Playing truth and dare
The compound word ‘whistleblower’ has begun to have a peculiarly forceful resonance in our daily lives, which hide in their humdrum ordinariness the traces of the murky and the hint of the menacing. Curiously, we are seeing the news and social media awash with reports on more and more such whistleblowers, with Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden becoming household names that elicit mixed reactions, ranging from hero worship to plain repugnance. Yet, never before was the idea of ‘truth’ so challenged and never before was it pursued with such vigour as it is being done in present times.A little exploration into the history of whistleblowers gives an intriguing insight into the evolution of these fact-finders, who dare to pull the lid on nothing less than the state’s own draconian activities and mechanisms to oppress its own people. They make their appearance in the early decades of twentieth century, almost a century after the rise of the national and international news media, thus establishing a clear link between themselves and the fourth estate.
However, their numbers make a sudden steep rise as the decades pass, starting from barely one or two in ten years to an astounding five, six to even ten per decade, which shoot up to over four to five per year with the coming of the 21st century. Evidently, the rise of the Internet aids in dissemination of information and has a corresponding effect on the state’s ability to brush every unpalatable truth under the mammoth carpet called ‘classified data.’ Another interesting observation that the whistleblowers of past and present let us make is that most of them come from the West; in fact a staggering 90 per cent are from that self-proclaimed land of dreams and liberty – United States of America, a biting irony of our times.While we come across a few, such as one Edmund Dene Morel (from Britain) or a Jan Karski (Nazi Germany) or a Rita Pal (British-Indian) sporadically, it’s their strictly American counterparts that hog the lion’s share of the information leak pie. Be it Mark Felt (Deep Throat, the Watergate scandal), or Cynthia Cooper and Sherron Watkins (exposed major corporate financial scandal in 2002) or Russ Tice (first to come forward with assertions on US mass surveillance) — the Americans have been valiant fighters of the routine persecutions perpetuated by their own state, under the pretext of expanding the realm of rights, improving efficiency or simply in the interest of that great and unmistakable cause, national security.
At the heart of America’s war on its citizens, and as a logical extension of the view, on the denizens of the world, is the despotic Espionage Act, the 1917 statute enacted to criminalise dissent against World War I. It is with this tyrannical and unbelievably outdated decree that the likes of Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange have been/ would have been charged, even though the ideas on information, their handling and the role of the state as well as its citizens have undergone massive transformation over the past century. Yet it is this almost a 100-year-old law that the American government inevitably falls back on whenever it comes across an entity (human or organisational) challenging its ubiquitous authority on all subjects under the sun. Coming to the (unholy?) trinity of ‘information anarchists’, ‘national security threats’, ‘traitors’ and whatnots, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and now Edward Snowden — what really has been their crime? While Manning, a young intelligence analyst at Iraq War, horrified and disgusted with the slew of transgressions on the American part, decided to source a number of videos and almost 700,000 US diplomatic cables that are testimonies to grave crimes and the US complicity in various global acts of violence, including perpetuating the myth that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, received the videos (including the Collateral Damage videothat shows pilots aboard US Apache jets firing indiscriminately at innocent bystanders on a street in Baghdad, killing even a Reuters photojournalist in the process), and data, and published them all on their website (along with the British newspaper Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel). WikiLeaks went on to acquire yet another set of diplomatic cables that exposed, the fallacies and cost of the Afghan War, Kenyan election rigging, tranche of files from Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay, and even the correspondence between Indian and US counsels that pointed towards layers and layers of networking and duly exposed the existence of the ‘deep state.’ Thus Bradley Manning, along with Julian Assange, basically exposed the war crimes of the American state, by publishing data that pulled the plug on the US government’s war of transparency, justice and accountability and hoodwinking the American citizens as well as the global denizens in the name of bolstering the national security edifice.
Moreover, both Assange and Manning had not handed over sensitive information to any enemy state, but rather made the data available in public domain, thereby doing nothing to compromise the American citizens but disclosing the misadventures of their own government. Similarly, Edward Snowden, the disgruntled former employee of National Security Agency and CIA, had been suitably enraged by the authoritarianism of the US mass surveillance, that spies on anything and everything digital, thus itself being a monstrous instrument of global espionage, respecting no laws pertaining to individual or even other sovereign nations’ privacy. Snowden has categorically stated that he was disgusted enough with the US snooping systems to come out with the leaks on their secret projects such as PRISM, or XKeyscore, that analyse emails, online chats, videos, photos, sounds and every other form of digital transaction, collects and stores them in humongous severs for future reference. Snowden revolted against this idea of universal surveillance, the Orwellian paradise of an omniscient Big Brother watching our every move.As the ongoing trial of Bradley Manning, as well as the escalation of tensions between the US and Russia over the Snowden saga testify, the war on information is the latest and most insidious form of war that is being waged on both fronts. We must stand up in support of the Mannings, Assanges and Snowdens of the world in their fight against accelerating governmental opacity and erosion of privacy as well as civil liberties of all kind.