Mon, Apr

Government Secrets: First the Files, Then the Journalists and Then They Come for You

AT LENGTH - Pvt. Bradley Manning sentencing to 35 years in prison with possible parole for his releasing of classified documents to WikiLeaks was announced as I was writing this column today. 

This is a victory of sorts, I suppose. He could have gotten 90 years. 


We ran one of the first reports on the documents Manning leaked to WikiLeaks three years ago. The documents released included a video of a U.S. Apache helicopter firing on and killing two journalists and several civilians. It was this one video along with thousands of other classified files that troubled Manning and ultimately got him arrested on espionage charges. It was his act of courage that broke open the gates of secrecy surrounding our war in Iraq. 

On Aug. 20, the editors at The London Guardian revealed that they were ordered by the British government to destroy all of their computer hard-drives that contained secret files leaked by private NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The Guardian was the first to reveal the U.S. National Security Administration’s secret wiretapping of both foreign and domestic telephone lines and collection of Internet meta-data from telecommunication companies. 

This revelation comes just days after The Guardian reporter who broke the Snowden story, Glenn Greenwald’s domestic partner, David Miranda, was detained at London’s Heathrow Airport for nine hours under the United Kingdom’s Terrorism Acts law.  British authorities stopped him en route to his home in Brazil from Berlin, during which they confiscated his laptop, cell phone, USB smart sticks and hard drives. 

Miranda is suing the government for the return of these items and the admission that this detention was “illegal.” 

Fortunately for The Guardian (and unfortunately for the government), the editors had already backed up copies of the once secret files outside of the UK and reporters for the newspaper must now “off shore” their reporting. Greenwald is in Brazil.  These are just a few of the  War on Terrorism’s casualties as it morphs into a war on the scribes whose job it is to print the truth, and what little that can be told. 

Snowden is in exile in Russia. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks,  is camped out in the Ecuadorian consulate in London. Both fear extradition to the United States– home of the brave and once-land of  Freedom of the Press– where they would be tried like Pfc. Manning on espionage charges. 

At this point, it is an object lesson in the meaning of liberty to which I’d refer you to the wisdom of  Ben Franklin who once said, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” 

One would think that after all these years of war and with our growing sense of insecurity, we all would object to the ongoing pilfering of our national treasury for these expensive wars and subsequent invasion of our rights. 

But it’s likely that this issue will become like the other grievance Congress is unlikely to redress:

The Vietnam War, started on the basis of a lie and pursued on false pretexts until exposed and President Nixon instigation of the War on Drugs. 

The War on Drugs is a war that is nowhere close to being won but still consumes billions per year. In fact the stepping up of the drug war in Mexico over the last six years has only led to some 120,000 murders of civilians–many of them journalists who dared to speak the truth about the drug cartels. And I am sure that our government’s clandestine involvement across the border is a classified matter not for publication. 

The two wars in Iraq, which were based on false premises (lies to be more exact) and the misguided mission in Afghanistan, which was for the express purposes of retaliating for the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Towers. That war has now cost us more lives than were originally lost when the towers fell. Just how much vengeance do we really want to extract from the peasants of a third world country? 

If this is what winning a war looks like, I’d hate to see what it means to lose. And indeed, we are losing.  We just aren’t admitting that we have lost most, if not all of these wars. We are just too arrogant or self righteous to admit the obvious. So secrecy persists in the defense of the indefensible, using the fear of terrorist threats as justification for abdicating our fundamental rights. 

The residual effect on our country is the intimidation of the general population at the airports and harbors and the intimidation of the press via threats, illegal secret wiretaps and the subsequent shredding of the Bill of Rights. 

In New York,  it’s “stop and frisk” policing,  or the use of surveillance cameras in neighborhoods and shopping districts and domestic use of military drones to spy on civilians. Any sense of a right to privacy is forfeited for the sake of security. 

And before you know it, it’s the NSA or some secret agency hauling off your computer and you in shackles, holding you incommunicado; very much like the scene from the 1985 Terry Gilliam film, Brazil, in which a bureaucratic typo lands an average citizen renditioned out of his own living room on charges of “terrorism.” 

Just how much of your individual rights do you want to forfeit in order to have “security”?


(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. More of Allen and other views and news at randomlengthsnews.com where this column was first posted) –cw






Vol 11 Issue 69

Pub: Aug 27, 2013