Edward Snowden’s Brave Integrity

I’ve had a couple of days to reflect after arriving back from Moscow where my whistleblower colleagues Coleen Rowley, Jesselyn Radack, Tom Drake and I formally presented former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden with the annual Sam Adams Associates award for integrity in intelligence.

The thought that companioned me the entire time was the constant admonition of my Irish grandmother: “Show me your company, and I’ll tell you who you are!” I cannot remember ever feeling so honored as I did by the company I kept over the past week.

That includes, of course, Snowden himself, WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison (and “remotely” Julian Assange) who, together with Russian civil rights lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, helped arrange the visit, and – last but not least – the 3,000 Internet transparency/privacy activists at OHM2013 near Amsterdam, whom Tom, Jesselyn, Coleen and I addressed in early August and who decided to crowd-source our travel. (See: “In the Whistleblower Chalet” by Silkie Carlo)

As representatives of Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, we were in Moscow last Wednesday not only to honor Snowden with the award for integrity, but also to remind him (and ourselves) that we all stand on the shoulders of patriots who have gone before and pointed the way.

Because of speaking commitments he could not break, Pentagon Papers truth-teller Dan Ellsberg, whom Henry Kissinger called “the most dangerous man in America” and who in 1971 was vilified as acidly as Ed Snowden is being vilified now, could be with us only in spirit. He did send along with us for Ed the video of the award-winning documentary that uses Kissinger’s epithet as its title, together with Dan’s book Secrets, in which he had inscribed a very thoughtful note.

Ellsberg’s note thanked Snowden for his adroit – and already partially successful – attempt to thwart what Snowden has called “turnkey tyranny,” that is the terrifying prospect of a surveillance-driven government tyranny ready to go with the simple turn of a key.

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How War on Syria Lost Its Way

The just announced U.S.-Russia agreement in Geneva on a “joint determination to ensure the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons (CW) program in the soonest and safest manner” sounds the death knell to an attempt by Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to get the U.S. into the war in Syria.

Equally important, it greatly increases the prospect of further U.S.-Russia cooperation to tamp down escalating violence in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. That the two sides were able to hammer out in three days a detailed agreement on such highly delicate, complicated issues is little short of a miracle. I cannot remember seeing the likes of it in 50 years in Washington.

Just two short weeks ago, the prospect of a U.S. military strike against Syria looked like a done deal with Official Washington abuzz with excitement about cruise missiles being launched from American warships in the Mediterranean, flying low toward their targets and lighting up the night sky of Damascus like the “shock and awe” pyrotechnics did to Baghdad in 2003.

On Aug. 30, Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to seal the deal with an impassioned address that declared some 35 times that “we know” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had crossed President Barack Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons with an Aug. 21 attack and needed to be punished.

Along with Kerry’s speech, the White House released a four-page “Government Assessment” declaring with “high confidence” that Assad’s regime was guilty of the attack on a Damascus suburb that killed precisely “1,429” people and “at least 426 children.” Though the white paper included not a single verifiable fact establishing Assad’s guilt – nor did it explain where its casualty figures came from – the assessment was accepted as true by most of the mainstream U.S. news media.

At that moment, Israel and its many backers had every reason to believe they had won the day and that at least the first stage of the retribution would be delivered before President Barack Obama flew off on Sept. 3 to Europe and to the G-20 summit. But then came a series of disappointments for them, beginning with Obama’s abrupt Aug. 31 decision to seek congressional authorization.

Still, the prevailing attitude was that the Israel Lobby would simply get to work whipping members of Congress into line with a variety of arguments (and a mix of threats and inducements) to ensure that a use-of-force resolution was passed and sent to the President’s desk.

The confidence was so high that there was no need to disguise what was afoot. Usually the mainstream media avoids mentioning the extraordinary influence of the Israel Lobby on Congress, but this time the New York Times displayed unusual candor describing who was egging on the march to war.

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Time to Reveal U.S. Intel on Syria

Were White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough not pushing for yet another war based on what look to be false pretenses, one might feel sorry for him after his multiple TV appearances on Sunday arguing for a military strike on Syria. This unenviable job fell to McDonough as pinch-hitter for the two more natural choices to push the Obama administration’s case for a “limited” war on Syria.

An obvious choice would have been National Security Adviser Susan Rice, but her reputation for truthfulness got seriously tarnished after she made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16, 2012, and stuck to inaccurate talking points about the attack on the U.S. “mission” in Benghazi, Libya.

A second likely candidate would have been Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, but he has admitted to telling “clearly erroneous” things in sworn testimony to Congress regarding the collection of phone data on American citizens.

Clapper also might have been asked embarrassing questions about why the four-page “Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013,” was released by the White House rather than by the DNI’s office, thus suggesting that the white paper did not have the endorsement of the full U.S. intelligence community.

