There are countless uncertainties about what will happen after Inauguration Day, but -- no matter what -- we’re going to need whistleblowers during the next presidential term.
With that reality in mind, we asked NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake to share his thoughts about the need for future truth-tellers within the U.S. government. The new essay below is Tom’s response.
His work continues as chair of the Whistleblowers Public Education Campaign. “I again thank you for your generosity and support,” Tom says, “as I continue to speak out for the rights of all.”
As the end of 2020 nears, we want to invite you to make a tax-deductible donation so that Tom’s vital work can continue.
His experience as a whistleblower at a very high level of the National Security Agency now makes possible his authoritative, ongoing call for whistleblowing. Tom definitely knows what’s involved. More than a decade ago, when he challenged the Orwellian boondoggle of mass surveillance being foisted on this nation and the world, there was hell to pay.
Tom paid with years of harassment, threats and prosecution that could have put him in prison for the rest of his life.
Whether or not the rare whistleblowers at places like the NSA go to prison, a key official goal is to drive them close to the poverty line for the rest of their lives, deprived of pensions and rendered unemployable for all but low-paid jobs.
If you click here to support Thomas Drake as an NSA whistleblower who continues to speak truth to -- and about -- power, you can make a tax-deductible contribution. Whatever you can afford would be deeply appreciated. Half of every dollar you donate will go directly to Tom, while the other half will support the Whistleblowers Public Education Campaign.
When Tom sent his latest essay along to us here at the RootsAction Education Fund, he included a note underscoring that the problems faced by “national security” whistleblowers are bipartisan. “People seem to forget,” he wrote, “just how malicious and vindictive the Obama-Biden Administration really and truly was against whistleblowers for eight years -- and Trump then took it to the next level.”
Overall, Tom added, “whistleblowing holds up not only a mirror to the hypocrisy of power, but also the abuse of power.”
From Thomas Drake:
It’s important to provide ourselves a bit of time to look backward (as well as looking forward) for lessons learned. So my focus here is at least providing some measure of perspective and casting some light on the Trump Administration these past almost four years, with a look to the future and what we face together. We are also entering what is clearly a dark winter of the COVID-19 pandemic as it only gets worse and is not going away anytime soon, with all the stress and fractures plus economic and social upheavals wracking the landscape.
With all the dissonance, disinformation and propaganda, it is easy to come down with cognitive election fatigue. Even I sometimes find myself viewing the world around me with an increasingly jaundiced eye. Yet there is a whole lot at risk with respect to U.S. democracy (or what is left of it) when considering the past four years. The stakes we face as a nation going forward, during the transition period after the election and then after the inauguration as a people, are quite stark and unsettling while a pandemic rages all around us. And I cannot remain on the sidelines, suffering in my own silence and solace while social distancing, too!
Some say that democracy is the worst form of government, save for other forms of governance that were tried and found wanting. And yet there are bipartisan forces across the political spectrum seeking to undermine what is left of U.S. democracy for the sake of raw power and replacing it with various forms of “soft tyranny” and social control that utterly violate the Oath I took four times to support and defend the U.S. Constitution.
In the run-up to the election, Trump was even signaling a clear unwillingness to accept a peaceful transition of power and even threatened his own uniquely Americanized version of a palace coup against the Constitution just to remain in power.
So, I have a warning to America and for We the People. The United States is entering a politically unstable period.
What happens when multi-level conspiracy theories run amok and turn into hive mind-meld follower groupies looking for simple answers and strong-arm methods -- fed by tribalism, gaslighting, egoism, “enemy” labels enabled by blame projection, outright propaganda and disunity to divide and incite us?
If you look back on the past four years, Trump didn’t so much drain the swamp as he filled it with grifters gaining access to the government for ill-gotten profit, with under the table cons and deals, rank political influence and brazen Trump-branded endorsements that have drained the U.S. Treasury into Trump family-backed pockets and syndicate interests. He just stripped the veneer of the political sausage-making away, revealing how it is really made for all to see.
But the corruption of our government is not something that emerged over the past four years, even if Trump took it to a new level. The corruption is endemic with example after example from the front-page news across all strata of America -- from California to Connecticut, Texas to Maine, and Florida to Alaska.
In other words, the U.S. flag is flying upside down and the country is under severe duress and experiencing distress. What will remain of the Constitutional Republic, if we can't keep it, and all that’s left behind are its hollow remains, waiting for future anthropologists and sociologists to explain what happened?
