Whistleblowers in the Wind

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"We’ve got to be careful as to when to cut his nuts off…"

~ Al Haig to Richard Nixon, discussing FBI
Deputy Director W. Mark Felt in 1973

Whistleblowers in government can learn one thing from the current interest story about former FBI Deputy Director W. Mark Felt. The U.S. government and government-dependent media response is timeless and utterly formulaic.

Predictably, whether under Nixon, Clinton or Bush, those who blow whistles and raise concerns will be attacked and discredited with a degree of personal viciousness reserved specifically for those who challenge the mythology of White House and federal beneficence.

"When do we emasculate this guy?" asked Al Haig, and he and Nixon certainly gave it some thought. Knives were sharpened, strategies conceived. Thirty years later, the occupant of the White House might disassemble on the subject of publicly and privately destroying truthtellers, saying "Just doing the work of the people, for liberty and freedom."

During the Clinton era, Linda Tripp was thoroughly demonized by the White House and its media allies, but as far as we know, she had no physical features that could be "cut off" as punishment for revealing an ugly truth about the American "leadership." Lucky for her!

And we’ll never know exactly why Clinton friend and Whitewater confidant Vince Foster felt like shooting himself in the head, and then going to the park — or did I get that backwards?

The evolution continues. Grandly Nixonian without the redeeming remnants of a Quaker upbringing and well behaved daughters, the Bush administration has created a whole new standard for the treatment of those who whistleblow or criticize.

You know the stories. Here’s a sampling from the national security arena.

Sibel Edmonds spoke out about FBI incompetence and possible collusion in advance of 9-11. She has been and continues to be legally gagged and verbally abused by the FBI, the Justice Department, and the White House. Phoenix-like, she has responded to the dangerous leviathan by mobilizing hundreds of National Security Whistleblowers who are indeed having an important impact on the cowardly and corrupt Congress and the cowering tail-between-its-legs mainstream American media.

Joe Darby, Jim Massey and Sam Provance are three military men who spoke out last year against illegality and immorality in the Defense Department, particularly relating to atrocities conducted by American soldiers and contractors in Iraq. The atrocities they revealed were not only actual and factual, they were elaborated and expanded upon by the Pentagon’s own narrow and reluctant investigation and by outside investigators. In turn, these courageous and honest individuals have been continuously brutalized and degraded — emasculated if you will — by the Pentagon and the White House.

Joe Darby and Jim Massey were labeled as traitors and liars. Army Staff Sergeant Sam Provance, on the other hand, is still under military jurisdiction and is being brought up on charges. In effect, he is being punished for speaking up about the wrongdoing he witnessed at Abu Ghraib prison. Stay tuned for details on the government’s continued abuse of this brave soldier.

Speaking of Abu Ghraib, in lieu of addressing the U.S. institutional violation of domestic and international law in Iraq, Guantanamo, Afghanistan and elsewhere, selected service members were punished and publicly degraded at the hand of the Pentagon. Army Reservists, Private First Class Lynndie England and former General Janis Karpinski, were both effectively and publicly scapegoated to cover for systemic violations of law and ethics by the Pentagon, authorized at the highest echelons, possibly with the assistance of a foreign government.

While the American public wonders what it all means, key "team players" in the continuing U.S. military prison abuse saga, like Army Captain Carolyn A. Wood and many others above her, are not and will not be held accountable.

Karpinski was demoted, and illustrating the limitless creativity achievable by motivated bureaucrats, charged with shoplifting. Curiously, old information regarding a purported "shoplifting" incident was not a problem for Karpinski’s flag officer promotion board a few years earlier. Who are you going to believe, the government story or your own eyes?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a Groucho Marx comedy routine. This is exactly how the game is played.

The latest cases involve the Pentagon character assassinations and demotions of Air Force Judge Advocate Lieutenant General Thomas Fiscus and only last month, Army Lieutenant General John Riggs.

The interesting thing about both of these cases is that these competent, dedicated and honorable flag officers voiced their criticism within the Pentagon system — using the chain of command. In both cases, the result was Pentagon ostracism, the bringing of dubious military judicial charges, and demotions amid a blurry innuendo relating to administrative or sexual misconduct.

This week, some nice reporter asked Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld about the ability of truthtellers to safely and productively tell the truth in the Pentagon. Rumsfeld and his loyal pet Dick Myers answered in this way:

SEC. RUMSFELD: I still don’t want to be judgmental, but I also wouldn’t want to send the wrong signal to people in the Department of Defense. Anyone who sees wrongdoing has an obligation — who works for the United States government has an obligation to report that wrongdoing to the Department of Justice or to the proper authorities in the department. That is, I wouldn’t want to leave any ambiguity about that.

GEN. MYERS: Oh, it’s so easy to do today. I mean, you know, the number of hot lines — fraud, waste and abuse hot lines and other avenues —

SEC. RUMSFELD: Whistleblowers and —

GEN. MYERS: — whistleblower laws —

SEC. RUMSFELD: It’s an easy thing.

It may surprise you that I agree with the Rumsfeld on this point. It is an easy thing. I speak from personal experience. It doesn’t take exceptional courage or skill to do it. Telling the truth isn’t the difficult at all.

It is dealing with the incredible rage of the leviathan afterwards that whistleblowers worry about.

American philosopher Eric Hoffer noted, "You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you." The current administration’s treatment of whistleblowers and truthtellers is most enlightening, and should inspire confidence in those awaiting its inevitable collapse.

Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D., [send her mail] is a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley, and among other things, writes a bi-weekly column on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for militaryweek.com.

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