Whistlebowers Past and Present


Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

In recent weeks and months, we have all heard and read the many articles and stories about the whistleblower Edward Snowden and his disclosure of enormous amounts of NSA “secrets”.  His disclosures have exposed what the NSA was really doing, which is spying on practically every American’s metadata online and on the phone.  His disclosures have also put on display what happens to a “whistleblower” in this day and age.  He has been forced to flee his home country and is currently living in exile in Russia.

Just what were his crimes that made him fear for his safety and raised doubts as to whether he would ever be given a fair trial for his alleged disclosures of secret material and programs?  He did what any good American should do and that is expose illegal or immoral governmental activities and allow the American public to decide whether its government is acting legally and fairly. Didn’t he?

You may think his disclosures were an unprecedented example of a citizen uncovering and disclosing government programs designed to, at best, skirt the line of legality by spying on Americans, but you would be wrong.

Over 40 years ago, a group of anti-Vietnam war activists did what Snowden did and actually escaped any notoriety or criminal prosecution in order to show that the FBI was involved in a then unprecedented level of spying on Americans involved in the anti-war and civil rights movements.

“In 1971, as opposition to the Vietnam War peaked and civil unrest rattled America, activists knew they were being watched, infiltrated and undermined by the FBI. But they didn’t know the extent of the agency’s efforts, nor how far J. Edgar Hoover’s agents would go to suppress dissent.

That would change one night in March, when eight men and women broke into an FBI satellite office in Media, PA. They absconded with nearly every piece of paper they could find, sifted through it and anonymously sent various documents detailing the agency’s spying and dirty tricks to major media organizations.  While some outlets were initially reticent about reporting on the documents, the revelations would ultimately unleash a torrent of investigative reporting, shining a light on Hoover’s efforts to destroy Martin Luther King and the agency’s now-notorious COINTELPRO program.” Nation of Change

These “burglars” not only escaped with a treasure trove of FBI documents that proved the agency was involved in improper spying on Dr. Martin Luther King, and most, if not all of the anti-war organizations of the day.  They also escaped prosecution and they have just recently gone on record to explain what they did and why they did it.

The 5 of the 8 activists/whistleblowers who were interviewed prior to the release of a book described just how they pulled the covers off the secret and seamy side of the FBI and eventually the program mentioned above, COINTELPRO.  This “heist” took a lot of planning and the activists planning it were taking a big risk.  They all knew the reputation J. Edgar Hoover had and what could happen to anyone who attacked his agency and programs.

‘“When you talked to people outside the movement about what the F.B.I. was doing, nobody wanted to believe it,” said one of the burglars, Keith Forsyth, who is finally going public about his involvement. “ There was only one way to convince people that it was true, and that was to get it in their handwriting.” ‘

Mr. Forsyth, now 63, and other members of the group can no longer be prosecuted for what happened that night, and they agreed to be interviewed before the release this week of a book written by one of the first journalists to receive the stolen documents. The author, Betty Medsger, a former reporter for The Washington Post, spent years sifting through the F.B.I.’s voluminous case file on the episode and persuaded five of the eight men and women who participated in the break-in to end their silence.

Unlike Mr. Snowden, who downloaded hundreds of thousands of digital N.S.A. files onto computer hard drives, the Media burglars did their work the 20th-century way: they cased the F.B.I. office for months, wore gloves as they packed the papers into suitcases, and loaded the suitcases into getaway cars. When the operation was over, they dispersed.”  New York Times

It is an amazing story that the FBI and its reported 200 agents that were investigating the burglary, were unable to prosecute any of the whistleblowers.  The documents, once disclosed, were instrumental in shining a bright light on the FBI’s illegal activities.  The documents also provided the first glimpse of the COINTELPRO program.

The COINTELPRO program had been in place since 1956 and was designed to spy on and disrupt civil rights groups and later, anti-war activists and organizations.  ‘“It wasn’t just spying on Americans,” said Loch K. Johnson, a professor of public and international affairs at the University of Georgia who was an aide to Senator Frank Church, Democrat of Idaho. “The intent of Cointelpro was to destroy lives and ruin reputations.”‘

Senator Church’s investigation in the mid-1970s revealed still more about the extent of decades of F.B.I. abuses, and led to greater congressional oversight of the F.B.I. and other American intelligence agencies. The Church Committee’s final report about the domestic surveillance was blunt. “Too many people have been spied upon by too many government agencies, and too much information has been collected,” it read.” New York Times

The Church Committee’s report can be found here.  Without these brave activists and the documents that they disclosed, the Church Committee may not have even been formed to investigate the FBI and its illegal activities.  When one reads about what these people did in 1971, do you think we, as a country, have learned anything about how important our privacy is and how important legitimate whistleblowers are to our country?

