Sunday, July 1, 2012

Whistleblowing and Publishing: Doing it Wrong

Visit the comments section on any news story about Bradley Manning or Julian Assange, and you'll hear a story repeated over and over by devoted supporters: Bradley Manning is a heroic whistleblower who fulfilled his highest duty as a soldier by revealing war crimes being kept hidden from the American people, and Julian Assange is the brave publisher who shared the shocking truth with the world.  Both are now being unfairly persecuted because the revealed truth threatens the criminals in power, who will surely torture and execute Assange, if only they can get him to Sweden first.

The problem with this story is that none of that is true.

Manning is accused of exceeding his authorized access to government computer networks to copy hundreds of thousands of classified files, which he then gave directly, without reading, to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.  Manning's supporters will tell you he had no other choice, he had to get the truth about war crimes out to the American people somehow, and WikiLeaks was the only way he could be sure of doing that.

Leaving aside the question of how Manning could possibly have known of crimes shown by documents he didn't actually read, many of his supporters seem completely unaware that soldiers who discover wrongdoing actually have a lot of options to report it.  It's a false dichotomy to claim that Manning's choices were to either keep silent or slip the data to WikiLeaks.  Perhaps non-American supporters can't be expected to know obscure American laws such as the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, but Manning, like any US soldier, would certainly have been aware of it.

When informed of the reporting options that Manning had, his supporters often dismiss them out of hand, claiming that America is so corrupt that if Manning had used the legal whistleblower options, the truth would've been covered up or he would've faced retribution.  The recent experience of Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis proves that's completely untrue.

In an excellent post on the Empty Wheel blog, Davis's actions are shown in stark contrast to Manning's.  Davis became aware of wrongdoing through the normal course of his duties, he didn't just appoint himself an investigator entitled to hack into and explore whatever files he was curious about.  Once aware of wrongdoing, Davis wrote reports of exactly what was wrong and the evidence that backed his claims, then he submitted them through the same legal channels that were available to, but ignored by, Manning.  These include military Inspectors General, members of Congress, and armed forces investigators, but not random foreigners who happen to run leaking websites.

Davis's reports of wrongdoing were published in the New York Times, Armed Forces Journal, and Rolling Stone, exposing the truth to the public just as well as any WikiLeaks release.  Instead of being arrested and facing a court martial, Davis was invited to speak to members of Congress, who used his information to support their efforts to end the war.  Crucially, because Davis's reports were legal, the focus of the media was on their content, not the fate of the man who revealed them.  By choosing to take the illegal route, Manning ensured that any revelations from his leak would be mere footnotes in the story of the largest theft of classified data in history.

WikiLeaks itself, and Julian Assange, are the subjects of a grand jury investigation which Assange is convinced has already led to a sealed indictment against him.  He bases this belief solely on the contents of one private email written by an executive of the research company Stratfor, even though Stratfor admits its policy is to sometimes give contacts false info in order to see where that false info later turns up, a leak-detecting strategy they call the "Barium Meal." 

Assange was so eager to spread the story of the alleged sealed indictment that WikiLeaks published the email referring to it, along with thousands of others from Stratfor, despite the fact that they were not leaked at all, but stolen by hackers, and despite the fact that Stratfor is not a government agency, so revealing its secrets can't be justified under WikiLeaks' stated mission to "open governments" and show the public what's done in their name.

Assange's fear of a sealed US indictment is the reason he gives for refusing to submit to questioning in Sweden over accusations of sexual misconduct.  Because Sweden once, in 2001, repatriated two Egyptian terror suspects who were later tortured, Assange supporters claim Sweden has a "history" of cooperating with the USA in secret renditions for torture, and that this would be his fate if he went there.  The fact that this incident, one case eleven years ago, caused a huge scandal in Sweden resulting in payments of damages to the victims and changes in Swedish law meant to prevent any such thing ever happening again, and that President Obama signed an executive order ending the use of torture as an interrogation method, is brushed aside by Assange supporters as irrelevant.

Many commentators have pointed out that none of the other publishers who printed the stolen cables are worried about indictments against them, as the First Amendment protects publishers who merely print classified information that is given to them by sources, just as Rolling Stone published the classified version of Lt. Col. Davis's report without facing any charges.  These commentators assume Assange's fear of a US indictment is just a ruse, and that what he really fears is spending up to four years in prison if convicted of sex crimes.  His desperation to avoid this, going as far as taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, seems nonsensical, as his living conditions within the tiny embassy, sleeping on a mattress on the floor with no outdoor recreation, are actually more restrictive than they would be in Swedish prison.

However, just as Manning is not really a whistleblower who knew of specific crimes and reported them the only way he could, evidence indicates Assange may not really be an innocent publisher who did nothing more than print material, with no need to worry about a US indictment.  At Manning's pretrial hearing in December, prosecutors alleged that evidence recovered from his computer shows Assange collaborated with Manning in stealing the files, and that Assange even offered assistance in cracking an encrypted password to facilitate the theft.

This game-changing evidence was widely reported, yet the implications seem to have been largely ignored amid the complexities of Swedish extradition and US court martial proceedings.  Manning's trial will not take place until late fall or winter, but when it does, the evidence which was summarized at the pretrial hearing will be explored in full and judged on its merits.

