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Obama’s Admininstration Most Aggressive Against Whistleblowers In US History

The steep decline in media freedom in the United States is reflected by Reporters without Borders (RSF) in its Press Freedom Index for 2014 by placing the US in position 46 – 13 behind what it occupied last year.
To bringing alive the statistics, partly by relating his own experience and partly by referring what had befallen his colleagues, was James Risen of the New York Times, Risen has been ordered by the Court of Appeals to give evidence in the trial of a whistleblower, Jeffrey Sterling, a CIA agent charged under the Espionage Act for leaking unauthorised information to Risen. 
Risen was speaking at a press conference convened by RSF at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Tuesday to release the 2014 Press Freedom Index. Also on the panel, chaired by Delphine Halgand, RSF’s director in Washington, were Huong Nguyen, a doctoral student at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, cofounder of the Viet Youth for Democracy movement and a friend of jailed Vietnamese pro-democracy activist/blogger Nguyen Tien Trung, and Tolga Tanis, Washington correspondent for the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.

 Risen said the Obama administration was the most aggressive in the history of the US in prosecuting whistleblowers and investigating leaks. “(The administration) wants to limit information on national security and what people know on the war on terror,” he said.
He went on to say that since normal oversight exercised within the bureaucracy such as by inspectors general in the Department of Defence, had “atrophied” and anyone going outside the chain of command to report grievances ran the risk of being targeted.
Halgand was no less critical in her opening remarks, “In the United States, the hunt for leaks and whistleblowers serves as a warning to those thinking of satisfying a public interests need for information about the imperial prerogatives assumed by the world’s leading power. The United Kingdom (position 33) has followed in the US wake, distinguishing itself by its harassment of The Guardian.”
Huong, speaking on press freedom in Vietnam and her friend Trung, said Trung founded Vietnamese Youth for Democracy movement. He was charged for propaganda against the state and has been jailed for seven years and three years probation in 2009. Huong said that part of Vietnam’s punishment of pro-democracy activists was harassing families of activists and Trung’s was not spared.
She also spoke laws deterring freedom of information on the internet and the use of administrative measures to deliberately make life difficult for bloggers to work. Huong said it had resulted in self-censorship.
“Independent news providers are subject to enhanced internet surveillance, draconian directives, waves of arrests and sham trials. Vietnam continues to be the second largest prison for bloggers and netizens,” said RSF.

Speaking about Turkey, Tanis said, “Gezi Park was a turning point. Until Gezi, [Prime Minister Tyyip Erdogan’s] government controlled the media. He said the ruling party was able to achieve this by creating a media supporting it and suppressing those against it.”

However with the confrontation at Gezi Park, where 150 journalists were injured and 39 detained, the media had become bolder and more willing to take on the government. It was because of this evolution that the media was willing to challenge the government on issues of corruption he said. The corruption scandal that broke out last December has resulted in senior members of Erdogan’s government resigning and the regime clamping down further on internet freedom through Law 5651.
“There are number of examples of governments abusing the ‘fight against terrorism.’ In Turkey, (154th) dozens of journalists have been detained on this pretext, above all, those who cover the Kurdish issue,” said Halgand.
 Please click here to read RSF’s Press Freedom Index 2014.

No Miranda Rights For Miranda

David Miranda (left) and Glen Greenwald

The cooperation national security establishments of western democracies afford each other when embarrassing details of their spying programmes are exposed by intrepid journalists was on full view, Sunday. But the nine hour detention at Britain’s Heathrow airport of David Miranda , also demonstrates something else: how broadly anti-terror laws apply to net in individuals who expose government wrongdoing.
Miranda (28), is the partner of Glen Greenwald of the UK Guardian, who helped US whistleblower Edward Snowden expose domestic surveillance by British and US national security agencies.  

In a report on August 19, the BBC said Miranda was detained for nine hours by the British police under the country’s anti-terrorism law while in transit at Heathrow travelling from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro. He had flown to Germany to consult with filmmaker Laura Poitras who is working with Greenwald on exposes by Snowden. “‘I remained in a room, there were six different agents coming and going, talking to me,’ Mr Miranda said. ‘They asked questions about my entire life, about everything. They took my computer, video game, mobile phone, my memory cards, everything,'” the BBC quoted Miranda saying.