It does seem obvious that these 8 brave activists improved our country and helped protect our privacy rights, at least for a short while.  Mr. Snowden gave us a stark reminder that we have tumbled back to the J. Edgar Hoover days.  What do we need to do as a country to make sure our privacy is protected and that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies do not continue to make a mockery of the Fourth Amendment?

Should we consider these activists in 1971 as heroes and is it right that our government considers Edward Snowden to be a traitor?  I submit that 40 years ago, these 8 people made a difficult decision that improved our country and brought some sunshine upon the programs of the FBI.  Will Snowden’s revelations really bring about the changes and improvements that followed the break-in in 1971?  Or will the intelligence agencies succeed in hiding behind the veil of national security and continue to gather data on all of us?   I am not too optimistic about our current situation, but what do you think?

85 thoughts on “Whistlebowers Past and Present”

  1. My name is Brenda Hill WA states 1989 law is named after me the first the nation! Followed by 27 states! I think after 6 years with a gag order and being sued for 1.2 million I can speak to the lack of protection our nation! I was served at 8pm and had to appear in court at 8am without a dime to my name! Our first amendment looks more like swiss cheese! In fact under this administration our constitution is in serious danger of being there at all for our future generations! If we don’t take our head out of the sand it will only worsen by the day! I want so much to see people more involved in our legislative system! One person can make a difference! We must work together bickering will get us no where!! Our court system is not for the someone like me without the money to defend themselves!! How do you honestly encourage people to become whistle blowers when an issue so publicized still hasn’t yielded better all around legislation?? seriously?? After the retaliation I went through even by my own neighbors who is to say Mr.Snowden would even be safe? Do I agree with his actions or methods. Not all for sure!! But what is the track record true whistle blowers face?? I spoke to a surgeon who was the chief of staff years ago he was black listed for reporting unnecessary surgeries! Changes MUST be made NOW!! Thanks! Brenda Hill Skylstad 360-558-8577

    1. Hey Brenda, You mentioned being harassed by the Judiciary but suggest political activism as the cure. I believe it is judicial activism that can only make the necessary changes to society. I say this as I have been both participating in political system and watching others do so, for some forty years now with no significant increases in individual liberty.

      Until such time as Amercans first understand the significance of individual liberty and the protection of individual rights, we will be stuck in continued compromise and conflict. I think history surely conveys our, the majorities, inability to defeat the political powers of central planning, heavy taxation and regulation. Thinking that two antithetic ideologies can work together, is the belief of central planners and an erroneous and assumption of those who have fallen for their simplistic lies.

      The protection of individual rights can only coexist with lassie fare capitalism and those that think otherwise are the politicians, bureaucrats and Judges that we cannot trust to look out after the majorities best interest, of which there is a long list that have made themselves rich throughout history. Save abolition of slavery and suffrage, you can analysis just about every piece of significant legislation in our countries history and come to this conclusion.

      Deciding who should rule over us is a despicable thought. We need to obtain justice.

  2. These might be of interest to some:

    “Highlights From Daniel Ellsberg’s Reddit AMA on Edward Snowden and NSA Surveillance”

    January 16, 2014
    By Trevor Timm



    “We need real protection from the NSA: Column”

    Ed Loomis, Kirk Wiebe, Thomas Drake, William Binney and Diane Roark 10:21 a.m. EST January 16, 2014

    “Our intelligence agencies have been tearing holes into the Bill of Rights.”


    “Excessive power corrupts human nature, without regard to geography or partisan affiliation, as we have seen repeatedly through history and again in the past 12 years. Despite this history, the strongest reforms proposed in Congress or by the recent presidential panel, with its 46 recommendations, are insufficient to restore our freedom.”

    “The many areas requiring rollback illustrate just how far things have gone. Real change would start with a confession to the voters by the NSA and the intelligence committees:

    They should release the true extent of their data collection before the Snowden reporters do. Tell us how many Americans are in your files. Reveal the other categories of government agency and private business records that you have amassed.

    Identify any other agencies that copy NSA databases and/or collect their own.

    Reveal the secret “black” budget that funds this intrusion into every nook and cranny of our lives.

    Give citizens the right to see any information collected about them. Want to improve your success against terrorists? And obey the Constitution? The obvious answers are:

    Return NSA to “targeted” collection focusing on suspects and their associates. NSA has demonstrated its inability to find a few terrorist “needles” buried in a continually expanding “haystack” of communications between innocent people both domestic and foreign.

