Shredding the Constitution: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers

War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State

Robert Greenwald (2015)

Film Review

War on Whistleblowers details the cases of four US whistleblowers who experienced severe government retaliation after exposing systematic wrongdoing to journalists.

The men profiled are marine Franz Gaye, who broke the story about the Pentagon refusal to replace Humvees with much safer MRAPs in the US occupation of Iraq; NSA senior executive Thomas Drake, who first blew the whistle on illegal NSA mass surveillance; Lockheed-Martin engineer Michael DeKort, who broke the story that Lockheed was supplying the Coast Guard with substandard boats and radios that weren’t waterproof; and Department of Justice lawyer Jim Risen, who first exposed the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretaps.

Their stories are interspersed with commentary by iconic whistleblowers Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden (via Internet linkup), as well as the handful of journalists who have been brave enough to publish evidence of government corruption and criminality and members of the Project on Government Oversight and the Project for Government Accountability.

Each of the four whistleblowers went up his workplace chain of command in his agency and exhausted every option for addressing the problem internally. Each was fully aware of the potential consequences of their actions of going to the press. Yet after much soul searching, they saw whistle blowing as a preferable alternative than to colluding in their superiors’ criminality.

Paying the Price

Only Gaye was allowed to resume his career as an active duty marine. DeKort had his Lockheed position cancelled and was blackballed from further work in the defense industry. In addition to losing their jobs, both Drake and Risen experienced financial ruin, spending tens of thousands of dollars fighting felony charges the Obama Justice Department brought against them. Drake was charged under the Espionage Act, even though the information he shared with the Baltimore Sun was unclassified.

After seven years of persecution by the Justice Department, Drake eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor: excessive use of a computer without authorization. The charges against Risen were dropped after four years of legal battles.

The Distinction Between Leaking and Whistle Blowing

The film makes the clear distinction between leaking and whistleblowing. High level Obama administration officials constantly leak classified information to the press with no legal consequences.

Despite his campaign promises to make government more transparent and accountable, Obama has significantly increased government secrecy, as well as prosecuting more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined.

According to Snowden, the President’s purpose isn’t to make Americans more secure. It’s to protect government agencies and politicians from embarrassment a criminal prosecution.

His crackdown on whistleblowers is also a fundamental violation of the First Amendment. The whole intent of freedom of speech and the press is to ensure citizens’ right to criticize their government without being punished.

How Iraq Made Big Bucks for Wall Street

The Role  of CACI, Titan, Blackwater and Halliburton

Iraq for Sale: the War Profiteers (Robert Greenwald 2006) is about the privatization of the war in Iraq and four of the Wall Street corporations that endangered enlisted troops, committed war crimes and cheated taxpayers out of billions of dollars. The film has just become available for free viewing on YouTube.

The film’s most shocking revelation is that torture at Abu Ghraib was primarily the responsibility of two private corporations, CACI International and Titan. CACI was originally contracted to perform database services in Iraq. The contract was expanded to include army intelligence work and eventually the interrogation and torture of prisoners.

Titan was originally contracted to provide translation services. According to GIs interviewed for the film, Titan never assessed their translators for their language skills and provided no training nor supervision of their ongoing work.

The GIs who tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib were ordered to do so by these civilian contractors. When the scandal broke, the GIs were court martialed and faced average sentences of eighteen years. The civilian contractors who ordered the torture were merely sent home. Many went to work for new contractors and returned to Iraq within weeks.

Gouging the Taxpayer

The role of Halliburton (the company Dick Cheney ran before becoming vice-president) and Blackwater in Iraq has been well publicized thanks to a series of high profile scandals.

Even before the war started, the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) was awarded a no-bid contract to provide meals, water and construction, laundry, repair and transport services. Because it was a no limit cost-plus contract, there was a strong incentive for Halliburton/KBR to add on and inflate billable services.

Specific examples include charging the Pentagon $45 for a can of Coke, $99 for a bag of laundry and $250,000 on a three year lease for a $25,000 SUV. Instead of repairing trucks and SUVs that broke down, KBR would order GIs to burn or blow them up so they could charge the taxpayer for new ones. Hundreds of millions of dollars simply disappeared.

n 2005, Pentagon auditors ascertained that Halliburton had overcharged them by more than $1 billion. Despite a high profile Congressional investigation, the Pentagon paid the $1 billion over charge. Not only was there no effort to prosecute Halliburton, but their contract in Iraq was expanded.

Placing GIs at Risk

In addition to gouging the taxpayer, Halliburton/KBR placed GIs at significant risk in the slipshod way they provided water and food service. Out of the sixty-seven water treatment plants they operated in Iraq, sixty-three were unsafe due to contamination with giardia, cryptosporidium and other infectious organisms.

The mess halls Halliburton/KBR provided ran also placed GIs at substantial risk because the company refused to provide a twenty-four hour food service. Iraqi insurgents were quick to learn the meal schedules and frequently attacked as GIs waited an hour in line to be fed.

Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism

Robert Greenwald (2004)

Film Review

Outfoxed makes the case that media mogul Rupert Murdoch is first and foremost a politician – that he uses Fox News and his vast media monopoly* to promote conservative politicians who protect his financial interests. As evidence, it provides dozens of Fox News broadcast clips, samples of Roger Ailes’ daily editorial memos, and interviews with former Fox producers, reporters and commentators.

Murdoch used 21st Century Fox and the six TV stations owned by Metromedia he acquired in 1986 to form the Fox Broadcasting Company. In 1996, he entered the cable news market, hiring Roger Ailes to set up and run the Fox News Channel, a 24-hour cable news stations.

The former reporters and producers featured in the documentary talk at length about Ailes’ daily memos about topics they were required to cover (and avoid) and the spin he expected. Murdoch has a special hatred for the Kennedys, Bill Clinton, anti-war movie stars and Jesse Jackson and Fox employees were expected to invent opportunities to demonize them. The memos they received also heavily emphasized terrorism, fear of terrorism and divisive wedge issues, such as abortion, gay rights and religion, especially in election years. The intention was to distract US voters from issues, like the economy, that were problematic for Republicans.

Reporters and producers who failed to follow Ailes’ directives would be chewed out, demoted or fired. Commentators who failed to follow Murdoch’s party line would have their contracts canceled.

Election and War Coverage

Outfoxed devotes special attention to the biased coverage of the 2000 and 2004 election campaigns and the War in Iraq. In their vicious demonization of John Kerry in 2004, Fox News engaged in a deliberate attack campaign more typical of a political party.

The Fox Effect

Filmmaker Robert Greenwald also examines the effect Fox News has on other TV networks when they feel pressured to report Fox-initiated propaganda as news. The rumor that John Kerry looked and acted French – a pure Fox News invention – is a case in point. Likewise in 2000, ABC, NBC and CBS all declared Bush the winner at 2 am on election night, immediately after the Fox analyst (Bush’s first cousin) did so. Only Associated Press reported, correctly, that the Florida race was too close to call.

The Internet Effect

Produced ten years ago, the film’s call to action – lobbying the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – is totally obsolete. Greenwald had no way of predicted the social media revolution or its negative effect on traditional media. Young people no longer rely on TV for news and information. Young Americans (age 25-54) particularly avoid Fox News – there’s no way a network catering to an older male Republican base can possibly address the issues that concern them. This is reflected in a steady decline in Fox News ratings over the last five years.


*In addition to Fox Networks, Rupert Murdoch owns Harper Collins, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the British Sun, Times and Sky Television, five regional US newspapers and more than 100 national and regional Australian newspapers.