Reality Leigh Winner: The Whistleblower We Didn’t Want

It’s a story as old as the 21st century: A young NSA contractor with more access to classified information than they probably should have had leaks that information to the press, believing the public has a right to know that which their elected officials would never allow to see the light of day. That leaker’s identity is then revealed, the idealistic millennial facing a loss of liberty for doing that which they believed was a civic duty.

“In any other circumstances this would be an earthquake,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee.

But this story is missing that next crucial step: the leaker being lauded — controversially, but nonetheless — for their courage and assigned the label “whistleblower” by those who typically defend such people. Reality Leigh Winner is not Edward Snowden, it seems, outside of the bipartisan condemnation both have received (McCaskill herself condemned the leak, while right-wing media declares Winner a traitor). And while it’s still early, it appears this NSA contractor, who leaked a report documenting Russian efforts to hack local U.S. election officials, won’t be getting the book-and-a-movie hero treatment.

Winner, 25, was arrested June 6 just hours after The Intercept published a story on a top-secret NSA report it obtained detailing alleged efforts by Russian military intelligence to hack “a U.S. voting software supplier and more than 100 local election officials in the days before voters went to the polls” in November 2016, per The Washington Post.

“I think they’re going to try to make an example out of her because of the political climate right now,” said Reality’s father, Billie Winner-Davis.

 

That the Russian government was, allegedly, attempting to tamper with the infrastructure of the 2016 election itself — beyond just deploying “active measures” like selective leaks and partisan disinformation — wasn’t itself breaking news. It was reported last year that the FBI had spotted attempts to compromise voter registration databases, with U.S. intelligence officials attributing the intrusions to Moscow. But as Bloomberg added reported on June 13, the cyberattacks were “far more widespread” than publicly revealed, affecting “a total of 39 states.”

That’s a big revelation, “buttressed by a classified National Security Agency document recently disclosed by the Intercept.” Winner apparently believed the U.S. public has a right to know if the integrity of its elections has been compromised by a foreign government at a time when the campaign of a U.S. president — who rejects charges of Russian interference in the election as “fake news” from sore-loser Democrats — is being investigated for possibly colluding with that government.

But it’s not just Trump and his reactionary allies who suspect this Russia stuff is fake news.

As ABC News noted, on the March 22 edition of The Intercept’s podcast, Intercepted, founding editor Jeremy Scahill discussed “tremendous amount of hysterics” and “premature conclusions being drawn around all of this Russia stuff.”

“We still haven’t seen any evidence for it,” commented Glenn Greenwald, another founding editor.

We don’t know if Winner listened to that particular episode, but according to the federal complaint, she leaked the NSA report on Russian hacking, to one of the most prominently skeptical outlets, after emailing The Intercept and requesting “transcripts of a podcast.” (Scahill and Greenwald confirmed the FBI’s assertion that transcripts were requested, but said it was for another episode, with the former expanding on that in another podcast, calling her treatment “horrid”).

It makes sense that a woman with access to top-secret evidence of Russian electoral interference might think that evidence would be buried, given who is president, and a desire to share that evidence with the still-skeptical would explain Winner’s alleged decision to go to The Intercept and not a major newspaper.

But that lingering skepticism also explains why Winner is no hero — no Snowden — in the eyes of the skeptics. When the story first broke, Scahill, for example, stressed the need for caution, highlighting a section of The Intercept’s story noting the leaked report “does not show the underlying ‘raw’ intelligence on which the analysis is based.” Greenwald, likewise, said that while journalism “requires that document be published… Rationality requires it be read skeptically.”

“If the NSA asserts something, that’s proof enough for me,” he added, sarcastically, referring to the leaked report on Russia — skepticism not apparent with respect to NSA PowerPoint presentations on the agency’s surveillance capabilities. “They never lie or err[.] Rationality is about blind belief in official conclusions.”

Since Winner’s indictment, both Greenwald and Scahill have largely kept quiet on the matter. The outlet itself did respond in a June 6 statement, however, saying it had “no knowledge of the identity of the person who provided us with the document” (the government claims Winner was identified as the leaker after an Intercept reporter shared the NSA document with an intelligence official, revealing that it had been printed out).

On June 13, Greenwald and Schahill broke their silence, revealing that while their colleagues have been limited in what they can say, “We do not face these same constraints.” They then go on to identify several victims of Trump’s Department of Justice: themselves. Reporters, they wrote, had accepted “unproven FBI claims in a contested criminal case as Truth,” though in doing so they confirmed the FBI’s widely reported claim: that someone “appeared to request transcripts of a podcast” (it was ABC, not the FBI, that suggested one of those transcripts may have been for the episode in which the two discussed “all of this Russia stuff”).

