No Comment — February 25, 2011, 11:03 am

Justice Cranks Up Its Covert War on Whistleblowers

As noted previously, candidate Barack Obama promised to protect whistleblowers who come forward with information disclosing government waste, abuse, and inefficiency. Unfortunately, President Obama has done exactly the opposite. Obama’s real policies are exposed in documents filed in the prosecution of former CIA agent James Stirling.

According to federal prosecutors, Stirling was the source behind reports published by New York Times reporter James Risen (identified as “Author A” in its pleadings) that exposed a horribly botched, indeed hare-brained plot by the CIA designed to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program. In particular, one chapter in Risen’s book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, describes a CIA-authored scheme to use a Russian double agent to deliver to the Iranians a set of technical drawings that had been carefully doctored so as to be worthless. However, the double agent turned on the CIA in the end, disclosing the flaws that had been built into the design. The end result: the CIA operation had actually advanced Iran’s nuclear project. So what was the purpose of the strenuous U.S. government effort to punish Stirling for making it public? Justice contends that the disclosure harmed national security. But the decision to go after Sterling seems to have more to do with his violation of the intelligence community’s code of omertà, under which no agent ever speaks about another’s mistakes.

In a well-crafted discussion of the case, Josh Gerstein at Politico reports:

In a motion filed in federal court in Alexandria, Sterling’s defense lawyers, Ed MacMahon Jr. and Barry Pollack, reveal that the prosecution has turned over “various telephone records showing calls made by the author James Risen. It has provided three credit reports—Equifax, TransUnion and Experian—for Mr. Risen. It has produced Mr. Risen’s credit card and bank records and certain records of his airline travel.”

The revelation alarmed First Amendment advocates, particularly in light of Justice Department rules requiring the attorney general to sign off on subpoenas directed to members of the media and on requests for their phone records. And Risen told POLITICO that the disclosures, while not shocking, made him feel “like a target of spying.” “We’ve argued that I was a victim of harassment by the government. This seems to bolster that,” Risen said. “Maybe I should ask them what my credit score is.” Sterling’s attorneys and a Justice Department spokeswoman declined POLITICO’s request for comment…

Risen was twice subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury to testify about his sources, but the first grand jury dissolved before a judge acted on Risen’s motion to quash the subpoena. Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema sided with Risen and quashed the second subpoena, though details of her reasoning haven’t been made public.

Did the Justice Department circumvent the ruling of a federal judge and grab Risen’s records even after its subpoena had been quashed? That’s the way it looks. And that would be entirely consistent with the victory-at-all-costs mindset so prevalent these days at Justice.

What role did Eric Holder play in these escapades? During the 2008 presidential campaign, Holder repeated to audiences, including once in my hearing, that the Justice Department would tread lightly on the First Amendment rights of reporters. Subpoenas issued against reporters would need the attorney general’s approval, he pledged. So did Holder approve the Department’s secret seizure of Risen’s personal records?

The Justice Department is telling us that it has weighed the people’s right to know, embodied in the Constitution, against the right of senior CIA officials not to be embarrassed through the public disclosures of their mistakes, a right which has no legal basis whatsoever. Guess which “right” always comes out on top?

Glenn Greenwald has a good take on the same developments here.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

June 2015

Loitering With Intent

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Polite Coup

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Findings

What Went Wrong

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Shooting Down Man the Hunter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Legends of the Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“A bond with reality has gone, and sometimes you wonder whether that fosters our feeling that movies are a fleeting art.”
Photograph by Alexander Perrelli
Article
What Went Wrong·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In the seventh year of his presidency, Barack Obama was presenting himself as a politician who followed the path of least resistance. This is a disturbing confession.”
Photograph by Pete Souza
Article
Surviving a Failed Pregnancy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If this woman — who spent her days studying gray screens for early signs of gestation — could not see my pregnancy, what were the chances that anyone else would?”
Illustration by Leigh Wells
Article
Interesting Facts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“My husband is forty-six. I am forty-five. He does not think that, in my forties, after cancer, chemotherapy, and chemically induced menopause, I can get pregnant again, but sisters, I know my womb. It’s proven.”
Photograph by McNair Evans
Post
Kid Chocolate’s Place·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Cuban eyes often look close to tears.”
Illustration by the author

Length in days of the sentence Russian blogger Alexei Navalny served for leading an opposition rally last year:

15

Israeli researchers developed software that evaluates the depression of bloggers.

It was revealed that reading material recovered during the U.S. raid of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan included Popular Science, Time, silk-screening instructions, and a suicide-prevention manual called “Is It the Heart You Are Asking?”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today