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*A version of this newsletter written by Shadowproof’s Kevin Gosztola was sent out on October 5.
Over the past few weeks, most Democrats have generally defended whistleblowers, as the Ukraine call whistleblower’s complaint dominates the news cycle.
Democrats condemned President Donald Trump’s boorish comments that equate whistleblowers with spies as well as the administration’s alleged efforts to identify the whistleblower from the CIA, whose complaint became the catalyst for an impeachment inquiry. But the Democratic Party establishment does not have a very good record in the past decade of supporting whistleblowers from the United States government.
President Barack Obama modestly expanded limited protections for intelligence whistleblowers while waging a war on whistleblowers that established an “insider threat” program and included a record number of prosecutions against individuals for allegedly violating the Espionage Act.
Trump has several tools available to him within government to destroy the Ukraine call whistleblower’s anonymity, and they were cultivated while Obama was president. For example, an intelligence employee may go through “proper channels” and later find the Justice Department has taken their complaint and opened an investigation into them, which is what happened to NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake in the late 2000s.
One of the most ardent supporters of the Ukraine call whistleblower is Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who is the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. After the acting Director for National Intelligence (DNI) would not give the whistleblower guidance so his complaint could be released to Congress, Schiff complained about the chilling effect this will have on future whistleblowers.
Schiff was correct to criticize the DNI, but in 2016, he took a completely different tack when it came to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. He even engaged in an effort to discredit Snowden’s disclosures.
“Snowden and his defenders claim that he is a whistleblower, but he isn’t,” Schiff stated. “Most of the material he stole had nothing to do with Americans’ privacy, and its compromise has been of great value to America’s adversaries and those who mean to do America harm.”
Despite Schiff’s contempt, the truth is Snowden’s revelations brought about an end to a bulk collection program of records from the calls of every single American. A federal judge ruled the program was unconstitutional, and Obama and Democrats backed reform legislation called the USA Freedom Act that ultimately led to the demise of this mass surveillance program.
Snowden also inspired a major shift in how companies, like Apple, engaged in data security and encryption to protect their software and hardware from government intrusion. That would not have been possible without the complete picture that was created through the many documents Snowden disclosed to journalists.
Reporting around the initial whistleblower complaint suggests this is coming from a man that firmly believes in the agenda of the CIA, especially in Ukraine. He likely believes Trump put a program of arming fighters in Ukraine at risk by threatening to suspend the program if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did not help his administration investigate Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
There are critical questions to be asked about Biden’s son and how he came to serve on the board of a Ukrainian gas company when he had no experience in Ukraine or with the energy industry. But the weaponization of unsubstantiated allegations by the right-wing has Democrats taking offense with anyone that may contend Hunter was part of some grift in Ukraine.
Furthermore, the United States backed a coup in 2014. Groups that the U.S. government has armed remain locked in fights with pro-Russian separatists. In 2017, $500 million was earmarked by Congress for Ukraine.
Kurt Volker was the special envoy to Ukraine and resigned in the last week of September. He fully backed sending tank-busting Javelin missiles to Kyiv. While pushing Trump to arm Ukraine, POLITICO noted he was part of the lobbying firm, the BGR Group, and McCain Institute, which have ties to Raytheon. The defense contractor manufactures the Javelin system. Naturally, he believed what Trump was doing was improper because it might impact the company’s weapons sales.
It is possible to juggle two threads. One can oppose the war on whistleblowers vigorously continued by Trump and place this chapter in that context. One can also acknowledge if the objective of this scandal is to keep weapons flowing to militia groups with neo-Nazi fighters in their ranks then skepticism is warranted.
As the game is played in Washington, the whistleblower exposed information that showed Trump put a program that was a darling of the military industrial-complex in jeopardy. Unanimous support from within the media and political establishment followed. This does not happen for whistleblowers who reveal war crimes, crimes against humanity, or mass surveillance that violates the privacy of the entire world’s population.
Trump has undoubtedly engaged in impeachable offenses. Yet, it is impossible not to sigh heavily at a political class that will not impeach him for the acts that may truly deserve impeachment, like rounding up immigrant children and putting them in camps.
Denying climate change and rolling back environmental protections to poison and degrade entire communities is not seen as a matter that makes impeachment urgent. Even using the presidential office for one’s own personal enrichment, inflating one’s wealth, and devaluing assets to avoid paying taxes are all prime examples of Trump corruption that aren’t likely to be in the final articles of impeachment.
Remember this is the political party led by Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi that refused to impeach President George W. Bush (or Vice President Dick Cheney) for the war against Iraq that was based on lies.
NSA whistleblower Reality Winner remains in prison. FBI whistleblower Terry Albury remains in prison. Alleged drone whistleblower Daniel Hale is scheduled for trial in March. These are targets of Trump’s war on whistleblowers that U.S. journalists ignore as they cheer on the Ukraine call whistleblower.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who will have his extradition hearing in February. U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning has been in jail for over six months. Every day she resists a grand jury convened to destroy a media organization she is ordered to pay the government another $1000. She will likely owe nearly a half million dollars when all is said and done.
You won’t hear a peep from Democratic leaders on this part of the Trump administration’s war on whistleblowers as they speak about the need to impeach.
If articles of impeachment are eventually drafted, they will contain pseudo-scandalous Russiagate allegations that were scarcely proven by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. They will also contain details from this simple straight-to-DVD and supposedly more crowd-pleasing sequel, Ukrainegate.
Like Russiagate, the purpose of impeachment will be to insulate the Democratic Party establishment from a grassroots insurgency that craves a working class party that will oppose Republicans with a platform that speaks to the material conditions that fuel mass inequality and poverty.
The articles of impeachment against Trump will represent the agenda of the national security state to engage in an unfettered New Cold War against Russia and China. It will feature the grievances of current and former intelligence and military officials, who have lost faith in the ability of Trump to properly project American strength. And just because these individuals want a new leader in power does not mean they are on the side of poor and working class people or the truth-tellers in government, who dare to take a stand for justice and human rights and ultimately suffer dire consequences.