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The Espionage Act and the War on Whistleblowers

In History, The Revolution on July 30, 2013 at 11:13 PM
if you see something_war crimes

The image of Bradley Manning has become iconified as a symbol against criminal government secrecy.

Although Bradley (aka Breanna) Manning was found ‘not guilty’ of the worst offense of “aiding the enemy,” the young private was nevertheless found guilty of 7 out of 8 espionage charges (not to mention a number of lesser charges, including theft and computer fraud). Given the public outcry, numerous articles, and various organizational press releases pertaining to the government’s harsh penalization of whistleblowing, I’ve been intrigued by what has thus far received little attention from the press: the very meaning of espionage.

Undeniably, the charges used against Manning this month, some three years after his initial arrest, have become more important to the Amerikan people in the aftermath of the NSA scandals. However, the history of the legislation under which he and fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden have been charged has been poorly discussed. So has the fact that this law has been sparsely used since the end of the Vietnam War.  Sparsely used, that is, until President Obama.

Collateral Murder: This video of a 2007 airstrike in Baghdad against mostly unarmed civilians (published by Wikileaks in 2010) made Julian Assange’s news site famous while alerting millions around the world about the newest, video game-like predilections of war.

The “espionage” charges of which I allude to actually trace back to a piece of legislation passed nearly a century ago: the Espionage Act  of 1917 (currently under U.S.C. §794). Passed a few months after the united states’ entry into World War I, the Act builds upon the myths of the nation-state in penalizing anyone held to jeopardize “national defense.” It was based on an earlier Defense Secrets Act (1911), the British Official Secrets Act (1911, 1889),  and has its earliest roots in amerikkka’s Alien and Sedition Acts (1798). The Espionage Act also has, in its relatively short history, been utilized to persecute individuals who have strongly questioned or opposed military activities in a country that has perfected the art of “rationalized barbarism.” This, of course, included revolutionary socialists, communists, and anarchists, such as Eugene V. Debs (Socialist Party presidential candidate and co-founder of the Industrial Workers of the World), Victor Berger, Emma Goldman, and Alexander Berkman–all of whom protested the country’s participation in the first World War.  And following a bombing attributed to anarchists (the Palmer Raids supported by J. Edgar Hoover), the Act and a now-repealed amendment, the Sedition Act of 1918, was used to deport several hundred foreign-born residents, including Goldman and Berkman. Espionage was also the charge used to justify capital punishment for the Rosenbergs.

Since the 1950s, however, the Espionage Act was rarely ever used by government prosecutors (and even more rarely used in a successful conviction). In a case that has since drawn many parallels to Manning and Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo were charged with espionage for leaking classified military information they first examined in 1969. The Pentagon Papers, published as a front page article in the New York Times in 1971, detailed the Department of Defense’s involvement in Indochina during the Vietnam War, including previously unreported Marine Corps attacks and bombings in Cambodia and Laos. Fortunately for them, the two men were freed after a judge declared a mistrial given court “irregularities.”

Yet since the release of the Pentagon Papers, and perhaps because of the end of the Cold War, high-profile cases utilizing the Espionage Act have been less publicized. And for reasons that are not all-too-clear, we’ve seen, since Obama’s ascendancy in 2009, nine cases of espionage –more than under Bush, and perhaps more than any other president. (Two news sites, Slate and The Week, report that the Obama Administration has charged more people under the Act than all other presidents combined. This may be referring to charges against whistleblowers specifically, but does not seem to be true in general). Among those charged with espionage under Obama:

  • Thomas Drake, a former NSA senior executive who leaked to a Baltimore newspaper against the government waste within the agency’s use of the Trailblazer program.
  • Shamai Leibowitz, a contracted translator for the FBI who released information about a potential Israeli attack against Iran to a blogger.
  • Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a nuclear proliferation specialist working as a contractor for the State Department, charged with leaking information about North Korea to Fox News.
  • Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer charged with leaking information about Operation Merlin (an alleged, covert u.s. operation to provide Iran with a flawed design for building a nuclear  weapon) to a journalist.
  • John Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst who was charged for disclosing classified information connecting waterboarding to other CIA officials, particularly in the infamous interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.
  • Edward Snowden, the Booz Allen Hamilton contractor working for the NSA, was charged with espionage on June 14, 2013.

As can be noted in all of these cases–which also have little or nothing to do with an endangerment of Amerikans’ safety–the defendants were punished or harassed some time after leaking to a news agency. That is, not only have there been an unprecedented number of charges under the Espionage Act, but these charges were also distantly removed from what the legislation was originally intended to prosecute against: an infringement upon national security.

