In this re-post of an article from two years ago, Russ Baker analyzed the importance of understanding the nature of secrets. It is especially relevant given the NSA revelations today.
Would covert operatives whose work involves subverting democratic governments abroad—including violent coups such as the one that brought down Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973—hesitate when ordered to participate in comparable activities at home?
We’re constantly told that no such thing could happen in the good ole USA (certainly not in the deaths of JFK, RFK, MLK, for example), if for no other reason than that it is impossible to keep such plots secret.
Or, in the common parlance: “Someone would have talked.”
The logic goes: since no one has come forward to describe their role in such plots, therefore no plot has existed.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. People are coming forward all the time to provide, if not the whole story, crucial bits and pieces that together would lead us to awareness of a variety of covert doings, some clearly nefarious. For example, scores, perhaps hundreds of credible eyewitnesses have cast doubt on the official “lone kook” scenario that is a staple of every domestic assassination.
But these whistleblowers are quickly discredited, suppressed, or worse. From time to time people even come out of the national security establishment to testify to such wrongdoing, but they almost always pay a heavy price –which of course discourages others from bearing witness.
How many remember the story of Philip Agee? Phil was a loyal American who served in the Central Intelligence Agency abroad. Eventually, he could no longer stomach the ugly work he and colleagues were doing to subvert the affairs of other countries, and he became a critic and a fugitive. You can read about his hair-raising adventures as the might of the US government came down upon him wherever he went, in his book On the Run.
The Waterboard Whisperer
In the years since, there have been numerous other examples of “someone” who did talk, only to suffer a variety of unpleasant circumstances. The most recent case is that of former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who faces up to 45 years in prison for statements he has made.
Kiriakou first attracted the Agency’s ire when, in 2007, the ex-agent told ABC News that while he believed that waterboarding could be effective, it was morally the wrong thing to do. He was quickly ousted from his job as a security risk analyst for the accounting firm Deloitte.
He later, the government charges, spoke to journalists who were seeking confirmation of the identity of agency personnel involved with the controversial interrogation program that used methods tantamount to torture. Kiriakou faces four counts related to leaking classified information, each carrying a penalty of ten years imprisonment.
He is also accused of having told the CIA that material in a book he was writing would “fictionalize” a high-tech CIA scanning device known as a “magic box” while in fact he went ahead to describe it accurately. The charge of making false statements could earn him an additional five years imprisonment.
The bottom line here is that public servants can go to jail for trying to inform the public about the truth of what their government does—and, bizarrely, for lying to the government by falsely promising to lie about government secrets while actually telling the truth about what they had seen from the inside.
As for “someone would have talked”…baloney. Almost nobody talks. And for good reason. Just ask John Kiriakou.
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