Journalism, Whistleblowing and the Security State

I took part in a fantastic panel at University of London on Journalism, Whistleblowing and the Security State. My fellow panelists were Norman Solomon, Katherine Gun, Kirk Wiebe and Coleen Rowley (Time‘s 2002 Person of the Year).

The audio podcast of the panel can be found here:

http://backdoorbroadcasting.net/2014/11/journalism-whistleblowing-and-the-security-state/

Also, while in London we did a host of media interviews including with The Guardian. Here’s an editorial The Guardian published on our efforts:

A diverse quartet of characters share a platform at the Foreign Press Association in London on Friday 21 November. They are a mix of effusive and reserved, leftist, conservative libertarian and politically unaffiliated. But all four have worked for US or UK security agencies, and all four have blown the whistle on misconduct as they saw it. They’ve won accolades for their integrity, yet none was in the end able to remain in post with his or her employer after airing inconvenient truths.

Matthew Hoh, Colleen Rowley and Kirk Wiebe are, like Edward Snowden, all one-time servants of the American security state. The former GCHQ translator, Katharine Gun, exposed an NSA plan to bug the UN offices of countries that George W Bush and Tony Blair regarded as potential swing votes in their doomed quest for a security council rubber-stamp for an invasion of Iraq, on which they were already set. She was, until the prosecution proved unwilling or unable to muster any evidence, pursued under the Official Secrets Acts, legislation that has rendered the British state a notorious shadowland for a century. The US is traditionally seen as blessed with more open government, but the immediate backdrop to today’s event is the increasingly ruthless pursuit of American whistleblowers.

For all Barack Obama’s background in civil rights law, his administration has charged more people under the Espionage Act, a 97-year old law rushed through in the first world war, than all previous administrations combined. Phone records covering journalists and, presumably, their sources have been subpoenaed. The trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer charged with revealing details of a botched US plan to feed Iran false nuclear leads, is pending. While British journalists are, as we report, resorting to legal action against Scotland Yard for monitoring their activities as part of a “domestic extremism” programme, US government directives and information campaigns are being trained on the “insider threat”, the new parlance for employees who are not to be trusted with classified information.

The whistleblowers taking to the London stage have been concerned with security threats and international relations, including matters of war and peace. There are of course some secrets in these fields that it is in the public interest to protect. Very often, however, embassies and spy agencies will wish to keep things hushed up for exactly the same sort of reasons that affect less exotic institutions – concealing cock-ups, and avoiding daylight falling on things that ought not be happening at all.

A banker with a conscience, Paul Moore of HBOS, lost his job after asking awkward questions about loans and sales practices. The daughter of a mis-treated patient, Julie Bailey, saw her mother’s grave vandalised after she began telling the truth about the NHS disgrace at Mid Staffs. Nobody, however, would today deny that both were on the right side. And from Iraq to waterboarding and mass surveillance, whistleblowers within the security state, too, have more often than not ended up being vindicated.

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