Missing from the statement, which comments directly on the FBI’s alleged chain of events, is any comment on the FBI’s arrest (and the Trump Department of Justice’s detention) of an alleged NSA leaker. That’s a curious omission given that, by their own admission, there are no constraints on what they can say, or what emergency defense funds they can publicize.

Given the void, one is left with speculation: that a commentator like Greenwald, who believes there’s a “deep state,” “military-industrial complex” “war” against a “duly elected” president — fought with weaponized leaks about things the president and his staff have said and done, centering on this Russia stuff — is perhaps not convinced this deep state-adjacent leaker is a whistleblower at all.

What’s important for readers to know, to The Intercept’s founding editors, is that their publication’s alleged source was not motivated by their Russia skepticism, or at least not spurred by the transcript of one recorded expression of it. What’s conspicuously lacking is that express solidarity with a woman — source or not — who is accused of, and facing prison time for, releasing a report that revealed no raw intelligence or intelligence-gathering methods but demonstrated, for the skeptics, that at least the U.S. intelligence community’s internal assessments track with its public statements.

But that, again, may be unwelcome for those who have devoted a year to a nothing-to-see-here line. Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who fled Sweden after being accused of sexual assault, hinted at that conflict when he nonetheless declared that, “Alleged NSA whistleblower Reality Leigh Winner must be supported.”

“It doesn’t matter why she did it,” he added, “or the quality [of] the report.”

To some it does. Liberal activist David Swanson, for instance, was skeptical Winner’s alleged revelations would convince any skeptics. “Hey, @theintercept, you want proof? I’ve got your . . . um, vague evidence-free ‘assessments.’ Take that!” Winner, as some see it, risked and lost her liberty to leak a report that — the NSA internally lying to itself, presumably in the hopes a leak would happen — only furthers a deep-state push for a new Cold War.

Evan Greer, a campaigner with the group Fight for the Future, believes something else may be at play. “There is something extremely gendered about the way Reality Leigh Winner has been treated by the media and public vs. Edward Snowden,” she posted on Twitter. While many are focused on blame or exculpation for her arrest, “where’s the [conversation] about how Reality is brave as fuck [and] took a tremendous risk to expose something she thought the public needed to know?”

That conversation has been buried before it could begin by those with the platforms capable of starting it. In these times, we not only need more whistleblowers, but a new and better commitment to defending them, not waiting for the pundits once on the front lines to lead the charge again. Young idealists can do more than just leak what older generations wish to hide; they can and will lead the fights to which others, for reasons of dated ideology or ego, are unwilling to contribute.

They seem to get that.

“To hold a citizen incommunicado and indefinitely while awaiting trial for the alleged crime of serving as a journalistic source should outrage us all,” said Edward Snowden, 33, in a statement that was ignored by those to whom he leaked.

Charles Davis is a writer in Los Angeles, California.

White Man’s Burden: Because Normalization is Hard to Do

On +972 magazine, IPCRI’s Dan Goldenblatt has invited “anyone who has criticism of how we at IPCRI try to advance this goal to tell us so, engage and challenge us, and help us and others improve.” As a long-time critic of the “liberal left” “peace industry” (I thank Goldenblatt himself for the latter term), I’m taking him up on his invitation, picking up from where PACBI left off. To start off, I’ll wonder whether IPCRI “brought [themselves] together” with PACBI to “meet, discuss, argue, build, take apart, share and cooperate”? Or did Goldenblatt just write up his public response to PACBI’s engaging and challenging critique of the organization?

Continue reading “White Man’s Burden: Because Normalization is Hard to Do”

The ‘real agenda’ of the BBC’s Jane Corbin, who calls herself a ‘Journalist’

Pro-Palestinian activists from Turkey, wearing life jackets, hold a news conference on board the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara as they sail in the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea. (Reuters)

by Abbas Al Lawati

On August 19, the Israeli consulate in New York tweeted: #BBC “Panorama” presents arguably the most complete & thorough account of the #Flotilla.

The documentary has not received much endorsement elsewhere. Instead there have been loud protests of bias, especially among those aboard the Mavi Marmara, the largest vessel in the Gaza-bound aid flotilla that Israeli commandos raided on May 31, killing nine activists.

Recently aired, the Panorama documentary, entitled Death in the Med, was produced by the BBC’s veteran documentary maker Jane Corbin. It claims to investigate the “real agenda” of “those who call themselves peace activists”.

