The Blog

Work for the American Government? Listen In


Call me a whistleblowing geek - but I keep a poster of Daniel Ellsberg on the board above my desk. I'm an independent freelance journalist, and in these days of industry uncertainty - you occasionally need a lift from the fraught bank accounts and credit card bills to remind you there is a point to all this...

Ellsberg's choice quote is "Don't Do What I Did." The citation recalls his experiences working on the top secret government study of the Vietnam War, a 7,000 page file that he subsequently photocopied and gave to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1969, then the New York Times, the Washington Post and seventeen other newspapers in 1971.

The "Pentagon Papers" revealed that the United States government had predicted that the Vietnam War could not be won, and that continuing would lead to many times more casualties than was ever admitted.

The documents also contradicted the official account of the 1964 Tonkin Gulf incident, which - just as with Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in 2003 - enabled the White House to win Congressional approval for escalating US military involvement in Vietnam.

In return for his efforts, Ellsberg endured a court trial that threatened him with over a century in prison. He was eventually exonerated.

It was later revealed that the government had plotted to hire a team of Cuban waiters to "permanently incapacitate" him.

Ellsberg wishes he'd acted sooner. "Don't do what I did, " he says on the poster. "Don't wait until a new war has started, don't wait until thousands more have died, before you tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers. You might save a war's worth of lives."

My paltry workspace is the most ignominious of locations for this poster., the organisation which Ellsberg now sits on the board of, has found far grander environs for his message.

On their launch in June, they mounted a billboard sized version on a hoarding right opposite the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. . More sprung up in the following weeks.

The organisation wanted to sow the seeds of patriotism within State employees commuting to and fro. If those commuters had witnessed a misgiving, even within their classified environment, come out with it. Don't be afraid, and don't do what Ellsberg did - don't wait.

Given the military might of America, and what seems an unbridled appetite for aggression from The White House, this work could never be more important.

Launched by the Institute for Public Accuracy, represents a new approach for encouraging whistleblowers to disclose information - drawing on thousands of contacts within the journalism industry and an experienced board of editorial advisers who assess each whistleblowing allegation rigorously. Beyond Wikileaks or The Intercept, it provides a professionalized environment with enormous reach, for exposing the bad guys on the American taxpayers payroll.

Assisted by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and its "SecureDrop" whistleblower submission system-- is also utilizing the latest technology.

The list of instructions for using the system reveals a great deal about the surveillance orientated nature of Western democracy - despite the "freedom" rhetoric of The White House, Brussels and Westminster.

I paste a sample to illustrate :

The SecureDrop onion URL should only be accessed with the Tor browser -- and, for added security, be running the Tails operating system.

Whistleblowers should not log-in to SecureDrop from a home or office Internet connection, but rather from public wifi, preferably one you do not frequent.

Whistleblowers should keep to a minimum interacting with whistleblowing-related websites unless they are using such secure software.

If you're an employee of the U.S. government - with even an inkling of discomfort with whatever you are working on - please ignore the technical challenges above and consider Ellsberg's words. Americans and the world pay for mistakes your department makes.

If you're unsure, I suggest heading down to the National Press Club on Thursday in Washington, at 1pm. Daniel Ellsberg will be speaking. In 1969, he began attending anti-war events and experienced an "epiphany" attending a War Resisters League conference at Haverford College.

The speaker was a draft resister named Randy Kehler, who told the audience he was "very excited" that he would be soon be imprisoned alongside his fellow objectors.

Ellsberg described his reaction:

And he said this very calmly. I hadn't known that he was about to be sentenced for draft resistance. It hit me as a total surprise and shock, because I heard his words in the midst of actually feeling proud of my country listening to him. And then I heard he was going to prison. It wasn't what he said exactly that changed my worldview. It was the example he was setting with his life. How his words in general showed that he was a stellar American, and that he was going to jail as a very deliberate choice--because he thought it was the right thing to do. There was no question in my mind that my government was involved in an unjust war that was going to continue and get larger. Thousands of young men were dying each year. I left the auditorium and found a deserted men's room. I sat on the floor and cried for over an hour, just sobbing. The only time in my life I've reacted to something like that.

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