The television program, “60 Minutes,” aired a segment on Sunday in which it assassinated the character of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, and even went so far as to question their loyalty to America. The two whistleblowers were compared to the Washington Navy Yard shooter, who killed twelve people.
It was part of an examination of what U.S. government officials perceive to be serious flaws in the process by which the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reviews security clearances granted to government employees, but the framing made it seem like architects of “insider threat” programs from U.S. security agencies and politicians, who support total surveillance of government employees in the workplace and while they’re at home, had produced the segment.
Using language that would scare everyone’s grandparents, the CBS show used “fugitive” to describe Snowden, “convicted spy” to describe Manning (even though she is not), and “mass murderer” to describe the Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis. Anchor Scott Pelley amplified the terror by adding they all had “one thing in common: U.S. government security clearances which they turned into weapons.”
“Some believe that Snowden and Manning were right to expose what they saw as government abuses like the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, but few believe that all of America’s secrets should be at risk to spies, criminals, or the mentally ill,” Pelley added. “That has happened because of short cuts in a system that has placed American security into dangerous hands.” Once more, “60 Minutes” primed grandmothers across the country to tremble in their chairs while thinking of dangerous subversives lurking in the dark corridors of American security agencies.
To make the case that Manning should have never received a top secret security clearance, “60 Minutes” interviewed Jihrleah Showman, who was a supervisor of Manning while she was deployed as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq. She was responsible for providing some of the most dubious and vile testimony accusing Manning of disloyalty to America during Manning’s trial, and “60 Minutes” had her repeat this fabricated nonsense.
“60 Minutes” Trashes Manning’s Patriotism
Pelley asked, “Did you have any reason to doubt Manning’s loyalty to the United States?” Showman answered, “Yes.”
“I pointed to the patch of our American flag that was on my shoulder,” Showman claimed. “I said, ‘What does this flag mean to you?’ He said, ‘It means absolutely nothing to me. I hold no allegiance to this country and the people in it.'”
Next, Pelley asked, “How does he get a top-secret security clearance?” Showman answered, “That is a good question.” (Note: The U.S. military has been ordered by a court to use female pronouns when referring to Manning, but Pelley and “60 Minutes” apparently disregarded this when interviewing Showman.)
Showman claimed she went directly to a “superior” and informed this person Manning could not be “trusted with a security clearance. We can’t deploy him and he’s most likely a spy.” And, “60 Minutes” added that superiors maintained they could not lose someone with a “valuable top secret clearance.”
The biggest problem with this exchange, and the decision by “60 Minutes” to paint Manning as anti-American, is testimony [PDF] during Manning’s military trial proves this is not true.
Showman similarly claimed at Manning’s trial she had said during a counseling session the “flag meant nothing to him, and he did not consider himself to have allegiance to this country or any people.” Yet, when Manning’s defense attorney, David Coombs, cross-examined Showman, Coombs made it clear that Showman never documented her fears of disloyalty in a written counseling form. In fact, she never put this allegation of disloyalty in writing until after May 2010, when Manning was arrested for providing documents to WikiLeaks.
Showman previously had documented in “counseling statements” how Manning excessively consumed caffeine. She documented how Manning was “late to formation” and lost her “military bearing.” She even put in a monthly counseling statement a note about recommending him for the “soldier of the month board.” But she never wrote anything down about how she came face to face with someone with a top secret security clearance, who she thought was anti-American and disloyal.
This may be because Manning never said the thing Showman claims to have heard. Manning, according to Coombs, was talking about the problem of having “blind allegiance” to the flag. She said a person should not be an automaton. A person should have a “duty to all people regardless of their country.” Plus, no one else was present to witness this exchange so it is Showman’s credibility against Manning’s credibility, and she thus far has been allowed to make these statements in courtrooms and in public without the establishment dismissing her as a liar.
Additionally, it would seem if “60 Minutes” had reasonably adhered to their established framing, they would have accused Showman of failing to document Manning’s “disloyalty” so the military could stop her from releasing classified information.
“60 Minutes” Overlooks Manning’s Gender Identity Issues to Paint Her as a Lunatic Traitor
The program also highlighted an incident, where Manning lost control of herself and punched Showman. Her supervisor responded by pinning her to the ground.
This incident is presented as another signal Manning should not have had a top secret security clearance, but the problem is Manning was struggling with gender identity issues and the punching incident had nothing to do with Showman’s allegations of disloyalty. Captain Michael Worsley, a clinical psychiatrist expert and doctor who had sessions with Manning in Iraq, counseled Manning right after the punching incident and diagnosed Manning with gender identity disorder.
The show omitted the fact that Manning was removed from the facility where she was working when her security clearance was temporarily suspended after the punching incident.
Stunningly, “60 Minutes” called attention to the fact that Manning said she joined the military to “sort out the turmoil and mess in my life” in her enlistment papers, as if this is unusual. Working class Americans like Manning, who struggled to hold a job, lacked money to pay for college, and needed healthcare, are known to join the Army to help them straighten out their life. How many other people have written on their enlistment papers something similar and gone on to have exceptional military careers?