The reason for Miranda’s harassment in Snowden, an analyst working for a US contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, who in May disclosed secret domestic and international electronic surveillance programmes by the US’s National Security Agency (NSA). Snowden’s leaks drew attention to two programmes in the US. The first is under the Patriot Act, which allows metadata of telephone calls of US citizens to be recorded and accessible to NSA analysts searching for links for potential terrorist threats; the second, PRISM, under Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendment Act, which permits vacuuming vast quantities of digital data including text, photographs and video content, from emails, short messaging and other private communications of non-US citizens from around the world. Snowden’s exposes were first published by the Guardian and the Washington Post. Snowden has sought temporary asylum in Russia.
After the disclosure of US spy programmes Snowden and Greenwald turned the focus on UK’s  domestic surveillance project by General Communication Headquarters GCHQ revealing that British authorities had spied on communications by national leaders present for the G-20’s London Summit in 2009. Following this, the Frenchuse of electronic spying also came to light
Speaking on the nine hour detention of Miranda, the Paris-based media freedom monitor Reporters without Borders (RSF) said, “We are very disturbed by this unacceptable violation of the UK’s obligations to respect freedom of information and the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. By acting in this arbitrary way, the British authorities have just emphasized how necessary and legitimate Snowden’s and Greenwald’s revelations were.”
Among the factors that make Miranda detention troubling is the wide powers antiterrorism laws give security agencies for arbitrary detention of people at airports and almost anywhere.
Greenwald told the BBC, “They never asked him about a single question at all about terrorism or anything relating to a terrorist organisation. They spent the entire day asking about the reporting I was doing and other Guardian journalists were doing on the NSA stories.”
If the agents questioning Miranda had not questioned him about terrorism, it means that anyone travelling through Heathrow (and other international airports in the UK) the British police want to punish for some reason could be detained under anti-terror law. The criteria for being detained and harassed is not committing an act of terror or having connections to a terrorist organisation, but doing something that displeases the British political and security establishment.
According to the BBC, Miranda was stopped at Heathrow under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act of 2000. “Under the schedule, UK police can stop, examine and search passengers at ports, airports and international rail terminals. A passenger can be held for questioning for up to nine hours and those detained must ‘give the examining officer any information in his possession which the officer requests.’ Any property seized must be returned after seven days, but data from mobile phones and laptops may be downloaded and retained by the police for longer.” Noncooperation could result in a three-month prison sentence.
But crucially, “there is no requirement for an officer to have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that someone is involved with terrorism before they are stopped,” as the BBC observes.  In other words, the British authorities do not have to justify what was suspicious for removing someone for interrogation.
There are clauses in place to deter arbitrary application however: the decision to apply the law should be based on “current and emerging trends in terrorist activity,” “individuals or groups whose current or past involvement in acts or threats of terrorism is known or suspected,” or “emerging local trends or patterns of travel.” Obviously these restraints were not good enough to prevent the British police from detaining Miranda.
Terrorism Act 2000, which was used to detain Miranda, was followed by a spate of other anti-terrorism legislation in the UK: the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, the Terrorism Act 2006 and the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008.
In the US meanwhile, among the many shortcomings in the legislations allowing the NSA to eavesdrop, is how broadly they apply. There is very little attempt to narrow down or target potential suspects; instead the objective is to trawl for large quantities of data which nets in for NSA scrutiny the innocent as well as the guilty.
On July 17 John C Ingliss, deputy director, NSA, told a hearing of the US Congress’ House Judiciary Committee about the breadth the agency’s surveillance programme by describing the accumulation of phone record data as three ‘hops.’ The Washington Postin its story on the hearing included a comment by Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. “[Jameel] said that the NSA has been trying to make it seem as though it peeks at the communications of a tiny subset of people, but that with such hops, it has reviewed the communication patterns of millions. ‘The first hop takes you to 100 people the person called,’ Jaffer said. ‘The second one takes you to 10,000. The third one takes you to a million.'”
So, for security establishments on both sides of the Atlantic, violating the rights to privacy, expression or movement is secondary to casting their nets wide to harass whole populations – the innocent and the guilty.  

British, French Media Watchdogs Blow Whistle on US

US Army private, Bradley Manning was convicted on July 30 on multiple counts for leaking material related to US national security but acquitted of the charge of aiding the enemy. A few days prior to the verdict, two European organisations that monitor freedom of speech, expressed misgivings about the protection afforded by the US to whistleblowers like Manning and Edward Snowden. Snowden is accused of exposing details of US projects to collect telephone and electronic communication data.
“We are concerned that the US Government is not only unwilling to protect whistleblowers who reveal serious wrongdoings in the public interest, but instead actually pursues them. As a result, its commitment to openness, freedom of information and democratic governance is open to question,” said the UK-based ARTICLE 19 in a statement published July 27.
“ARTICLE 19 deeply regrets the US Government’s knee jerk reaction to such disclosures, consisting in bringing criminal charges against the alleged whistleblowers, instead of properly assessing the overall public interest of the disclosed information or addressing the wrongdoings they may have exposed.”
Meanwhile, on July 29, Reporters without Borders (RSF) expressed “concern” about the recent Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that New York Times journalist James Risen testify at the trial of a CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling who is accused of leaking unauthorised information. Risen used the information in his book ‘State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,’ published in 2006.
“Leaks are the lifeblood of investigative journalism,” said RSF, “given that nearly all information related to national security is considered ‘secret’ and that the DOJ has argued in the past that reporter’s privilege does not exist at all for national security reporters, it is safe to say that this crackdown against whistleblowers is designed to restrict all but officially approved versions of events and information. These developments highlight the need for a comprehensive, federal shield law in the U.S.”
RSF however expressed guarded approval of the Department of Justice guidelines issued in mid-July following the controversy caused by the US Government seizing phone records of the Associated Press and issuing a warrant on Fox News’ James Rosen.