(This post is from our new blog: Unofficial Sources.)
There is no sign of an end to the erosion of Constitutional liberties that began under George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks and continues under Barack Obama, a group of seven national security whistleblowers said Monday.
“The government chose in great secrecy to unchain itself,” said Thomas Drake, who was working at the National Security Agency in 2001 and said he saw lawlessness spread under the name of “exigent conditions” during the Bush presidency.
Then, as part of Obama’s war on whistleblowers, prosecutors charged Drake under the Espionage Act – a law intended to brutally punish spies – for talking to a reporter. After a four-year long ordeal that the federal judge in his case called “unconscionable,” all 10 felony charges against Drake were dropped in return for his guilty plea to a single misdemeanor.
Now, Drake said, he is throwing his weight behind H.R. 1466, the Surveillance State Repeal Act.
The bill would completely repeal the 2001 PATRIOT Act (which the NSA cites as the legal basis for its bulk phone metadata collection), repeal the FISA Amendments Act (which ostensibly legitimizes Internet spying) and otherwise protect people’s privacy.
It’s a bipartisan but dark-horse legislative gambit that Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky., have thrown into the mix as Congress debates over the next few weeks what to do before three key provisions of the PATRIOT Act expire — including the one used for bulk metadata.
All seven whistleblowers on the panel sponsored by the pro-accountability group ExposeFacts.org – including Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, NSA whistleblowers William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe, and former FBI agent Coleen Rowley – said they backed the bill.
Other legislative proposals, coming nearly two years after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden informed the world about the extent of NSA surveillance, call for considerably more minor reforms – if any at all.
Wiebe said he is increasingly frightened that the country is not “going to be able to get out of this mess.”
“We’ve become a society wiling to look the other way in the face of wrongdoing,” he said.
Ellsberg called Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning “heroes.” “We need more Snowdens, we need more Chelsea Mannings,” he said. Had there been some earlier, he said, “there would not have been an Iraq war. That would have been a very great service to the United States and the world.”
Ellsberg contrasted his two heroes with former vice president Dick Cheney.
“I’m not saying he’s a traitor,” Ellsberg said. Cheney truly wanted the best for his country, it’s just that “he believed that the best for his country was not the Constitution as written,” Ellsberg said.
Rowley said she was taken aback when she heard Obama, in remarks last week about the drone strike that killed two Western hostages in Pakistan, say that “one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”
Said Rowley: “I wish that were true.”
Photo of (left to right) Kirk Wiebe, Coleen Rowley, Raymond McGovern, Daniel Ellsberg, William Binney, Jesselyn Radack, and Thomas Drake by Kathleen McClellan (@McClellanKM) via Twitter