From Change.gov (The Office of the President-Elect Barack Obama):
“Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.”
Is President Obama following through on his promise to protect whistleblowers? It doesn’t appear so. One has only to look at the case of Jeffrey Sterling to see that our President has definitely not been working to strengthen laws that would protect them. Sterling, an alleged whistleblower, was arrested in early January on charges that he leaked national defense information to the media and revealed the identity of a “human asset.”
In his article The DOJ’s creeping war on whistle-blowers (Salon), Glenn Greenwald writes that Obama’s pretty words have given way to the most aggressive crusade to expose, punish and silence “courageous and patriotic” whistleblowers by any President in decades. As the Federation of American Scientists’ Steven Aftergood put it, “They’re going after this at every opportunity and with unmatched vigor.” And last May, The New York Times described how “the Obama administration is proving more aggressive than the Bush administration in seeking to punish unauthorized leaks.”
Let’s step back a little. Last April, the Department of Justice served a subpoena on author James Risen. The DOJ wanted to know the identity of the source for a story about a botched CIA attempt to “trip up” Iran’s nuclear program that was included in Risen’s 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. According to Josh Gerstein (Politco): “The scheme involved using a Russian defector to deliver the faulty blueprints to the Iranians, but the defector blew the CIA’s plot by alerting the Iranians to the flaws — negating the value of the program, and perhaps even advancing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”
Greenwald says that the subpoena was originally served but then later abandoned by the Bush DOJ. One has to ask why a President who campaigned on a platform of protecting whistleblowers decided to go after a whistleblower when the previous administration decided to drop the case.
The DOJ eventually uncovered the identity of the alleged source for Risen’s story without Risen’s help. It was Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent who left the agency in 2002.
Maybe you’d like to know how Sterling’s identity was uncovered. Well, federal investigators targeted author/reporter Risen. They obtained Risen’s “three private credit reports, examined his personal bank records and obtained information about his phone calls and travel…”
Gerstein says the revelation that the government obtained that information about Risen has alarmed First Amendment advocates, particularly in light of Justice Department rules requiring the attorney general to sign off on subpoenas directed to members of the media and on requests for their phone records. And Risen told POLITICO that the disclosures, while not shocking, made him feel “like a target of spying.”
Greenwald says what he finds “particularly indefensible” is how the Obama DOJ is going back into the past to dig up “forgotten episodes.”
This is how Greenwald closes his article:
For a President who insists that we must “Look Forward, Not Backward” — when it comes to investigating war crimes by high-level Bush officials — this anti-whistleblower assault reflects not only an obsession on preserving and bolstering the National Security State’s secrecy regime, but also an intense fixation on the past. And increasingly extremist weapons — now including trolling through reporters’ banking and phone records — are being wielded to achieve it. As Thomas Jefferson warned long ago: “Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues of truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”