A close analysis of the documentary reveals a troubling lack of objectivity in trying to paint the activists, headed by the Turkish relief organisation IHH, as radical Islamists bent on waging violent jihad.

Continue reading “The ‘real agenda’ of the BBC’s Jane Corbin, who calls herself a ‘Journalist’”

An Open Letter to BBC Panorama’s Jane Corbin

Aloha Jane,

The author Ken O'Keefe being interviewed by Jane Corbin

As you know Panorama airedDeath in the Med’ this week. Well Jane, I have been in the media game long enough to know that moral depravity and lack of integrity are qualities that are rewarded rather than discouraged in your field of work. With such experience it is impossible for me to take commitments from someone like yourself seriously, and that is why I recorded our conversation clandestinely, a conversation in which you confirmed the agreement that was made between the BBC and myself with yourself and Alys as BBC representatives. In that agreement it was clear that I would agree to the interview if only you included the fact that we let the commandos go. Knowing that was the agreement and anticipating that I was going to confirm it once more after the interview you said;

Well its the point about we didn’t kill the commandos, we had them in… that will be in there don’t worry. (laughing) That’s, that is important for us because obviously they would say they felt their lives were in danger, to which the corollary is, well their lives could have been in danger but we let them go. I think that’s a very strong point.

So, instead of your team honouring its commitment to me, you instead aired a farcical report with multitudes of half-truths, lies, omissions and importantly, Israeli commandos who escaped rather than being set free. Let us be frank Jane, the reason for that is because it is impossible to square the whole angle that we are “terrorists” and extremists” and killers, if we let them go. It just doesn’t fit. So for BBC in this case, when the facts do not work, you lie. In an attempt to justify this, the BBC has written an insulting letter in defence of your fallacious fairytale; this is due to the torrent of complaints that have resulted from Death in the Med.

Continue reading “An Open Letter to BBC Panorama’s Jane Corbin”

Guardian’s Man in Caracas

He doesnt just look like one, he also acts like one.

Gore Vidal once said of Truman Capote that his death was a good career move. I suspect that for the same reason Rory Carroll wishes deep inside that his encounter with the Mahdi Army in Iraq had also been fatal. That way, at least he would still have a reputation, since most people tend to instinctively assume the best of the departed.

This clown has been redeployed to Venezuela, and as is the wont of every tabloid hack who through whatever stroke of luck graduates to a putatively respectable publication, he appears to conflate the country with its leading demonized figure, in this case the person of Hugo Chavez. In his tortured attempts to make the Venezuelan leader appear buffoonish (no mean feat for someone who comes from a place which thrice elected Tony Blair its Grand Ayatullah), he invariably ends up making himself look ridiculous. For the past few days he has been running silly reports about how the name of a new affordable mobile phone produced indigenously may be a slang reference to a penis. I felt compelled to send him this email:

I am moved by the fact that you offer your readers some modest amusement in these hard times by making public your fascination with male genitalia . But you must take into account the possibility that some of your readers may have already entered their teens and expect that a reporter covering a country of 28 million people and nearly a million square kilometers would have more significant things to report than real or imagined penis references made by its leader. Besides, tautology is not good form; there is already a dick in the byline.

Don’t hesitate to convey your displeasure: rory.carroll@guardian.co.uk

The kind of things he writes…

Michael Tomasky isn’t the sharpest tool in the box. Sources tell me that the Guardian hired him because they were looking for a US commentator on the cheap, and he was all they could afford. The analysis as you can see is mediocre, and frankly quite worthless. You never get anything better than a diluted summary of the conventional wisdom in Washington, i.e., the accumulated inanity of the windbags that constitute the US punditocracy. See for example this piece on Paul Krugman’s critique of Obama’s economic policy. Strike that. The piece doesn’t say anything about Paul Krugman’s critique; this glorified gossip columnist reduces it to a personal feud. But more egregiously, see this report on Obama’s handshake with Chavez. The liberal realist that he is, he ridicules the tantrums of the extremists on Fox News etc to defend Obama. He does so however on the grounds that past presidents have shaken hands with bad people too! Not content with taking cheap swipes at Hugo Chavez, he then goes on to disparage his choice of a gift for the US president. He divines Obama’s inner feelings about the gift, telling us he was ‘not too happy’, because ‘We all know who Eduardo Galeano is, and what kind of books he writes’. As a matter of fact we do: he writes Great Books. Books of the kind that the Tomasky’s of the world will probably never read because they will remind them of their own inadequacies. Or perhaps simply because they are just too illiterate. That’s why the Guardian got him for a discount.

