In defense of whistleblowers (and Donald Trump)

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Certainly, Trump is not your traditional whistleblower, driven by grand motives and a need to speak truth to power. He’s more of a pack rat, whose motives for stealing government documents may be obscure even to himself. (I use the word “steal” because that’s the word that was used for all the honorable men in whose footsteps he followed.)

Perhaps Trump took the documents — and clung to them fiercely despite insistent demands for their return from the National Archives, the Justice Department and the FBI — with a vague idea that they might one day prove useful. But why? Blackmail? Sell ​​them to the Russians? Write his memoirs?

Take the star exhibit of documents that were removed from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate during the August 8 FBI raid, which allegedly contain information about ‘a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities’ .

So what? It probably won’t contain any information about how that data was acquired, especially if it involved “humints” (spies). This is really just one of Trump’s memories, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt if it were released.

Trump is convinced that this investigation was launched by Joe Biden, “his” Justice Department and “his” FBI. However, they are much more likely to be huge bureaucratic dinosaurs doing what they have always done.

Intelligence agencies always try to hide their activities, but most often because their actions are incompetent, irrelevant or illegal. It is the mystique that justifies their huge budgets, not their actual accomplishments. That’s why they’re so vindictive even when the secrets that have been revealed aren’t really that big a deal.

Indeed, when they devote enormous resources to tracking down and punishing whistleblowers, it is because whatever they have disclosed is embarrassing to the agencies or governments they serve. Real spies who steal vital national secrets (there are such secrets, though far fewer than people think) are killed, imprisoned, or traded without much public fuss.

What Daniel Ellsberg revealed in 1971 was a 7,000-page top secret history of US involvement in the Vietnam War up to 1968 that he helped write himself. It contained no information about ongoing operations, just a truckload of deeply embarrassing details about how the US government got involved in this stupid war and how badly it fought it.

Publishing it was a public service, as most Americans eventually agreed. But not before Ellsberg was charged under the Espionage Act and spent several years defending himself against charges that could have resulted in a 115-year prison sentence.

Mordechai Vanunu was an Israeli who revealed details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program in 1986, some two decades after the weapons were first manufactured. Their existence was the most open secret – literally everyone who cared already knew about it – but he was kidnapped while overseas, tried and imprisoned for 18 years.

Vanunu’s movements and contacts are still strictly controlled and he cannot leave Israel. His last post on Twitter (this month) reads: “No freedom yet, keep waiting, nothing has changed, no news here, another month and a year more, since 1986, but freedom must come”.

Edward Snowden worked for the US National Security Agency and revealed the vast scope of global surveillance programs conducted by the NSA in 2013. Several thousand individuals were targeted, including the heads of several allied governments.

Snowden had the wit to leave the United States before sharing his data with major newspapers, but the US State Department revoked his passport and framed him while he was in transit through Moscow. It’s still stuck there today.

And of course there is Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who deeply embarrassed the CIA in 2010 by posting a huge trove of secret US documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then, he has been trying to avoid extradition to the United States, almost all of that time in custody one way or another.

Donald Trump is therefore in much better company than he deserves, and his motives for taking all these secret documents were unclear. But the documents themselves, even if they are marked “Top Secret – Burn Before Reading” or whatever, are probably no more harmful to the true national security of the United States than those published by his predecessors.

They finally got Al Capone for tax evasion, but they shouldn’t have Donald Trump for that.

Disclaimer:
The opinions expressed on this page are those of the author and not of The Portugal News.

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