Of course, “national security” has been used to justify a panoply of governmental misdeeds, from border militarization to indiscriminate wiretapping. Should we be surprised that whistleblowing, surveillance, immigration, racial injustice, and “national security” were all significant news-making themes this summer? After all, the states of the world–amerikkka in particular–can only maintain their power through intricate, inter-meshed systems of governance that rely on information and knowledge production as much as (if not more than) military arsenal and weapons of mass destruction. And in trying to assess what is happening in our world, what source is more important for civilians than news media? After centuries of empire-building, the united states has acquired a considerable skill set in the art of manufacturing consent.

fahrenheit_451Although many parallels have been drawn with respect to Orwells’ 1984, there is another novel with dire, futuristic implications that is relevant here in the war against whistleblowers. In Ray Bradbury’s dystopian Fahrenheit 451, a fascist regime is able to maintain power by literally setting books–all books–on fire. It is a very simple, well-recognized fact: regimes of control depend most importantly on a regulation of knowledge. And in Bradbury’s grim future, civilians are coerced into obedience using various forms of shallow, technologically-based entertainment, created and deployed to sedate the masses away from critical reflection and engagement. This is not much different than what we see in contemporary amerikkka. Much ink–or, to use a more up-to-date example, ‘gigabyte storage’–has already been used in describing Amerikans’ lack of interest in world events or popular struggles. And there is indeed a correlation between this political apathy and comprehensive oppression through labor-based dehumanization and the ‘need’ to utilize mass technologies of distraction.

Whistleblowing is particularly dangerous in a heavily militarized, faux-republican state like the united states, where all sorts of war crimes need to occur without mass resistance. Whistleblowing is akin to giving books to the people of Bradbury’s world. It punctures the intricately fabricated world the elite have fabricated for the rest of us. And when the damage is beyond repair (as when Manning gave hundreds of thousands of documents to Wikileaks, or Snowden to the Guardian), seek to distract, vilify, or make examples of.  Should we be surprised that the masterful, rhetorical regime that is the Obama administration has been able to conduct atrocities under the aegis of national security–with the masses being none the wiser? Should we be surprised that Manning and Snowden have been vilified, turned into the pariahs of news chicanery at the expense of the actual issue of state violence against civilians? And who ingenuously believes that these two whistleblowers were actually attempting to aid an “enemy” (unless, that is, we interpret the state as considering us, the people, its ‘enemy’)?

Much like with the anti-war activism during World War I, the government is implementing ‘espionage’ to punish anyone who poses a threat to the growing war machine. If history has anything to teach us, it’s that the war against a ‘foreign’ threat is actually a war against something much closer to us than we realize. It’s a war against truth.

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Lest We Forget: Why I Still Can’t Support Obama

In Class Politics, Decolonization, Identity Politics, Racial Politics, The Revolution on July 26, 2013 at 8:30 AM

obama_souls_earching_bombing

In the aftermath of the Zimmerman acquittal, the several rallies and marches in cities across the country , and even an unexpected speech by President Obama that has gotten much praise by a liberal Left, many perspectives have arisen regarding the state of racial politics in today’s Amerikkka. Is it striking that the trial of a murdered, unarmed black teenager should cause such bitter reflection of the country’s dismal history? While I’m sure many argue to the contrary, I’m actually of the opinion that we haven’t done anywhere near enough to counter racial violence in this country.

Forget the rhetoric that things are at least ‘better’ than they used to be—such talk, even among liberals, simply minimizes the ever-present urgency faced by people of color, particularly black and indigenous communities, a half-century after the so-called civil rights era (nee black liberation struggle). Implicit in these optimistic conclusions of “betterment” is a subtextual belief in a linear historicity and movement towards “progress.” This allusion towards an improved prognosis for the country’s ills is remarkably resilient given the financial collapse in 2007-8 and the globe’s estimated movement towards climate catastrophe. It is, after all, optimism that helped propel Barack Obama, Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, to victory when he used public relations slogans of “Hope.”

To be clear, none of this is meant to suggest that room for optimism is impossible. Rather, it is meant to add to a minority throng of voices calling for imminent change—or else, suffer the consequences that threaten our species’ very livelihood. But I am skeptical. Very much so. It is definitely not a skepticism against those of us who have taken to the streets, who are doing what we must do in order to survive. It is, however, a skepticism pertaining to the prospect of true change before empire crumbles. It is a skepticism that emanates from seeing a liberal agenda being commodified and perverted under an accomodationist regime, purporting to be democratic while still calling undocumented immigrants “aliens” and corporations “citizens.”

