1In 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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7 years ago

One of them lived downstairs from me in my apt complex. People were different then. More integrity. Wouldn’t work now.

Cat McGuire
Cat McGuire
7 years ago

The perfect example is the Manhattan Project. Thousands were
involved, and yet it was highly successful in remaining top secret for years due
in large part to a policy known as “compartmentalization.”

people aren’t told who else is involved or better yet, they don’t even
know they themselves are involved for a greater goal. They’re just a
small cog in the whole project.

7 years ago
Reply to  Cat McGuire

The Manhattan Project isn’t very relevant here. We’re talking about governmental misbehavior and illegal activity. Those working for the Manhattan Project knew that it was part of the war effort and could end up saving millions of American lives. The incentive to remain silent was strong and positive.

Russ Winter
7 years ago
Reply to  Eric

Beyond the use of compartmentalization, and operating on a need to know/ plausible denial basis (Mob method) these conspiracy practices also use compromised individuals who can be blackmailed if they get out of line.

Once in awhile experts show up to challenge official stories. One recently is school safety expert and former Florida state trooper Wolfgang Halbig with Sandy Hook. He was paid a “warning visit” by two law enforcement agents (who Halbig named) that had a complete dossier on him.

If this doesn’t work, witnesses and whistleblowers are just killed by death squads. I actually believe death squads are far more active in the US than anybody can possibly imagine.

7th Pillar
7 years ago

And some folks wonder why I’m leaving the USSA.

These are symptoms of a State that is out of control.

The Boot-Strap Expat

7 years ago

Timely article still today.However, the verdict on what exactly Edward Snowden et al are ?, mentioned in the introduction, remains open to debate.

7 years ago

It’s interesting that, in The Reluctant Spy, Kiriakou never refers to Agee, despite the highly relevant importance that the Greek station was to the revelations of both authors. It’s almost as if Kiriakou was adding another layer of Ooops We Did It Again cover for The Company, IMESNWJO (In My Extremely Skeptical… No, Wait… Jaded Opinion), so new generation skeptics stay safely in the Truman Show with their criticisms. Does anyone know if the laws Kiriakou is charged with are based on the spy agency’s reaction to Agee’s “tell-all”, as was the case with Cheney, er, I mean, what was the name of that Plame fall guy again?

7 years ago

I speculate that courage is (emph) contagious. And when those in the know start talking, their numbers will increase exponentially and it will be game over for the thugs. The thug group includes nat. security dittoheads, government trolls and corrupt bureaucrats. I speculate the ones doing the loudest complaining now are the ones who will fall like dominoes. There must be thousands of frustrated nat. security types who are angry that they took the oath to the constitution to defend our country against all enemies foreign and domestic (emph), and that they are being told to put up or shut up, or else (just like organized crime!). I would like to know how many private NAS contractors swear that oath. Probably none because they work for a private corporation, even though that corporation is paid for by taxpayers (taxation without representation). Is the info on all of us which they collect, privatized company info too? That would be wrong. However, that is another subject (worth exploring for any journo).

7 years ago
Reply to  queenvictrola

Virilio in Speed and Politics says that the world is ruled by thugs.

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