When leaders lie, people and democracy die. And casting all illusions and delusions aside, the U.S. has no inherent immunity to the dustbins of history as all empires die -- indebted and done in by their own lies. Why? Incipient fascism of Pox Amerika is on the rise, bookended by Trumpian-like personality cult-style autocratic nationalism and dual government neocon and neoliberal national security power that is bipartisan in nature -- as the needs of We as the People and the general welfare are sacrificed for the needs of the few and the craven 1%.
American democracy is suffocating in full view for all to see on the world stage as political theater expressing itself through insults, name-calling, ad hominem hate attacks, rage ring projection, chaos and gaslighting of the public commons we usually call civil society.
When the power and privilege of might take primacy over liberty and freedom of our rights -- the slide into the deep abyss of Gov Inc. techno-autocracy eats through the guardrails of any democracy like acid -- unless enough people take clear-eyed stands, or we end up just simply watching from the sidelines in a mass spectator sport where civil society devolves and disbands into nightmare dystopian wastelands.
Power does not yield willingly -- especially when abused. We increasingly live in a post 9/11 world drifting toward autocracy and raw power controlling politics and people under cover of unitary exceptionalism. And yet some of us warned America years ago as the reality of the Bush and then the enhanced Obama national security state took hold with the increasing rise of a dystopian Amerika.
That future is now here. Will we blink, bury ourselves collectively in the sand or wake up before it’s too late? What we face is a wake-up call for all of America as we stand at the precipice ready to just push democracy off the cliff of history and watch it crash and burn. Or can we find some measure of unity as a people with common interests and goals together?
Truths wrapped by a bodyguard of lies are only freed when the lies are cast aside to expose the truths hidden behind the lies that die by pulling on the thread of truth over time to unravel the lies that bind.
Presenting propaganda from both sides of the de facto bipartisan political establishment as two sides of the same coin is a timeworn way to keep us distracted with convenient myths and through the rose-colored mists of history, while projecting onto externalities for all the woes we are experiencing as a self-fulfilling excuse to not really take care of the general welfare and We the People.
And so we are seeing tribal-fueled extremes across the political and social spectrum blaming either external “foreign” forces deep inside the U.S. or internal “deep state” forces -- as some kind of super agent “provocateurs” bringing down the U.S. from within or without through cancel culture movements and conspiracy-driven memes against the Other.
There are also those who want to change libel law so government (or anybody) can sue press (or anybody else) to silence and suppress their voice and their agency. These attacks on the First Amendment are also a direct threat from autocratic pathocrats who only want image and propaganda spoon-fed to masses without dissent or question as substitutes for truth and debate.
There is a deepening crisis in U.S. democracy as the drift toward authoritarianism accelerates. Trump acted like a pied piper cheerleader during his Administration abandoning all pretense of preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution -- going autocratic and figuring enough people wouldn’t care and would continue to see the drama as entertainment, while he and his cronies tromped all over the Constitution.
And so, history and Hannah Arendt are screaming in my ears where civic truth is utterly obliterated by the manipulation of reality for its own craven ends and the emerging face of a post facto proto-fascism is the gloried escape from prevailing winds of reality and creating the Big Lies that doubt all facts. In other words, the U.S. is approaching an historical event horizon.
But the U.S. is losing civility through the acid of neoliberal and neocon dyspepsia eroding the nation’s soul. Words and actions do matter. What kind of future do We the People want to keep? We will know more during the interregnum between 3 November 2020 and 20 January 2021.
The press also needs to wake up even more. Take it from me. Only the State can use or abuse the power to prosecute and imprison a person. Any media anywhere who publish anything from any source that State power and authority want to censor and suppress are increasingly at risk anytime. There’s no public interest or necessity defense for anyone charged or sentenced under the draconian U.S. Espionage Act or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for disclosing or publishing unlawful and illegal acts by the State -- or protected information State power wishes to keep secret -- as both are strict liability statutes.
The “sacred” stamp of “classified” or the label of National Defense Information is too often used as a convenient fig leaf foil to protect and weaponize secrets that State power and national security wish to keep hidden behind their own shades and deep shadows -- or use against those who dare to publish or speak inconvenient truths about the Secrets of State.
