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‘Courage is contagious’: Whistleblowing Fantastic Four talk ‘Snowden effect’ on RT

Published time: October 11, 2013 01:13

Whistleblowers Jesselyn Radack, Thomas Andrews Drake, Ray McGovern and Coleen Rowley (L to R) and presenter Kevin Owen (C) in RT’s studio in Moscow (RT photo / Semyon Khorunzhy)

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A group of US whistleblowers and activists have met in Moscow to present NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden with the Sam Adams Award for ‘Integrity in Intelligence’. They came to RT’s studio to share their thoughts on global surveillance.

After a secret meeting with Snowden, the four whistleblowers – former NSA executive Thomas Andrews Drake, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, former FBI agent Coleen Rowley and Jesselyn Radack of Government Accountability Project – all met in RT’s studio to discuss the perils of doing what right and why Snowden should be lauded as a hero for sending shock waves around the world.

RT: First of all, you saw Edward Snowden last night. How is he holding up?

Thomas Andrews Drake:
I think he’s doing remarkably well under the circumstances in which he came here.

RT: We covered his story extensively on this channel, so we are, obviously, keen to find out personally how is he. What does he look like these days?

Jesselyn Radack: I thought he looked great. He seemed very centered and brilliant, smart, funny, very engaged. I though he looked very well.

RT: Considering the amount of pressure he’s under, do you think that’s taking any psychological toll?  

Ray McGovern: I think it would in ordinary circumstances, but this is an extraordinary person. He’s made his peace with what he did. He’s convinced that what he did was right. He has no regrets. And he’s willing to face whatever the future holds for him.

RT photo / Semyon Khorunzhy

RT: Do you agree with that? Is that what you saw in front of you, Coleen?  

Coleen Rowley: Yes. Actually, we discussed this integrity and intelligence issue quite extensively. And we talked about prior examples of great people in history that had themselves been under this type of pressure. And he [Snowden] is remarkably centered.   

RT:  Jesselyn, you yourself were a whistleblower. Have you ever had regrets about what you did?

Jesselyn Radack: No, never. Never. And I, in fact, decided to dedicate my career at the Government Accountability Project to representing whistleblowers and helping whistleblowers. I never thought they would end up being criminally prosecuted, much less for espionage. But I believe in what I did. I would do it over again and that was actually the exact answer that Edward gave us yesterday.

RT: Is that the same for the rest of the three of you? Did you ever have second thoughts? Can you, please, remind us of what you story was, Thomas?

Thomas Andrews Drake: Well, I disclosed high crimes and misdemeanors by the US government while at the National Security Agency (NSA). That involved both secret surveillance and massive fraud, waste and abuse.  And no regrets at all in blowing the whistle, recognizing that I paid a very high price. Fortunately, I’m free.

RT: It was not only yourself, but your family and friends, who were under pressure, isn’t it?  

Thomas Andrews Drake:
Yes. And that’s part of the price that you pay. It’s part of the sacrifice.

RT: And what sort of pressure was that?

Thomas Andrews Drake: It was extraordinary pressure in terms of, you know, anybody that you’ve ever been associated with – your friends, your colleagues. They’re separated. They raise questions about your integrity. They raise questions about who you are as a person… And you become very public as well.

RT photo / Semyon Khorunzhy

RT: Jesselyn, your story – it was about revealing FBI questioning of a suspect without a lawyer. Can you tell a bit about what you exposed?   

Jesselyn Radack: Well, John Walker Lindh – the “American Taliban” – was the first “terrorist” captured after 9/11 and there was national hysteria around his case.  Ironically, he was deemed a traitor and treasonous, even though now we’re, apparently, on somewhat better footing with the Taliban today. And we had been on great footing with them till 18 month prior. Basically, the justice department was willing to cut corners to prosecute people. And then I found that continuing pattern – the more secret the US became and the more we grew into a surveillance state, the more people, who were willing to just do their job and tell the truth and obey ethics rules, were getting in trouble.

So, while I suffered, I was under criminal investigation and put on the no-fly list. Things like that, I thought were very draconian. I could never ever had imagined in a million years that president Obama would begin prosecuting people like Thomas [Andrews] Drake, and Edward Snowden, and Bradley Manning, and John Kiriakou and a number of other people under the Espionage Act, which is the most serious charge you can level against an American.

