The long long reach of Vietnam: Ellsberg's Truth-Telling Coalition and the encouragement of national security leaks
[NOTE: Today we have news that the CIA detention center leaker might not have been Mary McCarthy after all; at least, she is denying any involvement. So for now I'll stop referring to it as the McCarthy case. But even though the identity of the leaker is not yet clear, it's fairly certain that the source was a CIA employee who had access to very sensitive information.]
Since I'm nothing if not a child of the 60s, for me the CIA detention center leak case has raised distant echoes of a well-known Vietnam era whistleblower who leaked classified information to the press: Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame.
I was further reminded of Ellsberg by a detail mentioned in Wretchard's Sunday post at Belmont Club:
...the press has quoted two former counterterrorism experts in defense of Mary McCarthy but omitted one interesting detail, which may or may not be relevant...Ray McGovern and Larry Johnson [the counterterrorism experts in question] are associated with Daniel Ellsberg's The Truth-Telling Project.
"The Truth-Telling Project"--now, what might that be? Wretchard quotes from its web page, which offers the following description of the organization's purpose and function:
The Truth-Telling Coalition, comprised of high-level national security truth-tellers, as well as non-profit whistleblower organizations, provides a personal and legal support network for each other and for government insiders considering becoming truth-tellers.
So, according to its own description, the group appears to be an organization dedicated to supporting the spilling of secrets by national security officers in the interests of "truth."
The fact that the Truth-Telling Project has deep roots in the Vietnam War era (query: doesn't everything?) is made exceedingly clear if one reads its manifesto, "A Call to Patriotic Whistleblowing," whose title not only indicates the organization's commitment to supporting whistleblowers, but to encouraging them as well.
I quote here at length from this document (issued Sept. 9, 2004); see if you think the motivations and goals expressed therein sound nonpartisan:
It is time for unauthorized truth-telling.
Citizens cannot make informed choices if they do not have the facts—for example, the facts that have been wrongly concealed about the ongoing war in Iraq: the real reasons behind it, the prospective costs in blood and treasure, and the setback it has dealt to efforts to stem terrorism. Administration deception and cover-up on these vital matters has so far been all too successful in misleading the public...
Many Americans are too young to remember Vietnam. Then, as now, senior government officials did not tell the American people the truth. Now, as then, insiders who know better have kept their silence, as the country was misled into the most serious foreign policy disaster since Vietnam.
Some of you [security officers] have documentation of wrongly concealed facts and analyses that—if brought to light—would impact heavily on public debate regarding crucial matters of national security, both foreign and domestic. We urge you to provide that information now, both to Congress and, through the media, to the public...
Needless to say, any unauthorized disclosure that exposes your superiors to embarrassment entails personal risk. Should you be identified as the source, the price could be considerable, including loss of career and possibly even prosecution. Some of us know from experience how difficult it is to countenance such costs. But continued silence brings an even more terrible cost, as our leaders persist in a disastrous course and young Americans come home in coffins or with missing limbs.
This is precisely what happened at this comparable stage in the Vietnam War. Some of us live with profound regret that we did not at that point expose the administration’s dishonesty and perhaps prevent the needless slaughter of 50,000 more American troops and some 2 to 3 million Vietnamese over the next ten years. We know how misplaced loyalty to bosses, agencies, and careers can obscure the higher allegiance all government officials owe the Constitution, the sovereign public, and the young men and women put in harm’s way. We urge you to act on those higher loyalties.
I'm not sure what to call this (although I can think of quite a few things). But it is certainly, at the very least, active incitement and encouragement to divulge secrets. It is both politically motivated and clearly and consciously connected to the memory of Vietnam, and it unequivocally equates the current war with that past one.
How did the project come to be?
The Coalition stemmed from a symposium entitled "When Silence Is Complicity: What Should Officials Do? Whistleblowers Speak Out," held at American University on September 8, 2004, co-organized by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, the Truth-Telling Project, and the Department of History at American University. At the symposium, the first-ever gathering of high-level national security whistleblowers, many of the participants discussed the isolation they felt after breaking ranks with their colleagues and making the step to come forward as truth-tellers. In the discussions following the symposium, some of the participants discussed the value of forming a support-network for current and potential whistleblowers, and the Truth-Telling Coalition was launched.
It seems to be a sort of support group for CIA operatives and others engaged in national security who plan to become leakers. The model of a support group is one taken from a discipline with which I'm familiar, therapy. But this is quite a cutting-edge support group; it also offers free legal counsel to those who come forward:
The Truth-Telling Project is working with the Center for National Security Studies, the Project on Governmental Oversight and the ACLU to locate first-rate lawyers who will announce publicly their readiness to provide pro-bono legal counsel for government insiders contemplating truth-telling. At the request of the Truth-Telling Project, the ACLU has announced that is will provide free legal advice to government insiders considering becoming whistleblowers.
I don't know about you, but I find this all very troubling. It appears that these people are being encouraged to break security in the name of fostering their personal agendas about the war in Iraq. For example, the document mentions disclosing "wrongly concealed facts and analyses that—if brought to light—would impact heavily on public debate," not just war crimes or other criminal acts of the government.
These leaker-wannabees are not even given guidelines as to what might constitute a serious enough offense to justify blowing the whistle and breaching national security, other than their own not-so-humble opinions and perceptions. There is no discussion of trying to make the institutions themselves more responsive in their internal review process, the far less dangerous and more traditional avenue for corrections of problems; it is assumed that going to the press is the proper course of action. Another traditional avenue, approaching the Congressional intelligence oversight committee, is likewise ignored. Nor is it suggested anywhere (at least, not that I could locate) that a whistleblower ought to resign from his/her job before or after spilling the beans. Rather, it seems assumed that the whistleblower will stay on, even after his/her oath has been violated.
This last point is almost the one that bothers me the most, because it raises the specter of people being encouraged to remain as employees in security organizations after secretly becoming enemies to those agencies' policies. It's hard to escape the notion that their motivation for remaining in these positions at that point would be to act as press informants and hidden moles, in a sort of spy vs. spy routine.
I have no idea whether Ellsberg's Truth-Telling Coalition had any part to play in the CIA detention center revelations. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't. We simply do not know, just as we don't know the identity of the leaker. But there is no doubt that the Coalition was designed to foster just such leaks in order to undermine the war in Iraq, and that it's not hiding that fact, but proudly broadcasting it to the world via its website and press releases.