The Obama Administration vs. the War on Terror Critics

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Going after whistleblowers and memoirists suggests a campaign to prevent Americans from finding out the truth about counterterrorism policies

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A former National Security Agency employee recently targeted by the Obama Administration for speaking out about agency mismanagement and civil liberties violations has taken to the The Washington Post to defend himself. Thomas Drake, whose story Jane Mayer described in exhaustive detail, had his op-ed overshadowed by Hurricane Irene. But when a former NSA staffer accuses the president of subverting the Constitution it is incumbent on citizens to scrutinize his argument.

9-11 Ten Years LaterDrake gives this background:


I raised the gravest of concerns through all the proper channels, reporting massive contract fraud, management malfeasance and illegalities conducted by the NSA, including critical intelligence information and analysis that was never reported or shared by the NSA. Had this vital and actionable intelligence been properly analyzed and disseminated by the NSA, it could have led to the capture of the Sept. 11 hijackers and prevented the attacks. I followed all the rules for reporting such activity until it conflicted with the primacy of my oath to defend the Constitution. I then made a fateful choice to exercise my fundamental First Amendment rights and went to a journalist with unclassified information about which the public had a right to know.

Rather than address its own corruption, ineptitude and illegal actions, the government made me a target of a multi-year, multimillion-dollar federal criminal "leak" investigation as part of a vicious campaign against whistleblowers that started under President George W. Bush and is coming to full fruition under President Obama.

And he concludes as follows:


Before the war on terrorism, our country recognized the importance of free speech and privacy. If we sacrifice these basic liberties, according to the false dichotomy that such is required for security, then we transform ourselves from an oasis of freedom into a police state that crucifies its citizens when they step out of line or speak up against government wrongdoing. These are the hallmarks of despotism, not democracy. Is this the country we want to keep?

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on another Obama Administration effort to silence a different former national security official:

In what amounts to a fight over who gets to write the history of the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath, the Central Intelligence Agency is demanding extensive cuts from the memoir of a former F.B.I. agent who spent years near the center of the battle against Al Qaeda.

The agent, Ali H. Soufan, argues in the book that the C.I.A. missed a chance to derail the 2001 plot by withholding from the F.B.I. information about two future 9/11 hijackers living in San Diego, according to several people who have read the manuscript. And he gives a detailed, firsthand account of the C.I.A.'s move toward brutal treatment in its interrogations, saying the harsh methods used on the agency's first important captive, Abu Zubaydah, were unnecessary and counterproductive.

There are heated disagreements in the U.S. about how far national security officials should go in fighting terrorism. It is one thing for Obama Administration officials to defend actions that civil libertarians critique. This is quite another thing. Unjustifiably attacking whistleblowers and censoring non-classified information out of memoirs short-circuits public debate and amounts to a concession that the national security bureaucracy can't defend their actions if they're made known. It hints that, deep down, their only defense is the one offered in this memorable speech:


The difference is that in A Few Good Men, the guy who broke the law was eventually arrested, whereas under Presidents Bush and Obama, it's the whistleblowers who found themselves in legal trouble. Terrified of a GOP victory in 2012, much of the left dares not criticize Obama, and for most of the conservative movement, the NSA and CIA can do no wrong. So much for eternal vigilance.


Image credit: Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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