Friday, July 28, 2006

Subpoena Issued In NSA Leak Probe

The National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC) has issued a press release charging that the government has launched a "witchhunt" by serving a subpoena to Russell Tice to testify before a federal grand jury in connection with the NSA's secret surveillance program that included monitoring of American citizens without FISA oversight.

From the NSWBC press release:
On Wednesday, July 26, Russell Tice, former National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence analyst and a member of National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC), was approached outside his home by two FBI agents who served him with a subpoena to testify in front of a federal grand jury. NSWBC has obtained a copy of the subpoena issued for Mr. Tice’s testimony and is releasing it to the public for the first time. The subpoena directs Mr. Tice to appear before the jury on August 2, 2006 at 1:00 p.m. in the Eastern District of Virginia. Mr. Tice “will be asked to testify and answer questions concerning possible violations of federal criminal law." [To view the subpoena click here] (RIA note: The link in the press release goes to a pdf.)

In response to the subpoena, Mr. Tice issued the following statement: “This latest action by the government is designed only for one purpose: to ensure that people who witness criminal action being committed by the government are intimidated into remaining silent.” He continued: “To this date I have pursued all the appropriate channels to report unlawful and unconstitutional acts conducted [by the government] while I served as an intelligence officer with the NSA and DIA. It was with my oath as a US intelligence officer to protect and preserve the U.S. Constitution weighing heavy on my mind that I reported acts that I know to be unlawful and unconstitutional. The freedom of the American people cannot be protected when our constitutional liberties are ignored and our nation has decayed into a police state.”

I've criticized this administration's cavalier attitude and mindset toward civil liberties and oversight processes previously, both here, I believe, and certainly at my dormant blog (and in very strong terms, if I remember correctly). I also refuse to ignore history and the important role that whistleblowers have played in revealing abuses. However, I also think that there has been an excess of leaking to the press, and for purposes and reasons that are far from noble and selfless. (Important note: I'm not speaking directly to Tice's case here, since I don't know enough to specifically assess his circumstances and motives.)

Whistleblowers toe a very fine line, and thus so must we. Because they sometimes play an invaluable role in reining in out-of-bounds overreach on the part of government (or business, or whatever, for that matter), it's important we allow for reasonable benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, because of the often unknown nature of private motivations and agendas, we must also cast a skeptical eye, lest we enable and, in essence, deputize unelected, unaccountable (to voters), lower-level civil servants and general employees--who by definition may not have access to all information and context--to make major decisions on our behalf.

For this reason, I do not find it particularly inappropriate for a whistleblower, or anyone with whom he spoke, to have to answer questions before a grand jury or any other lawful investigative body. Whistleblowers, by definition, are trying to bring forth information into the light of public scrutiny, so that actions, policies and so forth can be openly scrutinized and judged. It seems no less reasonable to me that whistleblowers themselves be subject to the same sort of scrutiny, to ascertain their agendas and whether they did, in fact, follow all relevant procedures and exhaust all official avenues for airing their concerns before going to outside channels, most especially the press.
“What we are seeing here is a government desperate to cover up its criminal and unconstitutional conduct. They now are going beyond the usual retaliation against whistleblowers who courageously come forward to report cases of government fraud, waste, abuse, and in some cases such as this one, criminal actions. Their old tactics of intimidation, gag orders, and firing, have not stopped an unprecedented number of whistleblowers from coming forward and doing the right thing. Desperate to prevent the public’s right to know, they now are getting engaged in a witch hunt targeting these patriotic truth tellers.” stated Sibel Edmonds, the Director of National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.

Well, this is what I'd expect Edmonds to say. We, however, don't really know the truth of this--which, in fact, is somewhat dependent on whether it turns out that Tice's motivations were indeed at least substantially "pure," and whether he in fact followed all relevant procedures and processes but had his concerns dismissed out of hand.

(Those last few words are critical to me, by the way: If his concerns were received and evaluated seriously but he the process still didn't result in the his preferred outcome, that does not automatically justify his going to the NYT or any other external person or organization. Disagreement is not synonymous with bad faith, much less cover-up.)

In any case, examining Tice's role (and not just his, of course, but I'm focusing on him only because the press release about him is the catalyist for this post) is part of the process of examining the bigger picture to determine whether or not the public's interest has been served and whether or not "witch hunt" is appropriate terminology.

I've stayed away from commenting on Tice's original motivations and actions specifically because, as I made a point of noting several paragraphs back, I don't know enough to comment intelligently and fairly from an informed position. However, I do think it's entirely reasonable to judge and comment on his own words, as expressed in the NSWBC release:
...I reported acts that I know to be unlawful and unconstitutional.

Questions (serious, not snarky): Is Tice a lawyer, constitutional or otherwise, or distinguished scholar in these areas? Are most people in his position, or other positions which entail access to sensitive information? If not, how does he really "know"? It seems to me that people with distinguished credentials and years of experience in these areas have made compelling arguments in both ways, and often at odds with one another. It seems to me that we are now in the process of debating and adjudicating these issues. It seems to me that we have not yet settled this precisely yet (though we do know that we have some real problems to address and issues to solve.) So how can Tice "know"? Should he, or people like him, have the final word, on an ad hoc basis, in such a context as this?
The freedom of the American people cannot be protected when our constitutional liberties are ignored and our nation has decayed into a police state.

No one in his or her right mind could disagree that our freedoms are intrinsically tied to constitutional liberties (though of course there can be disagreement as to what those are). But the last part of Tice's sentence?

Oh, bullshit.

Yeah, you read me right: Double bullshit, with a whole assortment of other types of crap piled on top. There are many countries more oppressive to a great, greater or even massive degree than ours, and that's before you even get to actual police states.

I'm assuming that this is either hyperbole, simply meant to get our attention (or because Tice and his supporters really do think we're stupid) or stir the juices of journalists, or to express immense frustration and stress, which is certainly understandable.

On the other hand, if Tice and NSWBC actually believe this, then they're either delusional or so utterly ill-informed and tunnel-visioned about the state of the world, in the present and historically speaking, that it calls into question their competence to make judgments about almost anything, much less issues that touch upon either national security OR the constitution and civil liberties.

Which sorta bolsters the argument of those voices out there that've been criticizing the whistleblowers from the very start, don't you think?

Talk about cutting yourself off at your own knees... .