I want to talk about something that keeps coming up in the news, commentaries, NGO petitions and campaigns, and even in many of the interviews I conduct with my co-host Peter B. Collins. I want to talk about it without having to be polite and biting my tongue. Because I end up doing that a lot - in an effort to present my guests and their views - and do so without being too hard, contradictory or disrespectful. Believe me, it is hard. Sometimes I end up with blisters all over my tongue by the end of an interview.
Last Sunday I went to a book reading session. The author’s relative had graciously invited me to attend, since the book somewhat involved the topic of government retaliation. I am not going to name the author or the book, but it was within the context of the McCarthy era witch-hunt inside government agencies. After the reading session the audience was given time to pose questions to the author. One person asked for his opinion on today’s whistleblowers such as Manning and Snowden, and how the author viewed them. This is how the author responded:
‘There are many parallels between the McCarthy Era and what we have been seeing in government actions since 9/11. And we have had many high-profile government whistleblowers who have faced severe retaliation. But I must say I do not agree with the way in which many of these whistleblowers have come forward. Their cause is good. But their method is all wrong. You cannot change the system by stepping outside of it. The right way to do it is remaining inside, working with the system, and trying to change it from within.’
Really? I kept trying to think of examples. I tried, and tried, and tried. I couldn’t come up with a single example of good and conscientious people remaining within the corrupt and criminal system, working with it, and making it change. Hmmmm. I tried to put his statement within the context of my own whistleblowing. Could I have stayed in the FBI and done things in there to expose, arrest and imprison high-level government criminals- my bosses’ bosses? Yeh, right. How about people like Manning or Russ Tice? Could they have stayed in there and talked their bosses and their bosses’ bosses into stopping war crimes or illegal domestic surveillance? Yeh, right. How about people like Thomas Drake? Could he have stopped corrupt contract cases within the NSA by working in there and gently talking his bosses into stopping those corrupt practices. Yeh, right.
Anyhow, I thought, and thought, and thought some more, and despite knowing over two hundred government whistleblowers and their cases, I couldn’t come up with a single case or a situation where the agent or the analyst or the administrator could have done anything to change or stop criminal, corrupt, fraudulent or wasteful practices. Not a single one. So WTF was this guy was talking about?
Well, he was talking about, generally speaking, the same thing many people in the media, within the NGOs, even among those known as activists, have been saying, doing and promoting: change, but change within the system, brought and presented to you, and implemented, by the system. Think about what happened with the laws put in place to govern the people’s right to know- The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It was put together and brought to us by the system, implemented by the system. How effective has it been; really? Just check out hundreds if not thousands of analyses on what a BS FOIA has really been. Here is one from a recent editorial. And here is another. Do we have great sounding laws related to FOIA? You bet. Do we have wonderful notions like FOIA Review Boards? Yes, but of course. Does it really work? Of course not. But we are done with it. At least the activists, NGOs, some academics … Yeh, the same people who want - not whistleblowers, but those who remain inside, remain silent, and ignorantly believe that they have a chance to bring about change that way.
The same exact notion applies to what is taking place today in reaction to the latest NSA scandals. Most organized activism is channeled towards: Let’s have the system come up with some sort of law and system to have some sort of oversight. They are rallying behind Sensenbrenner and Leahy proposed bills. Some are defending the indefensible Dianne Feinstein proposed bill. They are talking about this classic notion of the executive branch appointing a few supposed independent review board members to oversee their unconstitutional and illegal surveillance. That’s right. You heard it right. They are going to continue the illegal-criminal practices, but they will pick a few men and women of their choice, and have them watch it. You know how some perverts like to watch others perform kinky sex. Well, there are people who get their kicks from overseeing government fu..ing the nation in the most criminal and repulsive ways.
Allow me to illustrate what I am talking about with perhaps a better example of what it means to have a criminal and corrupt system in place, and then work within that criminal system for some changes that are approved by and acceptable to the same criminal system:
Let’s say we have a slavery system-just like what we had before. And let’s say we work with the system, meaning, we keep the slavery system and propose certain laws and regulations to improve some standards of living on the plantations. We say, okay, we are not talking about overthrowing the system, or getting rid of it. No, sir. We want to work within the system and make it better; not fight the system itself. That’s all. NO one should disagree with the nobility and sensibility and rationality of what we are proposing. Isn’t it better to have better living quarters for the slaves, better food for them, and have a day off every week, than what we currently have? That’s right, it is. We are not like those radicals who step out of the system and crazily want to take on the entire system, abolish it. What a bunch of radical crazies!! They should know better than that. Sensible people don’t swim against the current. Sane people don’t talk about taking on the entire system and getting rid of it.
That’s pretty much it. That is what organized activism under the umbrella of the establishment-approved organizations wants us to do. They don’t want us to take on a diseased, criminal and corrupt system such as NSA or CIA, and say let’s get rid of the criminal system itself. No. That would be radical and insane. Instead they want to channel us and control the current opposition. They want to divert our attention from the system and have it concentrated on some stupid little law here and there, and a handful of system-chosen advocates to place our trust in, and then go away, all content, and say, we made some changes … within the system.
So please, next time you read some glossy and bold line dictated by the system on how we are supposed to bring about change, within the system, think about what it is they don’t want us to do or even think about doing: Seeing the forest for the trees. Taking on the system itself. Working for real change.
Sibel Edmonds is the Publisher & Editor of Boiling Frogs Post and the author of the Memoir Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story. She is the recipient of the 2006 PEN Newman's Own First Amendment Award for her “commitment to preserving the free flow of information in the United States in a time of growing international isolation and increasing government secrecy” Ms. Edmonds has a MA in Public Policy and International Commerce from George Mason University, a BA in Criminal Justice and Psychology from George Washington University.