RT: Coleen, you’re an ex-FBI agent yourself, turned whistleblower. Can you, please, tell us about your story? How you were treated?

Coleen Rowley:
Well, I was also a legal councilor, who told Constitutional Law to FBI agents and police for 13 years. And so, when you saw this 180-degree switch to the war paradigm and the use of intelligence rather than judicial process, due process, you know, the law of interrogation – I had to speak out and explain the failures of 9/11 and etc. I was still employed in the FBI and I didn’t get fired. I have to say that regrets that I’m aware of usually stand from the fact that people didn’t speak out. The Sam Adams’s story itself is one of somebody, who went through Vietnam and didn’t go public with these concerns. So, it’s quite the opposite that the regret comes from not being able to get this important information about illegal acts, risks to public safety, fraud, waste and abuse.

RT: Ray, out of the people here, you’re the only one, who hasn’t received the Sam Adam Award yet. I’m sure you should receive it though. Can you tell us more about this prize?

Ray McGovern: I haven’t received it because I don’t deserve it. We talked about regrets yesterday evening. Sarah Harrison, who for WikiLeaks has played a key role in rescuing Ed Snowden, she was asked if she had any regrets. She sacrificed a whole lot, OK? And she said: “No!” Now, me – I have regrets. And Sam Adams had regrets. Sam Adams was an intelligence analyst, who entered the CIA under John Kennedy at the same time I did. Sam was given the account to count up how many communists were under arms in South Vietnam. He found that there were 500,000 to 600,000. He went to Saigon, the general said: “No, there can’t be more than 299,000.”  That specific figure gives you some problem? It’s sort of like 1,429 people gassed in Syria. So, Sam came back and fought a good fight. The only problem was that he fought it within channels. He went to the inspector general, to the Pentagon and to the CIA and they put him off. So, had he spoken out at that time, he lived with regret that he could’ve saved about a half of the US soldiers, who were killed – maybe 25,000 – and perhaps a million Vietnamese. I mean 3 million Vietnamese [died during the American war]. I knew what Sam was going through because he shared that with me. I knew there was a cable from the command in Saigon that said: “We can’t go at the correct figures because we have been projecting an image of success in this war. And there’s no way we could prevent the press from drawing erroneous and gloomy conclusions.”  What I regret is that I didn’t ask Sam Adams for a copy of that cable and took myself down to the New York Times. You have to realize, the New York Times was an independent newspaper at that time. They would, actually, print that kind of thing without checking with the government. If I had gone down there and given that cable there’s a chance… I don’t know how much of a chance… but there’s a chance that the war could’ve shortened by years. I didn’t do that. I do have regrets. I’m the only one here, who isn’t a whistleblower and I regret it still.   

RT photo / Semyon Khorunzhy 

RT: What was the reaction from Snowden last night when you told him that he’s won the Sam Adams Award?

Ray McGovern:
Well, he already knew because we awarded it two months ago. The problem was getting it to him. And it’s our tradition, starting with Coleen [Rowley], that we physically present this… it’s sort of like an Emmy or an Oscar. What it is – is a candlestick holder for someone, who has shone bright light into dark corners. He didn’t know about the candlestick holder. He knew that he had achieved the award and he knew that we were coming. And the reception we’ve got was just so heart-warming. It was a person, who now realizes that he has very senior people – some of them ostracized… but very senior people, who speak for a lot of people still within those organizations that admire greatly what Edward Snowden has done and, hopefully, will summon the courage to follow his example.

RT: Thomas, I know we can’t disclose where Snowden is. He’s still kept under high security here in Russia. But what are his thought about the future?

Thomas Andrews Drake:
I think it’s most what he’s done starting the conversation, the discussion not just in the US, but around the world in terms of the direct threat to the sovereignty of individual citizens.

