Whistle-blowers are not all created equal

By Peter Sessum

Whistle-blower or narcissistic punk you decide. But the evidence doesn't support him being a hero if you can see through the smokescreen.

Whistle-blower or narcissistic punk you decide. But the evidence doesn’t support him being a hero if you can see through the smokescreen.

With Bradley Manning’s trial being over and Edward Snowden still in the wind, whistle-blowers have been in the media a lot lately. There is this cultural perception that the government is always up to something sinister and anyone that reports on those activities should be protected. But not all that report on the government are heroes and some aren’t even whistle-blowers.

Whistle-blowers themselves used to be highly respected journalists and their sources were high ranking government officials. We want whistle-blowers to break the news on a Watergate or the Pentagon Paper. Now they are low ranking military, government contractors or people with an internet connection and they are not the same as their predecessors. We should hold whistle-blowers to objective standards if they should be afforded protections or not. I suggest using the following criteria:

1. Was the secret revealed relevant to the issue reported on?
2. Was the action in question legal?
3. Was reporting on it legal?
4. Was there an expectation that the person reporting would keep quiet?
5. Was there an expectation the person report it?

By examining these criteria we will see if the person is indeed a whistle-blower and if protections should be provided. It will require a level of objectivity and accountability and stay focused on the facts and not let personal feelings cloud the issue.

Abu Ghraib
Sergeant Joseph Darby was a U.S. Army Reservist MP deployed to Iraq and assigned to Abu Ghraib prison. He provided Criminal Investigation Command (CID) with two discs of photos of prisoner abuse to Special Agent Tyler Pieron that triggered the investigation that led to six soldiers receiving prison sentences.

He went unnoticed for months while the investigations went on. Later, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would say Darby’s name while testifying before congress. Darby would be removed from the deployment early and immediately be taken into protective custody when he landed back in the states due to the threat to his family.

Looking at the criteria, Darby is the best kind of whistle-blower. The information he gave was relevant to the case at hand. He gave evidence (pictures) of prisoner abuses (a war crime) to the proper authority. The actions (prisoner abuse) were illegal and reporting on them was legal. The soldiers committing the war crimes, like all soldier, have attended classes on the Law of Land Warfare and would have known their actions were illegal and should have expected that someone report it and according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and military values, reporting on war crimes is not only legal it is expected. To break it down Sesame Street is looks like this

1. Was the secret revealed relevant to the issue reported on? Yes.
2. Was the action in question legal? No.
3. Was reporting on it legal? Yes.
4. Was there an expectation that the person reporting would keep quiet? No.
5. Was there an expectation the person report it? Yes.

Darby did the right thing. There were military members committing war crimes and that needed to stop. He did not approach the media, he went to CID, the proper authority, and gave them the evidence. The media reaction and the shitstorm that followed was not directly because of his actions.Someone else leaked the photos. He reported that not all prisoners of Abu Ghraib were terrorists or insurgents, some were on two month prison sentences that got lost in the system. Also that there were 200 soldiers stationed there and only a few were committing abuses. He did the right thing yet he is being punished for it by having to live in a protection program when he should be celebrated.

NSA Leak

Releasing information you had access to doesn't make you a spy unless you are Edward Snowden.

Releasing information you had access to doesn’t make you a spy unless you are Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden was a government contractor with access to sensitive information. He had evidence of the government illegally spying on American citizens and come forward with the information.

There is a lot of debate on if what he did was right or wrong. On one side the question is raised if Americans should know if their rights are being violated but the other side is that there is no way to restrict the information only to law abiding Americans and the information of government spying would go to domestic and international terrorists. It is a complex argument but those are all subjective discussions, using the objective criteria above Snowden falls under the whistle-blower category.

Snowden only revealed information relevant to the NSA spying. While what the government was doing was illegal, so was reporting it. With the access to sensitive information not only is there an expectation that it be kept secret, but it becomes a legal matter as well. While the government would expect the secret to be kept, I think in the interest of government transparency and accountability and for our own freedoms there would be an expectation that illegal NSA spying be reported to some authority.

1. Was the secret revealed relevant to the issue reported on? Yes.
2. Was the action in question legal? No.
3. Was reporting on it legal? No.
4. Was there an expectation that the person reporting would keep quiet? Yes.
5. Was there an expectation the person report it? Yes/No.

While what the government was doing was illegal, that doesn’t make his reporting it legal. It might be considered “right” morally, but it was still illegal. And that is why he left the country. It helps his credibility that he gave up a lucrative job, nice house and a hot model girlfriend to release the truth. There is a perception that he is a traitor and a coward, but neither are really true. By the letter of the law he might be considered a traitor, but it doesn’t seem that he did it for personal gain and he wasn’t selling secrets to the enemy. He is not a coward for running, it is prudent. He knows that what he did was illegal and fully expects to be punished for it. I think it is understandable that he doesn’t want to go to jail. Even though he revealed illegal government activity, he still needs to be punished for it. There are far too many secrets that need to be kept to allow for people to be able to freely leak them and claim it was the right thing to do. Revealing documents and claiming it was morally right is a precedent that the nation can’t afford to set.