John Hamre, a former deputy secretary of defense who chairs the Defense Policy Board which advises the Pentagon, bluntly accused Manning of lying about her “mental health” on forms she filled out to obtain her security clearance. Yet, “60 Minutes” never points to what she lied about and the Army was well-aware of how Manning was struggling with gender identity disorder. Manning had multiple sessions with Army doctors, and the doctors were doing the best to treat Manning so she could keep her clearance instead of taking it away because she had mental health problems.
“We Have Spies in Our Midst”: Snowden Cast as an Infiltrator
Once more, Hamre and Pelley cranked up the fear for baby boomers in America:
Scott Pelley: Are there people today who have clearances and should not have them?
John Hamre: Yes, there are. We have spies in our midst. I’m convinced of it.
“60 Minutes” presented Snowden as an infiltrator, someone who not only was able to get away with taking massive amounts of classified information because the security clearance system failed, but who also manipulated the system so he could get closer to pilfering secrets.
Scott Pelley: What would you say is the greatest insider threat that we face as a result of the way these security clearances are done?
John Hamre: Snowden was an example of it. He moved into an enormously sensitive position. We control people at the gate and once we give them a credential, they’re in the compound, we don’t pay attention to where they are after that.
This statement about not “paying attention” to where people with security clearances are after they obtain them is hard to believe because since Manning and Snowden disclosed classified information to journalists the U.S. government has drastically expanded an “insider threat” program to monitor the activities of employees. It has reportedly encouraged government officials to treat potential leakers as people who intend to aid America’s enemies.
“We’ve learned that Snowden’s behavior raised concerns when he worked at the CIA,” Pelley reported. “And when he left the agency, the CIA put a red flag in his file in case Snowden applied for another job. He did, a civilian job for the NSA where he stole the secrets. Snowden had found a simple way to beat OPM’s review of his security clearance.”
The show indicated it obtained an “internal memo” showing the OPM head had been warned by the OPM’s Inspector General Patrick McFarland that Snowden’s background investigation was “deficient in a number of areas.” Yet, about a minute later, Pelley acknowledged the show knows little about these “glaring deficiencies” in Snowden’s background investigation because files remain secret so the U.S. can prosecute Snowden.
In other words, “60 Minutes” parroted a phrase on television about “deficiencies,” which has tremendous propaganda value for U.S. security agencies, and did not care whether these “deficiencies” are actually real or not.
“60 Minutes” Refuses to Reckon with the Whistleblower Motives of Snowden or Manning
Snowden has been open and forthright about why he provided documents on massive global NSA surveillance programs to journalists. For example, he came across a classified 2009 inspector general’s report on the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program expanded during President George W. Bush’s administration. He found the document while conducting routine work as a system administrator and believed it was illegal.
“You can’t read something like that and not realize what it means for all of these systems we have,” he told New York Times reporter James Risen. Also, “If the highest officials in government can break the law without fearing punishment or even any repercussions at all, secret powers become tremendously dangerous.”
This is but one small example of the whistleblower motive Snowden had when he made the decision to disclose information the U.S. government had classified about secret surveillance programs. It is perhaps the most glaring defect in the “60 Minutes” segment.
At no point does “60 Minutes” reckon with the fact that it is presenting a national security state argument, which insists more should have been done to catch people like Snowden or Manning, who saw waste, fraud, abuse, and illegality, and decided to expose the information to the public. To add on extra layers of scrutiny directed against them inevitably means creating an increasingly chilly climate for potential whistleblowers. It means people who go through “proper channels” and hide their actions from superiors—because their complaints implicate their superiors—are treated as spies.
It does not reckon with how U.S. security agencies—bolstered by the U.S. Justice Department—have successfully blurred the lines between spies and leakers to the point where one’s intentions do not matter anymore. Simply causing classified information to be published on the internet by a news organization, which happens every week, can be prosecuted as a violation of the Espionage Act by an “insider” if the government wants to make an example out of someone.
The show does not deal with the broad, catch-all term that “insider threat” has become. In a post-9/11 world, grandparents are now made to fear national security and military whistleblowers as much as individuals who go on rampages and kill innocent people.
This Edition of “60 Minutes” Might as Well Have Been Brought to You By Rep. Peter King
Finally, “60 Minutes” seems to have taken its framing from Representative Peter King, a vindictive and raving-mad member of Congress who is the author of DHS “insider threat” program legislation recently passed in the House of Representatives.
King has called Snowden a “traitor” and argued journalists like Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Barton Gellman, who published stories about NSA documents, should be prosecuted. He has previously pushed for WikiLeaks, a media organization, to be designated a “terrorist organization” by the U.S. Treasury Department. The congressman wanted the Treasury Department to do this so the government could seize funds from the media organization and pursue anyone who provided WikiLeaks with “any help or contributions or assistance whatsoever.” He has backed legislation to help the Justice Department crack down on leaks even more severely than the agency has already.
Last night’s edition was in the tradition of a previous edition, where then-NSA director Keith Alexander was invited on the show to help the NSA tell the story about Snowden and NSA surveillance, which the NSA wanted to be told. It was aimed at making Americans fearful the government is not doing all it can to protect against infiltrators and lunatic government employees.
The program was exactly the kind of propaganda U.S. security agencies need Americans to believe to expand surveillance of government employees, dole out lucrative contracts to companies, and get away with expanding systems, which not only infringe upon constitutional rights but also violate confidential whistleblower communications when employees go through what officials refer to as proper channels to raise concerns about corruption.