Citing the curious provenance of the “Government Assessment,” Gareth Porter reported that the document appeared to be a political product of the White House rather than a professional assessment from the intelligence agencies. Yet, by implying that the document had the imprimatur of the U.S. intelligence community, the White House has used the white paper to preempt congressional questions about who was actually responsible for the Aug. 21 chemical incident in a Damascus suburb.

“Leading members of Congress to believe that the document was an intelligence community assessment and thus represents a credible picture of the intelligence on the alleged chemical attack of Aug. 21 has been a central element in the Obama administration’s case for war in Syria,” Porter wrote.

If you were in the White House, you wouldn’t want Clapper to be asked how many U.S. intelligence analysts had doubts about whether the Syrian government launched an intentional chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 and whether President Bashar al-Assad was responsible, would you?

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Should We Fall Again for ‘Trust Me’?

In a dazzling display of chutzpah, the White House is demanding that Congress demonstrate blind trust in a U.S. intelligence establishment headed by James Clapper, a self-confessed perjurer.

That’s a lot to ask in seeking approval for a military attack on Syria, a country posing no credible threat to the United States. But with the help of the same corporate media that cheer-led us into war with Iraq, the administration has already largely succeeded in turning public discussion into one that assumes the accuracy of both the intelligence on the apparent Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria and President Barack Obama’s far-fetched claim that Syria is somehow a threat to the United States.

Here we go again with the old political gamesmanship over ”facts” as a prelude to war, a replay of intelligence trickery from Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin to Iraq’s nonexistent WMD. Once more, White House officials are mounting a full-court press in Congress, hoping there will be enough ball turnovers to enable the administration to pull out a victory, with the corporate media acting as hometown referees.

And in the weekend talk shows, Secretary of State John Kerry, team co-captain in this transparent effort to tilt the playing field, certainly had his game face on. Kerry left little doubt that he KNOWS that the Syrian government is guilty of launching a chemical weapons attack on suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21. How do we know he knows? Simple: It’s “Trust me” once again.

Did you not watch Kerry’s bravura performance before the TV cameras on Friday when he hawked the dubious evidence against the Syrian government? Someone should tell Kerry that using the word “know” 35 times does not suffice to dispel well-founded doubts and continuing ambiguities about the “intelligence,” such as it is. The administration’s white paper, issued to support Kerry’s “knowledge,” didn’t provide a single verifiable fact that established Syrian government guilt. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Dodgy Dossier on Syrian War.”]

But with his bravado, Kerry’s ploy was obvious – to sweep aside serious questions about the evidence and move the discussion simply to one of how much punishment should be inflicted on Syria. “So now that we know what we know, the question … is: What will we do?” Kerry said Friday.

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An Appeal to Gen. Dempsey on Syria

Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, has spoken soberly about the dangers from any military strike on Syria, but press reports indicate President Obama is still set on launching cruise missiles in the coming days, an action that former U.S. intelligence professionals say should prompt Dempsey’s resignation.

MEMORANDUM FOR: General Martin Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
SUBJECT: Syria and Our Oath to Defend the Constitution

Dear Gen. Dempsey:

Summary: We refer to your acknowledgment, in your letter of July 19 to Sen. Carl Levin on Syria, that a “decision to use force is not one that any of us takes lightly. It is no less than an act of war.” It appears that the President may order such an act of war without proper Congressional authorization.

As seasoned intelligence and military professionals solemnly sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, we have long been aware that – from private to general – it is one’s duty not to obey an illegal order. If such were given, the honorable thing would be to resign, rather than be complicit.

In responding to questions on military options voiced at your re-nomination hearing on July 18, your letter to the chair of the Committee on Armed Services reflects that you acknowledge Congress’s Constitutional role with respect to U.S. “acts of war.” Equally important, you addressed these words to Sen. Levin: “You deserve my best military advice on how military force could be used in order to decide whether it should be used.” (emphasis in your letter).

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Brandon Toy’s Act of Conscience

From the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence:

Courage, like cowardice, often comes in individual, incremental pieces building toward something great and honorable, or small and dishonorable. The resignation of Brandon Toy from General Dynamics fits into the former category and is so honored by an organization of former intelligence officials.

We, the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII), salute Brandon Toy, who chose to walk away from his job with a U.S. defense contractor to protest the U.S. government’s violation of human and civil rights. Mr. Toy properly followed the dictates of his conscience. His very public renunciation (see below) of misdeeds by the U.S. military-industrial-surveillance complex is an act of protest that, we hope, will inspire others to hold their own governments to account.

Secrecy is a tool states use most commonly in order to mask unethical, unconstitutional, criminal and foolish behavior. Brandon Toy’s informed rejection of a system that is violating the basic rights of its own citizens depends on whistleblowers, who in turn rely on courageous, professional journalists to inform the public.

As committed truth-tellers and whistleblowers from several countries, members of SAAII placed our careers, livelihoods, and, in some cases, our personal freedom on the line so that people like Mr. Toy would have the needed information to weigh career against moral duty.

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