Whatever your feelings about former President Trump, there are reasons to be skeptical when government officials say it was necessary to raid his Florida home to recover classified documents that threatened national security.
Like the former president, I was once accused by the government of mishandling classified information connected to my representation of a detainee at Guantanamo Bay. There was nothing in my client’s file that posed any danger to national security. My client was an innocent shopkeeper who was sold to the Americans back in 2003 when the US was paying bounties to corrupt Afghan warlords to turn in Al Qaeda or Taliban fighters, and then shipping those men 8,000 miles to our newly built prison camp in Cuba. The government decided to classify every document in the detainee files as “secret,” not to protect national security, but so it could lie with impunity and tell the American people that the prisoners at Gitmo were the “worst of the worst,” and “terrorists” captured on the battlefield.
I never revealed any classified information. I got into trouble after writing an article criticizing the government’s practice of classifying certain evidence above the security clearance level of the detainee’s lawyer, making it impossible to challenge. Following a hearing at the Department of Justice, I was allowed to keep my security clearance long enough to see my client released back to his home and his family after 12 years of unjust imprisonment.
I was never in serious legal jeopardy. But the experience opened my eyes to the ways that our government abuses its power to classify information as “secret” to protect its own officials from embarrassment or criminal exposure. Since 9/11, the people most aggressively pursued for mishandling classified materials are whistleblowers, not traitors.
Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange revealed official crimes such as the murder of unarmed Iraqi civilians and journalists. Daniel Hale revealed that our drone assassination program regularly slaughters innocent civilians, contrary to public statements about surgical strikes. John Kiriakou revealed inconvenient facts about our torture program. Edward Snowden revealed an illegal mass surveillance program. All these truth-tellers were aggressively pursued under the Espionage Act. Assange may die in prison for telling the truth about the crimes of our leaders.
While Trump may not fit the mold of a selfless whistleblower, there is still cause for concern. First, the official justifications for the raid on Mar-a-Lago are highly suspect. Initially we were told that Trump possessed “classified documents relating to nuclear weapons” that he might sell to a foreign government like Saudi Arabia. This shocking accusation has been quietly dropped. Now we are told that the government has “grave concern” that Trump might blow the cover on “clandestine human sources” described in the mainstream media as the “lifeblood” of our intelligence community. “Disclosure could jeopardize the life of the human source,” a former legal adviser to the National Security Council told the New York Times.
This second justification — to protect sources — is also dubious. The DOJ has been in negotiation with Trump’s lawyers since he left the oval office with his boxes of documents. If the government was just concerned about protecting its informants, a deal could have easily been struck wherein government lawyers would go to Mar-a-Lago and redact the lines in the documents that identify informants without the need for a full-blown raid.
The sudden concern in the mainstream media about protecting informants in order to take down Trump is short-sighted. The US has a long and sordid history of using corrupt, lying informants to launch disastrous policies like the Iraq War. In 2002-03, we were told by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell that the government had “solid intelligence” that the Iraqi regime possessed mobile production facilities for biological and chemical weapons. Had ordinary Americans then had access to the intelligence reports — leaked years later, after the disastrous war was in full flight — we would have learned that the “solid intelligence” about mobile weapons labs came from a single informant named “Curveball,” who had been described by his handlers as “crazy” and “probably a fabricator” and his intelligence as “highly suspect.” Had some brave patriot leaked these reports in real time, millions more Americans would have taken to the streets in 2002 to stop the planned invasion of Iraq.
The media should be demanding more information from our government, especially about its use of informants, and not more secrecy. It is a basic rule of journalism that governments lie, and they often bribe (and sometimes torture) informants to support those lies.
Many innocent men, including my client, were sent to Guantanamo Bay on the word of informants who were bribed with large cash rewards. If these informants are the lifeblood of our intelligence service, then that service should be defunded.
A more plausible explanation for the Mar-a-Lago raid was provided by two high-level US intelligence officials who told Newsweek’s William M. Arkin that the true target of the raid was a personal “stash” of hidden documents that Justice Department officials feared Donald Trump might weaponize. This stash reportedly included material that Trump thought would exonerate him of any claims of Russian collusion in 2016 or any other election-related charges. “Trump was particularly interested in matters related to the Russia hoax and the wrong-doings of the deep state,” one former Trump official told Newsweek.
This explanation is corroborated by former senior director for counterterrorism Kash Patel, who prepared a key House report that revealed “significant intelligence tradecraft failings” in connection with the Intelligence Community’s Assessment on Russian interference. But the CIA has blocked the release of Patel’s report by classifying it as “secret.”
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