower’s courageous act, insisting on the protection of his or her identity. Meanwhile, another famous whistleblower — who is definitely not anonymous, and who was handled rather differently by Democrats and the mainstream left or center-left more generally — happens to have a new memoir in bookstores this month. During her presidential run, Hillary Clinton said that Edward Snowden should not “be brought home without facing the music.” Even the more progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opined that Snowden “did break the law, and I think there should be a penalty to that.”
The Whistleblower Protection Act should, in theory, protect heroes such as Snowden and Chelsea Manning, who have disclosed the patently illegal actions of the U.S. government. But there is policy as enacted, and then there is policy as practiced.
Members of the national security, intelligence and military establishment (and, importantly, their enablers in Congress) hate nothing else quite like they hate whistleblowers, whose undaunted truth-telling shines an impertinent light on crimes untold — crimes beyond count, crimes that are indeed the subject of praise and gratitude in America.
Considered under any ordinary standard of human behavior and decency, though, the national security and intelligence community is made up of criminals of the worst kind, brutes whose whole lives are dedicated to presiding over death, destruction and misery.
This is perhaps the great untold truth in American public life — that what are euphemistically called “American foreign policy” and “national security policy” have been a series of misdeeds so unspeakable that we indeed do not speak of them at all.
Whistleblowers dare to do so, possessed of a moral courage few of us can imagine — indeed, the kind of courage we say we admire when we’re talking about the military and national security communities. In the face of life-destroying consequences, they throw a spotlight on the shame of the U.S. government, not to undermine the rule of law and foment chaos, but to reveal to the public, to “we the people,” the base criminality of our “protectors.”
When whistleblowers provide this public service, are top military and intelligence brass held to account? No, instead, they are the subjects of solemn veneration and respect, honored with distinguished positions at elite colleges, where they have the shamelessness and the nerve to bemoan “the assault on intelligence.”
Brazenly lying about the government’s misdeeds, they nevertheless walk free while the Mannings and Snowdens are jailed, exiled, and damned as traitors. For example, in 2013, James Clapper, at the time the director of national intelligence, famously (though apparently very much forgettably) lied under oath to the people’s representatives in Congress, telling the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the National Security Agency did not gather all kinds of data from millions of unaware Americans.
This was perjury from one of the government’s top intelligence and national security officials, perjury about a matter of fundamental constitutional importance, yet somehow no one seemed to care, least of all the people who ostensibly represent us and our interests.
Having ignored the ominous warnings of several post-World War II presidents, who expressed alarm and dismay at the role of the military-industrial complex and the intelligence agencies, Americans are now governed as a practical matter by a permanent cadre of professional bureaucrats and military/intelligence officials.
This is not the far-flung conspiracy theory of radicals on the far left (people, perhaps, like the author of this piece), but the carefully considered and measured thesis of political scientists and journalists who have studied the evidence.
The U.S. government is far and away the most dangerous and destructive institutional actor on the planet. It operates hundreds of military and intelligence sites around the world (many unacknowledged and unofficial), wages aggressive wars without congressional approval, engages in torture, and even murders its own citizens using unmanned drones operated from thousands of miles away.
As Glenn Greenwald wrote, covering the Obama administration in 2013, “The most extremist power any political leader can assert is the power to target his own citizens for execution without any charges or due process, far from any battlefield.”
The worst, most toxic aspects of the military and intelligence apparatus’s Orwellian (here, the cliche is entirely appropriate) war- and fear-mongering culture have lately become especially fashionable with American liberals and progressives. “Trump is bad, so CIA-spy cable-news talking heads and preposterous Russia conspiracy theories must be good!” is about as deep as blind partisanship and a commitment to being seen as part of the “reasonable center” will allow one to go, it seems.
This is one of the foremost problems with diehard partisanship of the Rachel Maddow variety: Such team loyalty, it turns out, makes it rather difficult, impossible really, to think critically (about either your side or the other) or to accurately prioritize threats.
Donald Trump is of almost trivial importance, and poses a trivial danger to American democracy and the rule of law, next to “the golden class of efficient guardians” (borrowing Michael Glennon’s phrase) who actually run the most important areas of government policy. The people holding top jobs in U.S. intelligence agencies, furthermore, can be much more dangerous by orders of magnitude than any terrorist (just as police officers and prosecutors can be orders-of-magnitude more dangerous than ordinary criminals).
The moral duplicity that characterizes the role of the U.S. government in the world is among the most remarkable (if unremarked upon) features of American life. The whistleblowers who have dared to come forward and remark upon it haven’t enjoyed the Trump whistleblower’s warm welcome among “respectable” voices in politics and the media. Perhaps it’s time we grapple seriously with the question of why that is.