blew the whistle on my government after 9/11 but fear it did not
The first American charged under the Espionage Act after the
attacks asks whether empire has permanently replaced the
By Thomas Drake
12, 2021 -- "Information
Twenty years later, the
specter of September 11, 2001 and its aftermath continues to
shape and influence U.S. and world history. Even after two
decades, I am still triggered by the “what ifs” of history, with
the certain knowledge that 9/11 was preventable and that the
United States government utterly failed to provide for the
common defense and keep its people out of harm’s way.
On reflection, we must
ask whether the world is a better place for the enormous
response to the terror attacks that day. The latest front-page
news of America’s evacuation and departure from Afghanistan
after almost 20 years is a case study that fully demonstrates
the utter hypocrisy and hubris of American exceptionalism.
The failure of the
national security state born during the early years of the Cold
War to ostensibly protect people and prevent surprises
paradoxically created the very conditions for the twin failures
of the bright and shining lies of our wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq. This systemic failure also unleashed the largely secret
Global War on Terror, including the very dark torture regime and
mass surveillance programs, and a host of other “off the books”
executive actions supported by the war porn industry and
powerful interests to profit and plunder from conflict.
For example, JSOC
(Joint Special Operations Command) and CIA paramilitary units
were greatly expanded in this post 9/11 world for worldwide
shadow missions, as was the role of private military security
companies like Blackwater Worldwide.
9/11 was also my first
day on the job as a National Security Agency senior executive
hired from the outside to help meet the enormous demands of the
then-nascent digital era.
When I arrived at NSA
shortly after 5 a.m. on that fateful morning, little did I
know what would happen in just a few short hours — although the
warning light was blinking red for three years, ever since
then-CIA Director George Tenet issued his memo warning about
spectacular asymmetric threats posed by Al Qaeda that were
largely ignored by most in the national security arena.
What I also did not
know that same morning as I drove into the main NSA complex was
how the U.S. would respond to the attacks. But I soon became an
eyewitness to decisions at the highest levels of government, up
to and including the president of the United States, with
America abandoning the bedrock Law of the Land, namely
the Constitution. For all intents and purposes the United States
unchained itself from its founding principles — the Bill of
Rights — after 9/11, and employed state secret executive fiat
rules by exception and the use of emergency conditions that
justified the breaking of law in the name of national security.
I watched Pandora’s Box
open up directly in front of me and the furies escape. I could
have attempted to shut the lid, ignored what I discovered and
went on acting like nothing had happened. However, I could not
stand by as an eyewitness to the subversion of the very
Constitution I took an oath to defend, even when it meant
defending it against my own government.
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Shortly after 9/11, I
heard more than mere rumblings about secret
electronic eavesdropping and data mining against Americans that
bypassed the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act — the exclusive means in the law for conducting
such activity, with severe criminal sanctions when violated.
Such shortcuts were not necessary. Lawful alternatives —
including the very best of American ingenuity and innovation —
actually existed that would have also vastly improved our
intelligence capability against legitimate threats and
contributed enormously in the duty to warn and keep people out
of harm’s way.
I became a whistleblower
and ended up getting
charged under the Espionage Act in 2010, facing down 35 years in
prison for allegedly causing exceptionally grave damage to
national security for disclosing what was later acknowledged as
wholly unclassified information to a reporter. The information I
shared regarded secret surveillance, massive fraud, waste, and
abuse plus egregious and unconscionable 9/11 intelligence
failures and the subsequent cover up regarding NSA and other
I blew the whistle on
unaccountable and irresponsible government behavior that I
believed to be illegal and unconstitutional. To the government,
I was a traitor who committed crimes against the state. As an
American, however, I could not stand by and become an accessory
to the willful subversion of our freedoms.
penchant for operating in secrecy and hiding behind the
executive branch “state secrets” doctrine has damaged our
long-term national security and national character by
sacrificing the general welfare and civil liberties of people,
and has given rise to an enormously persistent and profitable
military industrial-intelligence-congressional complex.
It is a core precept
when taking the oath to support and defend the Constitution as
a government employee and providing for the common defense that
you do not sell out intelligence or national security to the
highest bidder, or keep our nation’s decision-makers in the
dark, or turn information into a political tool or leave it to
self-interest or cover up to protect your own hide from
embarrassment and accountability.
Such egregious behavior
sends a chilling message about what the government can and will
do to those who speak truth to power and turns into a direct
form of political repression, the suppression of public interest
information and brazen censorship.
Once exposed, these
unconstitutional detours are too often justified by vague
and undefined claims of ‘national security,’ aided and abetted
by officials’ shameless fearmongering while they cover up their
own actions and keep them secret from the public.
We must then ask of
ourselves the hardest of questions going forward, as the
entrails of U.S. Empire show the utter futility of pursuing
plunder and profit at the expense of human lives, when the
original failure arose from the breakdown in the duty to warn
and protect against harm and improve the quality of life for
people instead of turning vast tracts of the world into killing
fields in the pursuit of “security.”
What if the whole
edifice of empire projection is a huge scam and grift after
spending trillions in treasure while displacing and uprooting
tens of millions of people and killing millions on the altars of
national security and the military industrial intelligence
complex? Is the turning of the Constitutional Republic (for all
its flaws and foibles) into an Empire now the overriding
raison d’etre of America today no matter the cost or loss
in human life? History may not repeat itself, but if the rise
and fall of the Roman Empire is any lesson at all, then history
at least rhymes. I fear for the future of what’s left of the
Republic. What future do you want to keep?
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