Wikileaks
After Private First Class (PFC) Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison people were already cheering for him that he was a hero and that they would never stop fighting. His support comes from the fact that he claimed to oppose an unpopular war and that should not be a crime. Before he was even sized for his Leavenworth prison jumpsuit his lawyer was already taking about how Manning wanted to become a woman and that the government should facilitate his gender reassignment. Both of these points are excellent smoke screen for the fact that he broke the law and isn’t even a whistle-blower. He is just a kid with an attitude that wanted to get back at the world.

As for the fact that he is gay or transgender or whatever he is claiming this week, that should have zero bearing on the issue. Unfortunately, for the GLBT community, this is equality. If you want equality that means taking the bad with the good. If gays want to be able to legally marry, and it is stupid they can’t, then they should also not ask for a leniency based on sexually orientation. If Manning was straight, there would be no call for support for a straight man. Sorry, this is the downside of equality.

As for him being a whistle-blower, he isn’t one. Mainly because he does not fit the objective criteria. He fails the number one standard of if the information revealed was relevant to the issue he was reporting on. The answer is a big fat NO! Unlike Darby, who reported on violations of the Geneva Conventions, Manning released information on Iraq, Afghanistan and State Department diplomatic messages. Manning claimed that he did it to expose the U.S. military’s “bloodlust” and generate debate over the wars and U.S. policy. But if we examine that it will reveal he was playing on the feelings of the war to try his case in the court of public opinion.

The most important point is that there was already a debate about the war and U.S. policy before he released the documents. In fact, there was great debate about the war before he even joined. As a PFC he couldn’t have been in the Army for more than a year or so and that puts him enlisting around 2008. Even if it was 2006 it still would have been far past the time when the war was unpopular.

In office was a was a completely different president that had a key part of his election that he was going to get the military out of Iraq. The drawdown was going on when Manning released his information so if anything, it would prolong the process of the U.S. exit. Manning’s lawyer said that this was about the Iraq war because at the time the death penalty was a real possibility. If I was his lawyer I would have tried to manipulate public opinion to keep my client alive too.

Manning’s claim was too broad and not directly tied to the information revealed. The diplomatic messages were not all related to Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of them were just embarrassing to diplomats, but others forced the government to remove people from clandestine operations. We will never know what impact that had.

He is celebrated as a whistle-blower but he really didn’t reveal any information on a specific event. He is credited with revealing the information about an incident where an Apache helicopter killed multiple civilians including a Reuters reporter. This was an event that occurred prior to Manning even joining the military. It is true that there are some events that might have been damaging to the military, but that is what happens when 700,000 documents are released.

It is a law of averages thing. If 700,000 random Americans walked to the nearest body of water with a fishing pole and cast a single time, at least some of them would catch a fish. Many would be fishing in a neighbor’s pool, but at least a few are going to be near water with fish in it.

Manning was in the Intel field. An Intel Analyst should take raw information and after analyzing it turn into usable intelligence. There is no way Manning sifted through 700,000 documents in his time in Iraq. He just downloaded everything and sent it off. While in a heated discussion a friend said this makes him a “shitty whistle-blower” but I contend that it makes him a jackass that revealed information and not a whistle-blower at all.

By all reports, Manning was a substandard soldier. While that is not a measure of guilt, it speaks to his credibility. It appears he had a bad attitude about the military dating back to basic training. You can have a bad attitude in the military, at some point everyone has a problem with the military, but this is not an excuse to release the documents.

In fact, there was an expectation for him to keep the information secret. Also, it was against the law for him to revel it. The military has a full expectation that the Intel troopers will keep it secret. While Manning might have revealed information about incidents that needed investigation, it wasn’t about a specific illegal activity.

1. Was the secret revealed relevant to the issue reported on? No, it was just random information.
2. Was the action in question legal? It was the Global War on Terror, a lot is debatable.
3. Was reporting on it legal? No.
4. Was there an expectation that the person reporting would keep quiet? Yes.
5. Was there an expectation the person report it? No.

Manning released the information while he was in Iraq so he didn’t even have a good exit plan like Snowden did. Darby was a true whistle-blower that did the right thing. Snowden was a whistle-blower that reported on illegal government activity and it will be debated, and most likely decided by history, if he did the right thing. Manning, however, is just a jackhole that wanted to stick it to the Army. He isn’t even a whistle-blower. We need to stop celebrating everyone that says or does something that hurts the military or government and instead celebrate people that do the right thing. In other words, what we need are more Darby’s and fewer Mannings and the world will be a better place.

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