    Establish protections that encrypt data about Americans found in these targeted investigations until a court has found probable cause to suspect them, and add systems that automatically track people using the databases so we catch abuses — and improve security.

    Cease allowing NSA-derived information to be used for domestic criminal investigations.

    Don’t co-opt tech companies and telecommunications firms under the ruse of national security and threats. Seek their help only in exceptional, supervised instances.

    Stop weakening Internet encryption then claiming that the insecurity you helped create justifies still more “cybersecurity” databases, dollars and power.”

    1. anonp, I agree with much of what you posted, but there are some points that I strongly disagree with mainly not allowing the data or intercepts to be given to domestic agencies for criminal prosecutions. In the interest of disclosure, I have to say that my Uncle spent much of his Army career in NSA and ASA., though obviously he did not disclose much of anything to me.

      The NSA has had some very great successes, such as finding out who the atomic spies were from their breaking the GRU codes. They gave that info to the FBI which did the follow up work to arrest them.

      I am reading The Burglary and one of the things that is very revealing is that in all the FBI criminal acts, nobody ever thought to ask is this legal or constitutional? Thanks to Snowden we ARE now having this debate and serious consideration of how far, how much, and what should be the limits and constraints on the NSA programs. I can understand some valid reasons for mass collection of data. I am not personally able or in any position to know what is legitimate and what is dross, so I am quite happy to let those who do have that expertise do that kind of work. I am not willing to give a blanket condemnation of all the NSA work. That we are having this inquiry is a very good thing, and having it, I will simply have to trust our elected officials and professionals to answer them. I know that this is a very unsatisfactory answer for purists and legal scholars, but there are times, places, and events where it DOES come down to a matter of trust and the person.

      To the person who called Obama a liar for saying that he would keep the government from tapping Americans without justification, he kept his word since what the NSA has been doing is not tapping into domestic conversations. Simply tracking phone calls to numbers is not wiretapping.

    2. Anonymously, As you know I’ve been touting the book, How Capitalism Saved America by economist Thomas DeLorenzo. He present tons of evidence about how the political system (politicians, bureaucrats and judges) utilizes the law and courts to effectively manipulate private enterprise for the benefit of not the majority, but special interest groups and their political lives. We all know how the system works but when you see case after case study over 250 years of history, and the facts of how bad it is, it forever changes your outlook. I came away from this book, with even a greater sense of discouragement. It will make anyone who reads it, even more disgusted, suspicious and loath politicians even more than they already do and for me that was not an easy task.

      With that said, the link you show, the author suggests that we have another Congressional Committee to investigate. Here’s my point. We are literally asking the wolves to address why they are robbing the chicken coup. It is about one thing and one thing only; money and they almost all speak with forked tongues. The very few who do speak out about the truth are marginalized by the majority.

      The political system is not going the cure itself of the unethical activities it does on a routine basis.

      It therefore must be the establishment of a judicial system that actually works. How we do this is another question, but voting, campaigning, contributing to the political parties, writing your congresspersons and setting up more congressional committees to investigate the wolves is and never has worked.

      We need to wake up and do something very different if we are to forever change our world.

  3. “Obama’s Path From Critic to Overseer of Spying”


    “WASHINGTON — As a young lawmaker defining himself as a presidential candidate, Barack Obama visited a center for scholars in August 2007 to give a speech on terrorism. He described a surveillance state run amok and vowed to rein it in. “That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens,” he declared. “No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime.”

    More than six years later, the onetime constitutional lawyer is now the commander in chief presiding over a surveillance state that some of his own advisers think has once again gotten out of control. On Friday, he will give another speech, this time at the Justice Department defending government spying even as he adjusts it to address a wave of public concern over civil liberties.”

    1. anonp Thanks for that article. It is excellent, though it does prove the opposite of what you might think. First off, it appears that the US military was given the targeting info and permission by the Yemeni Army. So it was NOT the US Army simply getting their jollies by blowing up people for their own amusement. Then it says it is in a Shia area of the country which has been a staging area for Al Qeada and the Shia for years in their fight with the Yemeni government. That fact is even admitted by the people there. So the Al Qeada leader IS there, but it is unlikely he would be at such a gathering. HELL, when I was in Turkey, a Turkish air traffic controller who I was friendly with invited me to a wedding for his cousin. In those parts, there is damn little entertainment, so it would be rather unlikely he would NOT be there.

      THEN we find out that there was an attack on a HOSPITAL that killed more people than were killed in this strike. Now which is worse, a strike on a convoy of armed men with no markings, OR an attack by the groups in this area on a CLEARLY marked medical building? I was unaware of this atrocity until you brought it to our attention. Thanks.

