Sunday, July 25, 2010

On Whistle Blowers, Charles and Shirley Sherrod, and the Predominant National Security State -- Part I

From the title of this post, you can get an idea of why I've been away from blogging here for a while. I tried to put together something quickly in the midst of the Shirley Sherrod ginned up "controversy," but there was so much more going on and so much more that needed to be said. Even where to begin was problematical. But then I realized there was a common theme among issues swirling in the blogosphere and the mass media.

It starts with the concept of "Whistle Blowing."

What is it? Those who are either old enough or scholarly enough know who Daniel Ellsberg is, and they know he is a classic whistle-blower who released the Pentagon Papers to an eager (well...) New York Times back in the day, was hounded by Government (of which he had been a part) and the Shadow Government, and he was tried, though not convicted, of espionage and other crimes.

The Pentagon Papers that were at the center of all this revealed something that many people understood to be true in any case: the Government was strategically lying to the American people about (especially) the War in Vietnam, how it came to be, and how it was being pursued. The lies were non-stop, and they were deliberate.

The embarrassment to the Powers That Be cannot be underestimated. And this incident was intimately tied to Watergate. Among other things, the Watergate burglars had broken into the offices of Ellsberg's psychiatrist to gain whatever incriminating evidence the could of his purported madness. (This was a field of CYA pioneered by the Nazis and Stalinists when time was: opposition to the State was defined as "madness" and so opponents were dismissible on the grounds that they were Crazy; it's still in practice. It often works.)

Watergate was another big whistle-blower event, though what was actually going on is not necessarily what the Mythology of the Era would have us believe. Nixon was driven out of office to be sure, but not because of the intrepid reporting of Woodward and Bernstein and the dogged determination of Katherine Graham to get him -- for whatever personal and class reasons she felt obligated to follow.

Nevertheless, those two whistle-blower incidents -- one involving the release of classified documents to the New York Times, one involving intrepid reporting of leads and information coming from an anonymous (as it turned out, FBI) source -- have become iconic. Both of them severely damaged the Government's cover, and in the case of Nixon, the Government itself, in pursuit of "Truth, Justice, and the American Way."

Well. That's as may be.

After Watergate, the Government learned how to be much better at preserving, protecting and defending itself from the sticky fingers and prying eyes of the Unwashed Masses. Simultaneously with this inward protection, the Government put forth all sorts of "reforms" to protect whistle-blowers and to open its operations to public scrutiny. Reforms that have had some effect, to be sure, but to what object may be questioned.

For example, I've pointed out in other fora that whistle-blower protections have led to thousands of whistle-blower complaints and reports every year, every one of which has to be investigated, and many of which are the result of personal animosities and issues, charges of unfair employment practices, charges of sexual harassment, or self-righteous indignation at... something, just what isn't always clear.

I know this because I had to deal directly or indirectly with some of these cases while I was a Federal employee.

Very, very rarely is there an internal whistle-blower case that is actually one that merits the kinds of protections that are assumed to be provided to whistle-blowers who are revealing the illegal acts and misdeeds of Government officials -- in the manner of Watergate, et al.

No, that's not what goes on. Not for the most part. And when there are legitimate reports or complaints of high-level misconduct -- which does happen from time to time -- there is (or was) generally some kind of action, including dismissal, indictment, trial, or what have you. But the misconduct that gets the whistle blown internally is usually minor or non-existent.

The argument that Government operates too much in secret is true and false simultaneously. Government is widely open to scrutiny, though conducting that scrutiny can be difficult because the operations of Government are typically so complex, layered and documented to a fare-thee-well.

On the other hand, there are layered secrets, and to an increasing extent, there is a Secret Government that operates almost entirely outside the public view. In addition, there is a growing private contractor sector that operates in concert with the Secret Security State Government. All of this is nearly impenetrable -- except to the extent this Secret State chooses to be open with the public.

The private sector, especially the large scale transnational corporate sector, is so intimately integrated with the higher levels of the Government of the United States that they are nearly indistinguishable (viz: the Gulf Oil Disaster). At those levels, it is often difficult or impossible to obtain accurate and/or truthful information.

Just so with the Government's warmaking operations. Lies are their stock in trade, and because rational people are rightly scared to death of that warmaking being turned on them, it is typical for the lies of our warmakers to be accepted (at least superficially) without question. At least the first time around.

And the Government has learned the value of Strategic Leaks and Pseudo-Whistle Blowing. It has become so adept at strategic leaks that I tend to discount almost everything that is promoted in the mainstream (and parts of the non-mainstream as well) as a "whistle blowing leak". There's just too much false information in the system. Too many incentives to shape perceptions. Too many opportunities to control the message by any means necessary.

In other words, Government whistle-blowing is not what it is made out to be; and just as a side note, Government employees are encouraged to report waste, fraud, abuse, and illegal activities; they are protected while investigations are under way, and if wrongdoing in revealed, it is generally, though not always, corrected and if there is illegality involved, prosecutions are likely. The Federal Government is 1) full of snitches; 2) highly Puritanical by nature. And the first objective of Government is self-preservation. It has the Institutional wherewithal to secure its survival.

Of course there are those who assert that Government is by nature criminal, and as such, a close eye must be kept on its operations at all levels and at all times. I've often wondered who is supposed to be keeping this "eye" on the criminal Government. The answer, when there is one, is the "Media" -- in the broadest sense. The idea being that if the Media is "doing its job" there will be plenty of Ellsbergs and Deep Throats and what not, and the secrets of Government will be exposed to the disinfecting light of day.

Nonsense. That isn't how it works. The major mass media are effectively Public Relations arms of the Government -- or rather, of factions within the Government -- and it is very rare that they will reveal secrets that will in any way jeopardize the cozy relationships between Government and the Media, or that they would do anything that would seriously jeopardize the security and survival of the Government itself.

What seems unclear to those who advocate the kind of whistle-blowing that was done in the '70's it was a very rare set of circumstances, and what happened was highly unusual. Because it was a threat to the security and survival of the Government itself, procedures and practices were instituted that were designed to ensure that kind of whistle-blowing threat never happened again.

That's part of why I am so skeptical of the WikiLeaks parade. There is not much "there" there in the WikiLeaks leaks, for one thing. Certainly nothing comparable to the Pentagon Papers and what they revealed. The fact that the Pentagon immediately verified the authenticity of the "Collateral Murder" video and that it went on immediate heavy rotation on all the news channels was a tip off to me that this thing was not what it appeared to be. It was, I thought, and still think, more likely a Honey Trap to lure would-be leakers so that they could be more easily hunted down, much as I tend to think Adrian Lamo was being used in his eventual bagging of Bradley Manning.

Those who are so certain that WikiLeaks is not what I suspect it is seem to have a very heavy investment in the notion that WikiLeaks is on the up and up. They seem to have a desperate need for something like WikiLeaks to feed them the Truth. They don't seem to know -- or to want to know -- that Government is not going to permit leaks and whistle blowing that jeopardize the internal ability of the Government to survive, and they don't seem to understand how pervasive is Government's use of strategic leaks to further its own agenda, even though they chatter about it all the time.

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