“The Deck Has Been Stacked Against Them.“
Former CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou says that “the deck has been stacked against whistleblowers” because of their prosecution under the 1917 Espionage Act, which defines them as national traitors.
According to Kiriakou, National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden would be willing to come back to the United States if he was “allowed to stand up and tell the public why he did what he did”—which the Espionage Act does not allow.
The public consequently should push for the passage of a congressional resolution that would allow whistleblowers to explain their motives.
Kiriakou spoke at a webinar event on Tuesday May 18th hosted by CovertAction Magazine (CAM).
Its aim was to build solidarity with Daniel Hale, a former Air Force officer who pled guilty to leaking classified information on the drone war to The Intercept, and was prematurely jailed before his sentencing on July 13th.
Kiriakou said that he had recently spoken to Hale who wants the public to know that the information the government has leaked is a lie.
He never tested positive for marijuana after taking a routine urinalysis test, and was never suicidal—a claim the government has made to justify putting him in solitary confinement.
“Prosecution Seemed More Like a Persecution:”
Kiriakou served over two years in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2013 to violating the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which criminalized the public identification of U.S. intelligence agents.
An intelligence officer with the CIA from 1990-2004, Kiriakou had played a key role in the Agency’s capture in Pakistan of Al Qaeda logistics chief Abu Zubaydah and guarded his bedside after his capture. In December 2007, he disclosed to ABC news reporter Brian Ross that Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded.
Five years later, Kiriakou was charged with illegally providing the names of CIA officers and other classified information on the CIA’s torture program to journalists.
Many have since lauded his courage as the first CIA employee to speak on the record about waterboarding.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer told journalist Steve Coll that Kiriakou’s prosecution seemed “disproportionate and more like persecution. There appears to be a vindictiveness about this.”
At the CAM webinar, Kiriakou stated that the only reason he accepted a plea deal was because it was unlikely he could get a fair trial in the Eastern District of Virginia where most whistleblower trials are held.
According to a report by ProPublica, the government wins 98.2 percent of whistleblower cases.
A rare exception was Thomas Drake, an NSA whistleblower who had his case set to be tried in Maryland before the government reduced the charges to a misdemeanor, and General David Petraeus—who also had his crime reduced to a misdemeanor after his trial was moved to North Carolina and the Judge came down from the bench to shake his hand and thank him for his service to his country.
Bleak Legal Landscape and a Power Play Against Hale
Kiriakou’s former attorney Jessalyn Radack stated at the CAM webinar that the bleak legal landscape for whistleblowers results from the government’s ability to keep their stories out of the news.
A former whistleblower at the Justice Department, Radack represented Daniel Hale, whom she said was “terrified” after his arrest. The Espionage Act under which he was prosecuted “puts one person against the entire Executive branch.”
The Espionage Act is an “old World War I law dusted off by the Obama administration to go after whistleblowers,” Radack further noted, which “makes no distinction between a spy who sold secrets for revenge or profit, and a person like Hale who exposed war crimes.”
Since Hale’s guilty plea, the government continues to “try and make an example of him” and is “undertaking a power play.”
The tragedy of it all is that “Hale’s only crime is abiding by his conscience.”
The Biden administration “could drop the case”—which lay dormant for nearly seven years—but “has chosen not to.”
Caring About the Victims
Peace activist Kathy Kelly put Hale’s persecution in further context by speaking about the terrible human repercussions of the drone war.
Kelly has traveled in many war zones and interviewed the victims of U.S. drone attacks and others who were killed in air strikes that were set up by drone surveillance.
She has been disturbed to read reports about drone strikes in Afghanistan and Yemen that killed many civilians.
In 2006, Kelly visited Qana in southern Lebanon and talked to a woman whose six-year-old daughter was killed in an Israeli air strike set up by a drone.
The woman asked Kelly whether her daughter was a terrorist and who the real terrorists were.
She also asked Kelly if she thought the people up in the skies and manning the drones knew and saw that it was a six-year-old girl whom they killed.
Kelly said that Daniel Hale was one who knew, and saw, and spoke out.
Daniel must be racked with anxiety and fear sitting in solitary confinement, but he did the right thing and should be “thanked from the bottom of our hearts.”
[Given this bleak legal environment and media blackout, an organized social movement is needed. Share StandWithDanielHale.org with everyone you know via social media etc. Write letters to your local papers and representatives about Daniel Hale indicating this is unacceptable. Encourage everyone you know to do the same. Focus on what Daniel Hale is being persecuted for: Militarized drones are killing people around the world and Daniel exposed the crimes to the world. Courts are going after whistleblowers and not the criminals. Organize protests where you are. As Sam Alcoff says: “They may have the state, we have solidarity.” Editors.]
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of four books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019) and The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018).
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.