It is a skepticism that emanates from listening to a Commander-in-Chief with a Nobel Peace Prize who’s green-lighted mass surveillance and drone warfare on innocent civilians. A skepticism of an African-descended leader who has failed to acknowledge the violence of “free trade” and militarized policing on people from indigenous communities and the global South. It is a skepticism, not a nihilism, that responds to this capitalist usurpation of Chicana activist Dolores Huertas’ “Sí Se Puede” with a “No, We Can’t”* (*that is, not unless we topple the corporatocracy that deforms our schools, poisons our food, profits from prisons, and raises our rents).

That a white-Latino vigilante with a gun could walk away, a free man, after shooting an unarmed black youth is testament to the state of our racialized world. Fact is, recent events notwithstanding, race has always been a part of the united states of amerikkka. Have we forgotten how race was/is a fiction imported by European colonizers, fortified under independent statehood, and used to legitimize inestimable genocides and atrocities that continue today? Undoubtedly, race today is a social reality that defines lived experience in Amerikkka, a factor that shapes and re-shapes how one is conditioned to see the world and sense of self. It is absolutely heart-wrenching to see black youth feeling threatened by the Zimmerman acquittal, knowing full well the implications of a ruling made by five white women and one presumed Latina in Florida: black lives don’t mean shit.

Obamashit

After hearing Obama’s impromptu speech to the nation last week, I was perturbed, not so much by the content of his speech, but by the popular response to it. Almost immediately the world of online social media was inundated with liberal cries of adulation for a president who, not too long ago, has been made culpable for such atrocities as: prolonging never-ending wars begun by Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan; the authorization of indefinite detention (NDAA) as well as the prolonged torture of prisoners in Guantanamo; and an inaction with respect to the criminalization of bankers and taking steps to end the troublesome trade liberalization policies wrecking global south economies. So although I see the significance of having a u.s. president acknowledge, at long last, the existence of racism and the limited opportunities faced by  youth of color, in effect criticizing the Zimmerman acquittal, any enthusiasm for this was tempered by an acknowledgment of the ongoing devastations throughout the globe for which he is directly complicit. In other words, I cannot be silent while racialized bodies elsewhere in the globe are being tortured, surveilled, and bombed. (I also can’t help but wonder: where are the “Never Forget” chants now?)

When it comes to the state of affairs for people of color on the streets and various communities across the country domestically, there has been no substantive change—with the possible exception of a somewhat more radicalized public. But I’m not holding my breath. After all, even while activists marched for Trayvon these past weeks (myself included), we’ve continued to see the same discourses of race repeat themselves—albeit with new examples, in a new year. Instead of Emmett Till, Rodney King,  Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, or Oscar Grant (not to mention the various black and POC trans- and cis- women and men we have not heard of), we have Trayvon as our martyr in what is a seemingly endless war against our colonizers. And the same, shamelessly naked expressions of racism online (facilitated by our anonymizing communications technologies) makes it certain that our challenges ahead will be Sisyphean in nature.

So as we grapple with how to “reform” racist laws in this country (as opposed to revolt), we will need to also confront an ever-growing threat that is impregnably tied to white supremacy. That is, what we’re witnessing is a configuration of violent institutions (the military, prison, and security-industrial complexes; academic institutions; popular media; and “food” manufacturers) merging in what is unmistakably the synthesis of a neoliberal imperial project. We are seeing an unprecedented level of market-driven mastery over human life, not to mention all forms of organic and ecological things, that has prompted ominous transformations in our climate. (Note: it is the united states of amerikkka that is at the forefront of this “progress.”)

And within this mastery lies an ideology of white supremacy that is internalized, largely unvoiced, complicit in an incredible tyranny of racialized bodies. And, as many have noted for far too long, (colorblind) racism in Amerikkka has evolved in sinister ways, becoming especially fine-tuned and strategic, invisible to the untrained eye, and like a tiny scalpel that has replaced a wooden bludgeon. As such, it is much deadlier.

***************************************************************

Just two months ago, Obama was heckled by an anti-war activist from CodePink, in opposition to his prolonged extension of Gitmo (and the ongoing torture of detainees) at Guantanomo Bay. This Democracy Now! clip also mentions his use of unmanned drones, I would take special note his concessionary language.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/3FaIMropdOM]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FaIMropdOM

Obama_yeswecan

Striking Back from Below and to the Left*: U.S. Spying Angers All of Latin America

In Geography/ Spatial Justice, History, Latin@ Politics, The Revolution on July 24, 2013 at 8:30 AM
CIA interventions_latin america_since world war II

CIA and military interventions in Latin America since World War II. Countries highlighted in red were targeted by the u.s. military; explosion symbols indicate where u.s. bombings occurred; and black tics reference where the us government executed assassination plots. See additional graphics below.

