The Personal Side of Taking on the NSA: Emerging Smears
Distractions about my past and personal life have emerged – an inevitable side effect for those who challenge the US government
When I made the choice to report aggressively on top-secret NSA programs, I knew that I would inevitably be the target of all sorts of personal attacks and smears. You don't challenge the most powerful state on earth and expect to do so without being attacked. As a superb Guardian editorial noted today: "Those who leak official information will often be denounced, prosecuted or smeared. The more serious the leak, the fiercer the pursuit and the greater the punishment."
One of the greatest honors I've had in my years of writing about politics is the opportunity to work with and befriend my long-time political hero, Daniel Ellsberg. I never quite understood why the Nixon administration, in response to his release of the Pentagon Papers, would want to break into the office of Ellsberg's psychoanalyst and steal his files. That always seemed like a non sequitur to me: how would disclosing Ellsberg's most private thoughts and psychosexual assessments discredit the revelations of the Pentagon Papers?
When I asked Ellsberg about that several years ago, he explained that the state uses those tactics against anyone who dissents from or challenges it simply to distract from the revelations and personally smear the person with whatever they can find to make people uncomfortable with the disclosures.
So I've been fully expecting those kinds of attacks since I began my work on these NSA leaks. The recent journalist-led "debate" about whether I should be prosecuted for my reporting on these stories was precisely the sort of thing I knew was coming.
As a result, I was not particularly surprised when I received an email last night from a reporter at the New York Daily News informing me that he had been "reviewing some old lawsuits" in which I was involved – "old" as in: more than a decade ago – and that "the paper wants to do a story on this for tomorrow". He asked that I call him right away to discuss this, apologizing for the very small window he gave me to comment.
Upon calling him, I learned that he had somehow discovered two events from my past. The first was my 2002-04 participation in a multi-member LLC that had an interest in numerous businesses, including the distribution of adult videos. I was bought out of that company by my partners roughly nine years ago.
The lawsuit he referenced was one where the LLC had sued a video producer in (I believe) 2002 after the producer reneged on a profit-sharing contract. In response, that producer fabricated abusive and ugly emails he claimed were from me – they were not – in order to support his allegation that I had bullied him into entering into that contract and he should therefore be relieved from adhering to it. Once our company threatened to retain a forensic expert to prove that the emails were forgeries, the producer quickly settled the case by paying some substantial portion of what was owed, and granting the LLC the rights to use whatever it had obtained when consulting with him to start its own competing business.
The second item the reporter had somehow obtained was one showing an unpaid liability to the IRS stemming, it appears, from some of the last years of my law practice. I've always filed all of my tax returns and there's no issue of tax evasion or fraud. It's just back taxes for which my lawyers have been working to reach a payment agreement with the IRS.
Just today, a New York Times reporter emailed me to ask about the IRS back payments. And the reporter from the Daily News sent another email asking about a student loan judgment which was in default over a decade ago and is now covered by a payment plan agreement.
So that's the big discovery: a corporate interest in adult videos (something the LLC shared with almost every hotel chain), fabricated emails, and some back taxes and other debt.
I'm 46 years old and, like most people, have lived a complicated and varied adult life. I didn't manage my life from the age of 18 onward with the intention of being a Family Values US senator. My personal life, like pretty much everyone's, is complex and sometimes messy.
If journalists really believe that, in response to the reporting I'm doing, these distractions about my past and personal life are a productive way to spend their time, then so be it.
None of that – or anything else – will detain me even for an instant in continuing to report on what the NSA is doing in the dark.
© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited