Thu, Jun

On Spooks, Clearances and Free Speech


EASTSIDER-Personally, I don't care much one way or another about President Donald Trump. He is what he is. 

He's also only the head of one of three branches of our government, so I pay attention to the other two and save myself the dubious pleasure of trying to figure out what Tweets mean. I mean, after all, that seems to be what the news media is for these days, isn't it? 

President or Spook, however, the first amendment of the Constitution is no joke: 

I actually remember Joseph McCarthy, HUAC (House Unamerican Activities Committee) and the absolute personal destruction of thousands of American lives at his hands simply so he could get off on his personal lust for power. I met some of those people while working in the entertainment industry. And the effects were lasting. When I worked for the Motion Picture & Videotape Editors Guild, Ronald Reagan was President, and he had a weekly call in to Roy Brewer at the Sound Local, so they could talk about rooting out the remaining 'Commies' in the Motion Picture Industry. Truth stranger than fiction. 

McCarthy had his truly evil sidekick, a lawyer called Roy Cohn. Since most people were not even born when Cohn died, here’s a really good article that gives context to my strong feelings. 

You can imagine my shock when I discovered that Roy Cohn was Donald Trump’s lawyer during the early days. I thought the old scumbag was dead. But oh no, he was back in New York and turned out to be Trump’s very idea of a super lawyer. As reported by Vanity Fair

“For author Sam Roberts, the essence of Cohn’s influence on Trump was the triad: ‘Roy was a master of situational immorality . . . . He worked with a three-dimensional strategy, which was: 1. Never settle, never surrender. 2. Counter-attack, counter-sue immediately. 3. No matter what happens, no matter how deeply into the muck you get, claim victory and never admit defeat.’ As columnist Liz Smith once observed, ‘Donald lost his moral compass when he made an alliance with Roy Cohn.’” 

Holy moly, Batman! No wonder the President has no concept of law. Cohn probably told him he was Master of the Universe, & “‘ust stick with me, kid.” 

By the same token, the President’s decision to take away the security clearance of anyone in the CIA and NSA that he doesn’t like has stirred up a whole media frenzy where, as usual, everyone is engaging in the superficial sound bites of the moment. So, let’s look a little deeper. 

There are really two parts to the story. First was the revocation of John Brennan’s security clearance (CIA Dir., Ret.), putting him on an “enemies list,” and Brennan’s back atcha’ hints of litigation and skirting with the “T” word (treason). Part two is the growing stack of former security type officials joining in opposing the revocation of Brennan’s (and others’) security clearance as a First Amendment matter. As Reuters noted: 

(Reuters) - More than 175 former U.S. State Department and Pentagon officials added their names to a statement signed by former national security officials criticizing President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan.” 

While the Spooks sound all true blue and moral, let’s be honest. Brennan and the National Security types are not exactly squeaky clean themselves when it comes to illegal spying on our citizens, choosing enemies lists, and believing that they get to determine what the First Amendment means. 

Julian Assange 

For those who live under a rock, Julian Assange is the proprietor of WikiLeaks, an entity which drives the U.S. Security apparatus nuts (not to mention Hillary and the Clintons). 

For an example of the latest hit piece gently savaging Assange and WikiLeaks, a recent Engadget article will serve nicely. Referring to what happens when/if he leaves the protection of the Ecuadorian Embassy, they write: 

“Should the Ecuadorians, quite literally, kick him to the curb, it will mark a final indignity in the fall from grace of an organization founded on the principles of radical transparency but which has arguably mutated into an opaque partisan mouthpiece.” 

On the pro Assange side, one of the gonzo occasional contributors to CityWatch, has a more interesting message. Remember, there has been a warrant out for his arrest out forever. Most insiders know that all this was carefully orchestrated by the Spooks, who were all bent out of shape by his unflattering revelations about their destroying any shred of privacy that you and I allegedly have. 

As evidence that they are still out to get him, Caitlan Johnstone wrote:  

“Julian Assange cannot “leave whenever he wants”. A judge with severely corrupt ties ruled in February that his arrest warrant still stands for an absurd bail-jumping charge from 2012 that Assange has already served his sentence for many times over according to the law as it is written. As soon as he sets foot outside the embassy he will most certainly be arrested, and then most certainly extradited to the US where the Trump administration is aggressively pursuing his arrest.” 

And that’s the truth. For publishing documents that proved our own government was routinely doing anything they wanted to spy on us, the person who provided the goods that got folks like Brennan in trouble will be hounded to his grave. Groovy. 

Edward Snowden 

Everyone knows, or thinks they know, about Edward Snowden, the young CIA contractor who ratted the CIA/NSA out by leaking exactly how much internet and phone surveillance they were actually engaging in. At the same time, they were saying, not to worry, we wouldn’t spy on our citizens. Hah! 

As BBC News reported in a pretty good backgrounder: 

“The scandal broke in early June 2013 when the Guardian newspaper reported that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans.

The paper published the secret court order directing telecommunications company Verizon to hand over all its telephone data to the NSA on an "ongoing daily basis"

Unlike most whistleblowers, Snowden readily gave his name as he leaked the documents. And he was clearly aware of the likely outcome. As The Guardianreported: 

Having watched the Obama administration prosecute whistle blowers at a historically unprecedented rate, he fully expects the US government to attempt to use all its weight to punish him. "I am not afraid," he said calmly, "because this is the choice I've made." 

In a true moment of irony, Snowden was ultimately granted asylum in Russia. You know, the President’s favorite country. As of early 2017, it was extended for a couple of years. Anyhow, the CIA and the NSA would like nothing better than to lock Snowden up for life, and/or possibly charge him with treason. 

For the curious, there is a really good and somewhat lengthy article on Snowden posted at Wired.com.   

The Takeaway 

The truth is, no one has clean hands in this mess. While Brennan and the gaggle of CIA and NSA elites freak out when their First Amendment rights are trampled by the Trump Administration, their own history indicates that they hate being outed themselves just like The Donald and will hound and incarcerate Assange and Snowden for the rest of their lives. Ain’t life grand? 

Sometimes being a serious free speech advocate can cause me to give painful passes to people I don’t really like too much. With that caveat, when all is said and done, I must reluctantly support the Spooks (in this case the CIA and the NSA). It’s like I wrote a while back with a column called, “Spooks and the FBI: Never Thought I’d Be Defending Them!” 

“So here I am, a hardcore First Amendment stalwart who believes that the Bill of Rights and Privacy Rights trump any federal government trampling on those rights under the guise that they will somehow make us safer. And I’m actually stepping up and supporting the intelligence community, the FBI, and the DOJ. Who’d have thunk it?  

The reason is simple. If we actually want to protect our electoral system of government, these are the only folks who are in a position to do it. Keep knocking them down and disparaging their work and ultimately people will decide that they are as corrupt and as big a bunch of liars as the Congress.” 

The reality is that the Russians are messing around with our elections, and neither the cowardly Congress nor the President are doing squat. So, we’re left with the National Security apparatus, flawed as it is, as our only hope in protecting the election system that is the heart of our democracy. Sheesh!


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


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