 

*”Below and to the left” refers to a quote from Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. For more on its meaning, click here.

This past month we have seen a number of showdowns between the united states and Latin America with respect to the issue of the former’s covert global surveillance. Interestingly, while mainstream u.s. media outlets have focused largely on the messenger (Snowden) as opposed to the actual message, countries like Brazil, Venezuela, and Bolivia have demonstrated a merciless anger towards the united states, including harsh words relayed at a Mercosur summit over a week ago. Ecuador’s Rafael Correa not only rejected a u.s. offer for monetary aid,  but he made a counter-offer to pay for the country’s much-needed human rights training.

Although we have gotten snippets of a Big Data state developing in the u.s. before (and certainly, many justifiable suspicions given the legacy of the FBI’s COINTEL program and secretive CIA operations), the leaked documents reveal an unprecedented surveillance that crosses national borders and infringes on the sovereignty of other nations–most particularly those of our South and Central American neighbors. As Greenwald put it, whereas the privacy of amerikkkan communications has been severely impugned, the rights of non-u.s. citizens are simply completely ignored. And as many people have pointed out, we are eerily headed in the direction of a transcontinental super-state with jaw-dropping technologies of manipulation and surveillance a la  Orwell’s 1984.

With respect to Latin America, three nations (Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia) have essentially, if not officially, been blacklisted by the amerikkkan government for accepting asylum requests from Edward Snowden. Bolivia’s Evo Morales, the first indigenous leader to become president in Latin America, had good reason to be furious at the united states and western europe for their blatantly patronizing behavior. Venezuelans are still stoked about a possible u.s.-directed plot that led to Hugo Chavez’s strange death. And from what we know about the NSA’s surveillance of countries outside the u.s., everyone is more or less pissed, including  the citizens and leaders of Brazil [the original O Globo article co-written by Glenn Greenwald] and the European Union. They may be more pissed, in fact, than many of amerikkka’s own citizens. (A Pew Research Center poll from last month indicated that 58% of American respondents were against spying on ‘ordinary citizens’–a majority, but a rather small one.)

Unfortunately, Latin Americans are not new to amerikkkan interventions. Since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, when the u.s. asserted a patronizing governorship over the Americas, all sorts of diplomacies and tactics have been used to develop an empire. CIA-directed coups toppled socialist and communist governments and fomented  mass violence and genocide in some states. (This obfuscation of history in amerikkka is intriguing, given how much u.s. imperialism and unilateral economic policies have essentially forced many Latin Americans to migrate north.)

Writing about the NSA scandal in Latin America, Benjami Dangl from Toward Freedom describes the extent of the aggressive spying:

“The [leaked NSA] articles pointed out that data collection bases were located in Bogota, Caracas, Mexico City and Panama City, with an additional station in Brasilia which was used to spy on foreign satellite communications. The NSA gathered military and security data in certain countries, and acquired information on the oil industry in Venezuela and energy sector in Mexico, both of which are largely under state control, beyond the reach of US corporations and investors.”

Given the complacency towards surveillance among Anglo- North Americans, the liberation of our diasporic peoples–angry still over the injustice of the Zimmerman acquittal–may just require the guidance of an indignant Latin America. As always, I’ll be looking South for revolutionary inspiration.

Galeano_quien es este asesino

Galeano, one of Latin America’s most preeminent historians and critic of U.S. imperialism, writes: “But who is this serial killer, who kills everything he touches? It occurs to me that we’ll need to put him in jail. But it turns out we can’t incarcerate him because he is a SYSTEM, a universal system of power that has turned the world into an asylum and slaughterhouse. We are governed by an invisible dictatorship.” [English translation my own]

U.S. Interventions in Latin America Since 1945

Bring Them Home: Plight of Undocumented Youth

In Decolonization, Educational Justice, Geography/ Spatial Justice, Latin@ Politics, Racial Politics, The Revolution on July 23, 2013 at 11:06 PM
educationnotdeportation

The various links between the school-to-prison pipeline and immigration policy are astounding. Rather than investing in our underfunded public schools, jurisdictions throughout the country have been putting money into building new prisons and expanding law enforcement agencies.

A group of undocumented Mexican-Americans decided to showcase the need for a humane immigration policy by making a trip to Mexico–and then trying to cross back into the united states.

The eight activists from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA)–dubbed the “Dream 8”–were almost sure to get arrested despite the applications they brought to re-enter the u.s. on humanitarian grounds. Yesterday, as they attempted to cross through a Border Patrol station by Nogales, Mexico, they were detained and sent to Arizona’s Florence Detention Center.