      1. randyjet. As Peter Ustinov stated: Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich.

        How do we know when our government is protecting the ruling oligarchy of a country, or if they are trying to displace the ruling oligarchy? Both sides of a civil war commit atrocities but I would summit with substantial evidence, that the government side commits many more times the atrocities than the so called terrorist side.

        Are the terrorist really just the poor trying to fight back against government tyranny and obtain greater liberties and freedoms? Arab nations are know for both their corruption and brutality against their citizens.

        I’m sure there are many ideological differences amongst even members of Al Qeada.

        Why are we even in Yemeni?

        1. Why, indeed, are we in Yemen? Why are we in Afghanistan, and what have we accomplished there apart from killing a lot of people and allowing the production of opium to increase? Why are we in Djibouti, and Colombia, and umpteen other countries? Somebody please tell me, I’d really like to know.

          1. We’re still in So. Korea. Like the Chinese can’t handle that little peanut country with So. Korean. South Korea is also quite fascist, very militaristic, so we are protecting a fascist nation against a communist nation. I was there in 1972 and 1973, when they were starting to build the various industries that we see today.

  4. It’s hard to have a discussion with an angry guy, especially an omniscient one.

  5. randyjet,
    Would it be correct to say that you agree with indiscriminate droning in nations that suspected “terrorists” exist?

    I said indiscriminate because droning a wedding party because you suspect a terrorist is there is rather indiscriminate… for the guests. “Oh, look in the sky…” BOOM! Or a field worker picking okra for the dinner table. Or the father son plowing a field… (have that on video too, wanna see it, just ask). It’s indiscriminate because the target is never identified prior to launch and is only justified after. You know, surgical strikes they’re called. Where the target is but a military aged male, or two, so… that makes ’em AQ.

    Would it be correct to say that you would agree that should North Korea feel that their “terrorist” resided in San Francisco and K. Korea decided to drone the Golden Gate Bridge while their target crossed it?

    Yes or no?

  6. randyjet,
    “Let’s get real here! Any couple who is inviting Al Qeada to the wedding is not a big fan of the US…

    Let’s get real here, indeed.

    Tell us about HOW you know for sure, 100%, that AQ was involved in these wedding parties? Did you do a head count and personally identified the corpses? Because that’s the only way YOU are gonna know for sure who was killed. And that only relies upon knowing who is in AQ, personally… You see where I’m going with this?

    Can you identify AQ members attending someone else’s wedding? This would mean that YOU would know who they are, in the first place… Something our CIA would like to meet with you about. Maybe the NSA can do a little triangulating your “buddy list” to source your connections to AQ, being that you’re so sure you know who’s who in the AQ realm… Maybe?

    1. Max1 The Yemeni government is the agency confirming it according to the reports and they protested the collateral deaths. THAT is why I make that statement. Also in all military ops and wars, mistakes are made and we have what is called casualties by friendly fire. In WWII, in the Sicily landings, the US Navy and US shore batteries shot down a fleet of USAAF transports which were dropping Army paratroopers, killing hundreds. Then on the breakout from Normandy, the USAAF managed to destroy an entire US Army division and killed a Maj Gen and his staff. Now I am sure that conspiracy theorists would say that the Normandy mistake was simply the USAAF getting back at the Army. I think that you might buy that too, but most rational folks would conclude those were terrible mistakes which killed thousands of US troops in mistake. So I know that the US military hates to waste perfectly good bombs on the wrong targets for a host of reasons, but things like this happen when the ordnance starts flying. Think we should have pulled out of Normandy after that mistake and refused to use the USAAF again?

      Your assertion that the US forces simply like to kill people for the sheer hell of it is BS and a slander, especially in the use of drones. As for so called surgical strikes back in the day before GPS and cruise missiles, they did not exist. Back then the only surgical strike possible was a strike by nurses.

      You also do not understand military ops. For the father/son getting hit, they were under observation for a long time, possibly days. The video will not show the farmer burying weapons and explosives in his yard. Think it would have been better to blow him away along with his family at home? As in all wars, there are mistakes, and trigger happy soldiers and targeting. That is the nature of the beast. In some areas such as Wizeristan and other ungoverned areas, a military aged male IS a reasonable target, especially if he is carrying a weapon, which is normal for most men in that area.

      As for hitting the US and killing lots of people who are innocent, THAT has already HAPPENED! Too bad you have NO concern for your fellow Americans. I know that we should never hit back in your view and that any military action by the US is illegitimate under all circumstances.

Comments are closed.