Jesselyn Radack: I think his primary concern is about reform, not about his future – what’s going to happen to him, but more about having the reform that’s beginning, that has begun in the US and more importantly – or just as importantly – around the world. Because it really is a global issue to the extent that the NSA is spying on everybody – friend or foe. And that that conversation needs to continue. And also people need to realize that there’s a greater issue of human rights that’s been brought up by asylum and the fact that a number of people involved in his case, like Sarah Harrison, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras , people are having trouble even moving around and getting where they’re going. I can speak personally and say, we weren’t worried about coming into your country [Russia] – we are worried about getting back into our own country [the US]. And that shouldn’t be the case.

Thomas Andrews Drake: The irony is that the US has abandoned the rule of law. It’s unchained itself from its very own constitution – the mechanism by which we govern ourselves. So when you ban the real law and use a secret law and secret interpretations of law, we’re in a whole new ball game. It’s a Pandora’s Box.  

RT photo / Semyon Khorunzhy

RT: We've had the new MI5 chief, Andrew Parker, saying that the constant leaks in the British press are undermining the agency's national security efforts because they put terrorists at an advantage. Is that a legitimate security concern?

Coleen Rowley: It’s ironic because I’ve read the statement from the British solicitor back, I think, in 1774, who accused Benjamin Franklin of that very same thing, of being a vile traitor. Benjamin Franklin leaked some truth about the fact the British were violating the colonists’ rights. If you can believe this parallel, it’s just incredible.  Obviously, these things… people use this loyalty. Obviously, we’re for integrity. Integrity must trump this kind of blind loyalty.

Jesselyn Radack: And there’s been no evidence… We hear this in every single whistleblower case that there’s going to be blood on people’s hands and it has damaged security. There’s no demonstrable evidence other than an $8,000 payment to Somalia. Right?

Coleen Rowley: It’s exactly the opposite. There’s quite a lot of evidence building now that violations of the law hurt security. And lack of sharing of information… That’s actually the lesson of 9/11. It was a lack of sharing of information not only between agencies, but with the public, that enabled the 9/11 attacks. Everyone has forgotten that.

Ray McGovern:
I just wanted to make a point about the head of MI5 [statement]. We have a tradition where Richard Dearlove, who was MI6, talked about shaping the intelligence to fit the policy before Iraq. So, I’d say take with a grain of salt a political statement that exaggerates dangers for political purposes.

RT: Returning to Edward Snowden, his father is going to see him later on today. Did he know that his closest family member was coming or not? 

RT photo / Semyon Khorunzhy

Thomas Andrews Drake: We understand that he was aware that he had family that was planning on coming to see him at some point.  

Jesselyn Radack: And it was in the press. I mean it was in the Moscow Times and it was on the internet this morning. There were pictures. I mean I’m pretty sure he was aware of that. I think it’s something that he welcomes and I hope they have a lovely reunion. That’s certainly a privilege for us to be able to meet and interact with him and I think he enjoyed that too. Hopefully, there’ll be more of that in the future and people will be freer to associate, travel and do the things that normally are constitutionally protected in the US and are internationally protected through various declarations of human rights, for example.

Thomas Andrews Drake: The irony is that he had to escape the US to ensure any chance of freedom. And it wasn’t his plan to end up here. It was the US, who made him stateless by revoking his passport. And Russia – to its credit – actually, recognized the international law and granted him political asylum.   

RT: Given everything that’s happened over the years with Julian Assange and now Snowden and etc., has the world become an easier place to be a whistle blower?   
   
Coleen Rowley:
I don’t know if it’s become easier. I think that there are countries that you can still go to and speak out freely. I think in the US – and we all have our fingers crossed – there’ll be some reforms. Because without integrity, I mean, it’s the beginning of the end. You really have to have freedom of press, freedom of association. So, we all have cautious optimism that we can actually have reform right now.

Thomas Andrews Drake:
Look, I faced 35 years in prison. I was charged on the same Espionage Act that Edward Snowden is charged with. Fortunately, I was able to hold off the government and remain free. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here speaking with you. It’s a very dangerous period in history when those, who would dare speak truth of power, end up being prosecuted and persecuted.  

Jesselyn Radack:
I agree. It’s a dangerous time for whistleblowers in the US, but the effect… the ‘Snowden effect’ has been the opposite. We have more and more whistleblowers coming to the Government Accountability Project than we have had before. So, I think, that the US is trying to clamp down and send a message by making an example. 

Courage is contagious. And I really think he has had a wonderful effect for the US and the world.