Here are ‘the kinds of things [Galeano] writes‘.

Salgado, 17 Times

Full view of the Serra Pelada gold mine Brazil, 1986 (Sebastião Salgado)

This is Eduardo Galeano’s essay introducing An Uncertain Grace, a collection of Sebastião Salgado’s photography:

1. Are these photographs, these figures of tragic grandeur, carvings in stone or wood by a sculptor in despair? Was the sculptor the photographer? Or God? Or the Devil? Or earthly reality?This much is certain: it would be difficult to look at these figures and remain unaffected. I cannot imagine anyone shrugging his shoulder, turning away unseeing, and sauntering off, whistling.

2. Hunger looks like the man that hunger is killing. The man looks like the tree the man is killing. The trees have arms, the people, branches. Wizened bodies, gnarled: trees made of bones, the people of knots and roots that writhe under the sun. The trees and the people, ageless. All born thousands of years ago – who knows how many? – and still they are standing, inexplicably standing, beneath a heaven that forsakes them.

3. This world is so sad that the rainbows come out in black and white and so ugly that the vultures fly upside down after the dying. A song is sung in Mexico:

Se va la vida por el agujero Como la mugre por el lavadero. [Life goes down the drain Like dirt in the sink.]

And in Colombia they say:

El costo de la vida sube y sube y el valor de la vida baja y baja. [The more the cost of living goes up the less life is worth.]

But light is a secret buried under the garbage and Salgado’s photographs tell us that secret.

Continue reading “Salgado, 17 Times”

A dick named Cox

What do you call someone who in 2009 believes that ‘Blair must have believed that WMD existed, since even the peace lobby did…[s]eeking to protect oil supplies wouldn’t have been an entirely ignoble concern…he might honestly have thought this would be in our own best interests. Alastair Campbell …could still have believed in the policy he was enforcing’ and thinks In the Loop is a bad film because it ‘excludes the part played by principle’?

There is much that one could criticize about the Armando Iannucci film In the Loop. That it couldn’t be as credulous as the tools in the New Labour press is not one of them. It is a travesty the British press should allow bovine oafs like David Cox to defile their pages.

Boycott the Independent on Sunday

The paper blames the dead victim Ian Tomlinson. No person with a shred of decency should buy or subscribe to Independent on Sunday. If you want to read Robert Fisk or Patrick Cockburn’s reports, do so online. Don’t waste your money on this pseudo-liberal, conformist shit-rag. Editor-at-Large Janet Street-Porter writes an execrable apologia for police brutality in today’s paper where she warns readers that ‘before we put the police in the dock, it might be worth considering what Mr Tomlinson was doing that night, and what state of mind he might have been in’. The situation, she tells us, is ‘a great deal more complicated’.

But what exculpatory evidence does she proffer?

Mr Tomlinson was an alcoholic who lived in a bail hostel around the corner from me in the City of London. He’d tried and failed to stay away from booze, but I make no judgement about that [MIA: What is the relevance, then, of this information to the case at hand?]…Knowing that he was an alcoholic is critical to understanding his sense of disorientation and his attitude towards the police, which might on first viewing of the video footage, seem a bit stroppy.[MIA: So she is making a judgment about that; worse, she feels qualified to pronounce on Tomlinson’s ‘attitude’ from the mere seconds of available footage]… Witnesses say Mr Tomlinson appeared to be drunk, he wasn’t coherent and couldn’t move very well… It had been a long and trying day for the police. Mr Tomlinson wound them up when he didn’t get out of the way. [MIA: Perhaps it had also been ‘a long and trying day’ for Tomlinson and the police wound him up when they ‘didn’t get out of the way’, but this tool is only willing to give the perpetrator the benefit of a doubt]

In short, Tomlinson was asking for it. Not least, because he was a down-and-outer who was ‘wearing a Millwall shirt, smoking a cigarette, and he’d had a few drinks’. Street-Porter inverts the demands of homicide investigation in focusing on the actions and the state of mind of the victim rather than the perpetrator. And she does all that in the guise of actually standing up for the little guy. Her headline blares that ‘Tomlinson was no saint’. Presumably one has to be a saint now to earn immunity from the Police’s abuses of authority.

I would urge all readers to write to the Independent and express your disapproval in the strongest terms possible. I would also encourage other bloggers to highlight this issue and to help end the media’s complicity with the progressive erosion of civil liberties.

This odious creature must feel the heat. She is sick.

letters@independent.co.uk
editor@independent.co.uk