In this toxic environment, only radical truth and transparency can immunize propaganda’s influence and manipulation upon society promoting and projecting the seductive call of the Big Lie -- as an amoral pillar of the State designed to merchandise True Believers and subject followers sliding down rabbit holes filled with lemmings. These mouthpieces of mendacity spread their toxic fumes of abusive power that control and twist lives by occupying people’s agency and making them co-dependent.
So, can we rise above our own debased human condition? Or do we fall deeper into the abyss and quagmire of conflict, division and hate -- as our collective fate? A few of us whistleblowers raised our voices years ago from the wilderness yet were met with deaf ears about the chilling reality when journalists and media outlets end up criminally threatened and targeted by the government for publishing anything protected by that First Amendment that executive power wants to silence and suppress as Trump continues to call out his foes and the press as the enemy of the people.
The government attempted to eliminate and strip me of any First Amendment rights or protections as a whistleblower due to Espionage Act liability as a “spy.” The government also threatened to haul the reporter of record into court as the only eyewitness to my “crime” and alleged that the reporter aided me as a witting accessory to my national security “crimes” against the State.
Whistleblowers are often some of the most reviled, misused and abused people on the planet. They are burned on the stake of national security, declared Insider Threats, Enemies of the State, caricatured and persona non grata’ed from organizations and society. Many are imprisoned or have their life, lives and livelihoods canceled or snuffed out.
Using whistleblowers as foils or cover to score points, treat as punching bags, turn into scapegoats, make them criminal examples or grift off them avoids substance of their public interest disclosures and price they paid to expose the wrongdoing or harm.
In addition, State Secrets kept hidden by the government in the name of National Security to protect the lies are usually the secrets worth knowing in the public interest -- yet betray the public trust when kept secret. The protected lie of a State Secret once revealed to the public is inversely proportional to the government treating the disclosure as a Crime against the State.
And so the critical need for whistleblowers holding up the mirror to the abuse of government and corporate power is more vital than ever.
And yes, hope still does lie at the bottom of the proverbial Pandora’s Box -- no matter how deep it goes or how bad it gets -- because hope is still a very good thing!
I certainly appreciate all your support in continuing and sustaining my work centered on educational outreach and informing the public. When you lose just everything around you and only have your integrity left, building your life from the remains left by the government and surviving intact is not easy. And this work must go on as we face daunting challenges as a people.
Do we still have enough character left to restore at least some of the rights and freedoms and liberties we have lost and seen eroded over the years? We don’t want whistleblowers turning into a hunted-down subspecies (along with journalists) or going into the wilderness of silence where nobody can hear them because power can’t stand exposure or the sunshine of disclosures that help disinfect and repair the abuse of power.
And it is not just 2020 hindsight that we need. We also need the 2020 foresight to ward off the wrongdoing and misdeeds of those in power while holding them to account, too!
Thank you in advance for your support and please take care of yourselves and each other, while remaining safe and free!
PS from the RootsAction Education Fund team:
Truth-telling can be inspirational. Another NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, has said: “If there hadn’t been a Thomas Drake, there couldn’t have been an Edward Snowden.”
Meanwhile, Tom Drake remains deeply in financial debt. Ironically, we are in his debt -- morally, politically and ethically. We owe him so much because he stood up for civil liberties and human decency.
Let’s continue to help repay that debt to Tom Drake, who exposed extreme mass surveillance by the NSA.
Living in what is supposed to be a democracy, we get vital information because of the courage of whistleblowers.
Tom Drake has no intention of going silent. He wants to keep writing, traveling and speaking out. But he needs our help.
Please make a tax-deductible contribution in support of his work.
Please share on Facebook and Twitter.
>> Jane Mayer, The New Yorker: Thomas Drake -- "The Secret Sharer"
>> Daily Beast: “U.S. Intelligence Shuts Down Damning Report on Whistleblower Retaliation”
>> Thomas Drake and other whistleblowers at Cato Institute forum: “The NSA & the Road to 9/11: Lessons Learned & Unlearned”
>> Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Former NSA Executive Urges Public Vigilance Against Government Overreach”
>> “The Constitution and Conscience: NSA’s Thomas Drake”: Video of speech
>> The Washington Times: “Donald Trump on Edward Snowden: Kill the ‘Traitor’”
>> Jesselyn Radack, The New York Times: “Whistleblowers Deserve Protection Not Prison”