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Leakers are essential to honest government


I rise today in support of leakers.

Here’s to Daniel Ellsberg, a former Marine who was working as a private-sector military analyst  in 1971 when he leaked the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret study on U.S. activities in Vietnam dating back to the Truman administration. It revealed a decades-long history of lies to the American public by both military and civilian leaders, including their denials at the time of bombing raids beyond Vietnam’s borders.

The 7,000-page document could not be smuggled out on a thumb drive in 1971. It took Ellsberg several weeks to sneak the pages out and duplicate them on a Xerox machine. He faced up to 115 years in prison for doing so, and the Nixon administration went to court seeking to block publication. But in the end, the truth came out.

Here’s to Edward Snowden, a computer intelligence consultant who was working as a subcontractor for the CIA in 2013 when he disclosed that the government was, in fact, collecting data on Americans, contrary to a denial under oath to Congress by National Intelligence Director James Clapper. Snowden was charged with violations of the Espionage Clause in 2013. In 2020 the mass surveillance system he exposed was ruled to be illegal by the federal court.

Here’s to Mark Felt, the former associate director of the FBI who advised reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to “follow the money” in the days after the break-in at the Watergate Hotel.

Here’s to Katherine Mitchell, who exposed VA incompetence and coverups while veterans died waiting for care; Linda Tripp, who advised Monica Lewinski to save that blue dress; Frank Serpico, who exposed corruption in the New York City Police Department and was later portrayed by Al Pacino; and Karen Silkwood, who exposed dangers at the plutonium plant where she worked and was later portrayed by Meryl Streep.

Here’s to everyone who has risked their career, and sometimes their freedom, to shed light on government lies and corruption.

Last week, it was reported that the FBI had seized the records of Congressmen Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell in an effort to learn who was providing accurate information to the media regarding the Trump administration’s dealing with Russia.

Former Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bob Barr both denied knowledge of the operation, as did Assistant AG Rod Resenstein. We’re to believe a mid-level functionary had final approval on the decision to spy on Congress.

These revelations came days after we learned that the FBI had also collected data from reporters at CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times, for the same purpose. The reporting that prompted these surveillance abuses may have been embarrassing and politically damaging to the Trump administration, but it did not compromise national security.

And, this isn’t just a Trump problem.

The Obama administration prosecuted three times as many cases targeting whistle-blowers and leakers than all other presidents combined. It also abused surveillance powers, spending months going through the records of Associated Press reporters and editors in an effort to plug leaks. And, it set a new record for denial of documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

One of the few things Trump and Obama would seem to agree on is their love of secrecy and disdain for those in government who shed light on areas they wish to be kept dark.

This can’t be fixed by simply electing new leaders. Congress needs to rein in the ability of any administration to use the FBI as a weapon against them and the free press.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com

Walt Rubel