Although the youth from NIYA did not explicitly target the DREAM Act, I’m sure their courageous efforts resonate with many undocumented youth looking for an opportunity to “naturalize,” go to college, no longer live in fear. (The DREAM Act, first introduced to the Senate in 2001, would provide permanent residency to undocumented youth who grew up in the united states for an extended period and complete two years of college or military.)

Currently, after twelve years of activists and politicians fighting for approval of the DREAM Act, it seems as if some important congressional ground has been traversed. The DREAM Act was embedded in the  S. 744 Border (in)Security Act passed by the Senate last month (read more about S. 744 from my previous post). And after several debates within the House of Representatives, with strong pro-immigrant leadership from Chicago’s Luis Guitierrez (D-IL), Reps are now wrangling over whether undocumented immigrants who are not covered under the DREAM Act should receive amnesty.

For some activists, this has been an exciting as well as nerve-wracking period as immigrant amnesty seems, for the first time in a long while, possible. Others are cautious, wary of of the attached provisions and stipulations, or completely furious about the potential hazards immigration reform (as it exists right now) can unleash. I definitely fall in the latter group, fed up as I am with congressional-statist politics as well as the lethal implications of border militarization that congressional Republicans are demanding.

Lulu Martinez, an undocumented youth activist, discusses her decision to travel to Mexico:

Having worked around a number of immigrants’ rights campaigns in New York and Rhode Island, not to mention my steady passion May Day immigrant-labor solidarity, I usually have much to say about the politics of immigration to the united states. As the son of Latin American immigrants, having grown up in a large immigrant neighborhood in a multiracial metropolis, working for immigrant justice was intuitively appealing. And as a college student at Brown, I became involved with a group that worked on policy and legislation. I’ve since come to disdain electoral and statist politics, having been inspired by anarcho-communist activism, but I very much understand the impact of laws on peoples’ livelihoods.

Investigating immigration history and reading about these latest DREAMers, I’m also reminded of the fascinating politics that surround this bill.  Acknowledging this bill as dreadfully reformist,  a growing number of leftists are voicing an opposition to it for creating a stratification  of merit and arbitrating who has good “moral character.” By giving youth the option of becoming naturalized through military service, it essentially incentivizes matriculation into the country’s large war machine, particularly for youth with limited success in academics. And by selectively  deeming which undocumented youth are “worthy” of naturalization (i.e. those with good grades, with no criminal record, etc.), it also promotes a meritocratic myth that is simply harmful for youth trying to overcome life obstacles. Personally, I would be glad if the DREAM Act passed (it’s just common sense), but I would temper that optimism with an acknowledgment of those immigrant youth who are not eligible under the  arbitrary legislative measures. 

Once again, I am left sighing about the unfortunate state of immigration policy. It is one of the most conspicuous examples of how the state adjudicates who a belonging member “citizen,” who is in and who is out. Focusing the public’s attention on distracting issues, such as the question of who has a right to reside in this country, mainstream politics succeeds in diverting us from thinking about the more fundamental questions. Why, for instance, do we have borders? Why do we have countries, and why are millions of people immigrating to the u.s.? And why is it that we give special privileges to citizens, as opposed to acknowledging the humanity of every global civilian?

racist_xenophobic_patriotic_ad

Patriotic, nationalist fervor typically goes hand in hand with xenophobia. This flyer is truly fascinating, if misleading: whites were the original colonizers, the first “aliens” to steal land on Turtle Island.

Articles on the Dream 8:

Washington Post

Buzzfeed

Lizbeth Mateo:

no-nations-no-borders-and-no-gods-no-masters

My sentiments, exactly.

Study: High-Stakes Testing Increases Incarceration Rate

In Class Politics, Educational Justice, Racial Politics, The Revolution on July 16, 2013 at 3:15 PM

Diane Ravitch's blog

A new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research says that high-stakes testing leads to an increase in the incarceration rate.

Olesya Baker and Kevin Lang conclude that the use of high-stakes tests as a graduation requirement leads to a lower graduation rate and a higher incarceration rate.

Anthony Cody has an excellent column about this study here. As he puts it, “exit exams boost the school to prison pipeline.”

The recent NAEP Long Term Trend report showed almost no test score gains from 2008-2012, the era in which high-stakes tests were ubiquitous.

Please, someone, remind me why Congress and Secretary Duncan and President Obama and every governor and legislature is obsessed with testing. Is it confusion, incoherence, indifference, ignorance, or something else?

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