Secrecy Becomes an Enemy of the People

By D.H. Kerby

Suppose someone swears you to secrecy, and then you become aware of human rights atrocities or are even asked to commit them. This is the dilemma faced by many US intelligence professionals. The Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence was established in the Fall of 2002 to honor intelligence officers, who, at great personal risk and cost, resisted political pressure and spoke out about what they know.

On Jan. 23 at the prestigious Oxford Union debating society in England, the Sam Adams Award was given to Professor Thomas Fingar for his role in bringing forward a National Intelligence Estimate showing that Iran had discontinued its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and who helped avert a rush to war based on faulty information. Fingar’s usual teaching post is at Stanford University, though this term he is teaching a course on global trends and transnational issues at Oxford as part of Stanford’s Bing Overseas Studies Program.

Professor Fingar served from 2005 to 2008 as Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis and Chairman of the National Intelligence Council under George W. Bush, and the Estimate whose preparation Fingar supervised has been praised by The Sam Adams Associates for its objectivity. The analysis represents a refusal to allow the intelligence to be “fixed around the policy” in the words of the infamous “Downing Street Memo,” which is actually the minutes of a meeting, transcribed during a gathering of many of the British Prime Minister’s senior ministers on July 23, 2002.

In Fingar’s case, it was possible for apolitical intelligence analysis to be introduced into public debate without a transgression of the code of silence which prevails among intelligence professionals.

As he has said, “the Intelligence Community exists not just to provide analyses based on ‘all’ the information available to others plus, when it can get it, information not available to others, but also and more importantly, to assemble and assess the information as objectively as possible. The job of the intelligence community is to help decision makers to make better informed decisions. It most emphatically is not to lead or pressure them to decide issues in a particular way. I realize that sounds idealistic, but it is also the reason we spend billions of dollars on intelligence analysis and the goal of virtually all of the analysts (and agencies) with whom I worked.”

As famed “Pentagon Papers” whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg pointed out in his Jan. 13 article in the Huffington Post, in the intelligence world there are powerful disincentives, both social and professional, against speaking out and thereby going outside the chain of command, disincentives which Ellsberg likens to the rule of omerta in the Mafia. To act according to conscience and refuse to be silent about politicized intelligence, human rights abuses, or war crimes is very often to face ostracism from colleagues, risk of firing, or, increasingly, imprisonment.

The urge to secrecy is bipartisan: The Obama Administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers and leakers of classified information under the Espionage Act of 1917 than any administration in American history.

Many members of Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence have supported WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, both in its right to publish information governments would keep secret, as well as in Assange’s personal struggle against rape allegations brought against him in Sweden.

Assange spoke for about 20 minutes to those assembled at The Oxford Union, by videolink from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he lives under the diplomatic protection of that country. Ecuador granted him political asylum after its government found that his life was threatened by a grand jury investigation in Virginia.

Other Sam Adams Associates include David MacMichael, a former high-level CIA analyst who served in the Reagan Administration before resigning, in part over objections to that administration’s characterization of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua; Ray McGovern, who worked on the Presidential Daily Briefing, and who worked for the CIA for 27 years briefing President Reagan face-to-face; Coleen Rowley, who was an FBI Special Agent and Counsel for the Bureau¹s Minneapolis-St.Paul field office, and who blew the whistle on indications prior to 9/11 within the intelligence system that the attacks were going to take place; Col. Ann Wright (US Army, Ret.), a former State Department diplomat who resigned in protest of the war in Iraq and who has been arrested many times for nonviolent civil disobedience and who was a passenger aboard a voyage in protest of the blockade of Gaza by the Israeli government; Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan who blew the whistle on torture; and Thomas Drake, a former National Security Agency official who spoke out against violations of the privacy of US citizens by that agency, and against waste, fraud and abuse. He said that this courageous whistleblowing made him socially “radioactive” among colleagues.

Karl Rove has described the Downing Street Memo as a “forgery,” but Annie Machon, former MI5 domestic intelligence officer and now public speaker, said in an interview that Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6 (Britain’s foreign intelligence service), when challenged about the Downing Street Memo at the Cambridge Union, responded that his remarks were “taken out of context.” One would think that that would have been an ideal opportunity to characterize the memo as a forgery had it actually been one.

The Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence tend to focus on issues such as the process of politicization of intelligence (in which policy tends to drive intelligence gathering and thereby corrupt the provision of facts to political decision makers), which can lead to wars based on false information and the concomitant loss of life. Those issues were somewhat overshadowed in the discourse at the famed debating society by ad hominem questions directed against Julian Assange about his choice to seek political refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy rather than be extradited to Sweden to answer the sexual abuse allegations.

D.H. Kerby is a writer in Philadelphia, Pa.

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2013

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