Watching and listening to Rep. Trey Gowdy during last week’s House Intelligence Committee hearing with FBI Director James Comey and NSC Director Mike Rogers was deja vu for those of us old enough to remember Joseph McCarthy’s use of the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917.
With stern face and the determined voice of a righteous prosecutor Gowdy shifted the focus of the hearing away from the question of outside foreign interference in the election process to the leaks coming from inside the intelligence community itself, and the need to find and prosecute the leakers under the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917. A breach of secrecy of classified material is punishable by as much as 10 year prison sentence.
A google search led to an article by a whistleblower published by The Guardian criticizing the Obama Administration with prosecuting whistleblowers while turning a blind eye to leaks of classified material by members of the Administration itself. Click “Obama’s abuse of the Espionage Act is modern-day McCarthyism” for The Guardian story from 2013 that moves the conversation beyond partisanship to the issue of the national security state and the new McCarthyism.
McCarthyism began with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s conviction that the communists had infiltrated the federal government as well as the left-leaning entertainment industry and the media. He was looking for spies and traitors, American citizens whose nefarious purposes posed the greatest threat to the United States of America.
Twenty years later, Daniel Ellsberg was charged under the Espionage Act of 1917 and charges of conspiracy and theft for “leaking” to the New York Times what became known as the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Pentagon study of U.S. government decision-making in relation to the Vietnam War, a crime with a total maximum sentence of 115 years. On May 11, 1973, the judge in the case dismissed all charges on the grounds of government misconduct and illegal evidence gathering.
What we had then, and what have now, is an ethical issue of the first order.
Are there times when a government employee’s loyalty to the U.S. Constitution and and the duty of conscience supersedes the vow of secrecy under which she works? Are whistleblowers traitors? Patriots? Or something in between?
“Sometimes the scandal is not what law was broken, but what the law allows.” – Edward Snowden [quoted from Brainyquotes.com]
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 25, 2017.
I imagine in every age there are whistleblowers, and then there are whistleblowers. I supported Snowden at first, when it was possible to believe that he was interested only in unmasking some of the things that really never needed to be masked — things that should be seen in any government promising the greatest possible degree of transparency. It has since become obvious that he is providing the Russian government with things that should definitely have remained secret. Of course he may have been using these bits of information to “pay” the Russians for not extraditing him.
But there are a number of true whistleblowers that are being treated terribly for acting in the only way a person of honor and morality could act, witnessing waste or even malfeasance in high places. In some cases there has been an effort to use “channels”, frequently followed by reprisals. I think the person who realized the possible threat posed by the Middle Eastern men learning to fly planes but seeming disinterested in how to land them was demoted or fired. There are others that have uncovered waste or danger — wish I were better at remembering them. I know I have signed petitions on behalf of a number.
As always, a thoughtful reflection. Thank you!