While it's extremely unlikely there is a sealed indictment against Assange at the present time, grand juries can take over three years to make a decision, and given this new evidence it's likely there will be an indictment against Assange at some point.  Those who continue to support Assange even if he's accused of much more than innocent publishing can take comfort in knowing that an indictment means, by definition, Assange will face a standard civilian trial with due process and the usual agreements not to seek the death penalty as a condition of his extradition.  He will not face any of the extraordinary measures used in the war on terror, or any of the hardships of a military brig or court martial.

Supporters of Manning and Assange are fond of saying history will judge them, smugly certain the final analysis will be a tale of the unjust persecution of heroes.  Looking at the evidence and the choices made, it seems likely history will indeed applaud heroic truth-tellers from this era, but their names will be Davis and Rolling Stone, not Manning and WikiLeaks.


  1. "soldiers who discover wrongdoing actually have a lot of options to report it"

    Yup. That's what all the Iraqi women who have been raped by fellow soldiers have said: That reporting wrongdoing is really easy, there's never any repercussions, and the wrongdoer always gets punished.
    Do you even listen to yourself? You come off as a slightly-smarter Ann Coulter.

  2. Military Whistleblower Protection Act only protects you for releasing to congress... Where it would just be shuffled under the rug again, without the public (who's paying for it) ever knowing. It's cowardly of you to even use that excuse.

  3. ""Stratfor is not a government agency, so revealing its secrets can't be justified under WikiLeaks' stated mission to "open governments" ..""

    Wow, do you really swallow your own B.S. here? By your logic, all governments of the world could simply contract out anything "bad" to private companies, and then wikileaks would not be following through on their goal, because they are not part of the government.

    Such dishonest mental leaps you make. If the government pays for X, then X isn't part of the government's business? You can write, but you can't critically think.

  4. Commenting on a thread without even a nick is silly.

    Calling a person a coward who posts what they think while you hide is disingenuous.

    Creating hypotheticals to justify your viewpoint in the face of actual discourse about events is also absurd.

    This topic has specific points. Don't make up hypotheticals to refute it, come up with a thought process that reflects the conversation at hand. Anything else is a lack of critical thinking and easily logical fallacies.

  5. Here's the problem ... and I speak as someone who was a whistleblower in the DoD. While there is no "official" retaliation, the unofficial retaliation is *excruciating.* I went through channels ... and then proceeded to see our brigade commander perjure himself by saying that I had never reported anything to him -- despite him signing a letter that said he found no evidence in his enquiry. The enquiry by higher headquarters found *plenty* of evidence to support my report, but according to that asshole, I never even told him about it. Really? Then why did I have a letter. I was suspended for "failing to follow a dress code" that didn't exist. I was written up for telling the man who backed me into a corner and pawed me to get the fuck away from me ("for using inappropriate language in a professional context") while nothing was done to him despite there being eyewitnesses. When the second jerkwad retired, the brigade JAG officer tore up the file copy of my reprimand *in front of me* and said "this bullshit never happened. They were so busy wanting to get you on anything because you ratted them out that they didn't even care that you were sexually assaulted." Yeah, so much for that "a lot of options to report it" crap.

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  7. Thanks for the first unbiased summary I have EVER heard on this subject. Manning has not only put lives at risk, but wasted many lives sacrificed already by his actions. The "good intentions" by the creep Asanje - yes, I've called him a creep -look at his online dating profile, amazing it was removed from wikileaks! Censorship only for some, according to him, I guess.

  8. Joan Smith: Why do we buy Julian Assange's one-man psychodrama?

  9. From Sweden without love: Assange is no James Bond:

    November 7, 2011

  10. Wiki-Creep Assange, The Scamp
    Pvt. Bradley, the Champ

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

  11. I used to think the whole Wikileaks, Assange/Manning thing was just staged theatre, but the fact that you are trashing him makes me think they might be real whistleblowers exposing the criminal activities of the satanic freemason US Government. I know you have close relatives who are involved in masonry and other, shall we say, shady organizations, so your trashing of Assange and Manning gives them some street cred for me. I'm starting to think now that they might be for real.

  12. To summarize, the fact that you are against Assange and Manning makes me like them more, and causes me to rethink my skepticism about them.

  13. I'm adding a bunch of comments, because I discovered that you can enter a wrong number for the "captcha" things that are photos - you know the ones that are photos with a number? Those are photos of people's house address numbers, illegally taken by the Russian Jewish mafioso who run Google. I discovered that you can still login, even if you enter the wrong number. The result is that the Russian jewish mafia goons who run google now have wrong data in their criminal database about that house. So I'm going to add loads of comments to blogspot blogs, and enter the wrong number for each and every one. Neat little way to fuck up the jewish mafia scum criminals who run Google, namely Larry Page and Sergey brin, and throw a wrench into their little goon operation!

  14. Wow, Iran is such a nice country, free from jewish pornography and crime. Over there, they cut the right hand off of theives. child molesters are put to death. The result is that you can leave big wads of money or anything else sitting out,and you don't have to worry about it being stolen, and children can walk freely out of doors, without having to worry about some satanist goon raping and killing them. They are a lot freer there than we are here.


  16. I'm adding a new comment just for the sake of fucking up the jewish criminal vermin who run google, by entering a wrong number for the "captcha" thing. The evil verminous jewish trash at google use photos of people's addresses that their automated thing couldn't read, then when people enter the "captcha" thing for that photo of someone's private address that is none of the business of criminal jewish vermin, you can enter the wrong number, and fuck up satanist jew criminals. Stay armed folks, and fight the jewish scum!

  17. Oh, and btw, spread the word: ISRAEL DID 9-11