In a plea made directly to the thousands of civil servants whose daily occupation feeds the ever-growing spy state, a group of former whistleblowers published an open letter Wednesday in the Guardian urging those individuals to join Edward Snowden and the other brave truth-tellers "to follow your conscience and let us know what's being done in our names."
"Blowing the whistle on powerful factions is not a fun thing to do, but despite the poor track record of western media, whistleblowing remains the last avenue for truth, balanced debate and upholding democracy," writes the group, which includes Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, former NSA executive Thomas Drake, and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern among others.
"Edward Snowden just showed you what one person can do," they continue. "But Snowden shouldn't have to stand alone, and his revelations shouldn't be the only ones."
In an open call to those whose days are spent "hidden away" in government offices and intelligence agencies spying, lying to the public and "destroying everything we as a society pretend to care about," the group declares: "You can be part of the solution."
The letter comes at the end of a year when whistleblowers in the United States made great waves and great sacrifice. Edward Snowden remains trapped in Russia facing charges under the Espionage Act after his disclosures revealed the full extent of the American and British surveillance mechanisms. In August, Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison after being charged with aiding the enemy for exposing the brutality and illegality of the American military. And at the beginning of the year, former CIA official John Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months for exposing the practice of waterboarding to journalists.
Despite promises of protection, the Obama administration has overseen more prosecutions of whistleblowers than all other presidents combined and, along with the 'Insider Threat' peer spying program, has established a culture of threats and intimidation that extends throughout government agencies.
In the face of these threats, the former whistleblowers promise "strength in numbers." They write, "You won't be the first – nor the last – to follow your conscience and let us know what's being done in our names. Truth is coming – it can't be stopped. [...] It's in your hands to be on the right side of history and accelerate the process."
The complete text of the letter is below:
At least since the aftermath of September 2001, western governments and intelligence agencies have been hard at work expanding the scope of their own power, while eroding privacy, civil liberties and public control of policy. What used to be viewed as paranoid, Orwellian, tin-foil hat fantasies turned out post-Snowden, to be not even the whole story.
What's really remarkable is that we've been warned for years that these things were going on: wholesale surveillance of entire populations, militarization of the internet, the end of privacy. All is done in the name of "national security", which has more or less become a chant to fence off debate and make sure governments aren't held to account – that they can't be held to account – because everything is being done in the dark. Secret laws, secret interpretations of secret laws by secret courts and no effective parliamentary oversight whatsoever.
By and large the media have paid scant attention to this, even as more and more courageous, principled whistleblowers stepped forward. The unprecedented persecution of truth-tellers, initiated by the Bush administration and severely accelerated by the Obama administration, has been mostly ignored, while record numbers of well-meaning people are charged with serious felonies simply for letting their fellow citizens know what's going on.
It's one of the bitter ironies of our time that while John Kiriakou (ex-CIA) is in prison for blowing the whistle on US torture, the torturers and their enablers walk free.
Likewise WikiLeaks-source Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning was charged with – amongst other serious crimes – aiding the enemy (read: the public). Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison while the people who planned the illegal and disastrous war on Iraq in 2003 are still treated as dignitaries.
Numerous ex-NSA officials have come forward in the past decade, disclosing massive fraud, vast illegalities and abuse of power in said agency, including Thomas Drake, William Binney and Kirk Wiebe. The response was 100% persecution and 0% accountability by both the NSA and the rest of government. Blowing the whistle on powerful factions is not a fun thing to do, but despite the poor track record of western media, whistleblowing remains the last avenue for truth, balanced debate and upholding democracy – that fragile construct which Winston Churchill is quoted as calling "the worst form of government, except all the others".
Since the summer of 2013, the public has witnessed a shift in debate over these matters. The reason is that one courageous person: Edward Snowden. He not only blew the whistle on the litany of government abuses but made sure to supply an avalanche of supporting documents to a few trustworthy journalists. The echoes of his actions are still heard around the world – and there are still many revelations to come.
For every Daniel Ellsberg, Drake, Binney, Katharine Gun, Manning or Snowden, there are thousands of civil servants who go by their daily job of spying on everybody and feeding cooked or even made-up information to the public and parliament, destroying everything we as a society pretend to care about.
Some of them may feel favourable towards what they're doing, but many of them are able to hear their inner Jiminy Cricket over the voices of their leaders and crooked politicians – and of the people whose intimate communication they're tapping.
Hidden away in offices of various government departments, intelligence agencies, police forces and armed forces are dozens and dozens of people who are very much upset by what our societies are turning into: at the very least, turnkey tyrannies.
One of them is you.
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● Undermining democracy and eroding civil liberties isn't put explicitly in your job contract.
● You grew up in a democratic society and want to keep it that way
● You were taught to respect ordinary people's right to live a life in privacy
● You don't really want a system of institutionalized strategic surveillance that would make the dreaded Stasi green with envy – do you?
Still, why bother? What can one person do? Well, Edward Snowden just showed you, what one person can do. He stands out as a whistleblower both because of the severity of the crimes and misconduct that he is divulging to the public – and the sheer amount of evidence he has presented us with so far – more is coming. But Snowden shouldn't have to stand alone, and his revelations shouldn't be the only ones.
You can be part of the solution; provide trustworthy journalists – either from old media (like this newspaper) or from new media (such as WikiLeaks) with documents that prove what illegal, immoral, wasteful activities are going on where you work.
There IS strength in numbers. You won't be the first – nor the last – to follow your conscience and let us know what's being done in our names. Truth is coming – it can't be stopped. Crooked politicians will be held accountable. It's in your hands to be on the right side of history and accelerate the process.
Courage is contagious.
Peter Kofod, ex-Human Shield in Iraq (Denmark)
Thomas Drake, whistleblower, former senior executive of the NSA (US)
Daniel Ellsberg, whistleblower, former US military analyst (US)
Katharine Gun, whistleblower, former GCHQ (UK)
Jesselyn Radack, whistleblower, former Department of Justice (US)
Ray McGovern, former senior CIA analyst (US)
Coleen Rowley, whistleblower, former FBI agent (US)