A long time ago, before 9/11, analysts working for the NSA used to quip that the letters stood for “No Such Agency.” Their veil of secrecy was the counterpoint to what they did for years which was to lift the veil of secrecy on everybody else. The aborted program that John Poindexter put forward shortly after 9/11 was slapped down, probably for being too honest about its premise, as honest as the NSA ever is. They called the program ‘Total Information Awareness’ and the image that represented it on the PowerPoint that hit the web was the Masonic Pyramid with the single all-seeing eye. Although rejected, the NSA pretty much went ahead with the program under a new name: PRISM. In CNN’s latest “thought” piece, a leading question frames Edward Snowden’s release of information regarding the NSA’s PRISM program. It asks whether Snowden is a Traitor or a Hero?
But it’s the wrong question. And Snowden, I feel relatively confident, would be the first to tell you that it’s the wrong question.
Less than a year ago at a Senate hearing, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden asked James Clapper, nominal director of the hydra-headed National Intelligence Service, another question. “Does the N.S.A. collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” To which Clapper replied: “No, sir.” After a head scratching pause (one helluva tell, I must say) he also added, “Not wittingly.”
At another hearing, General Keith Alexander, the director of the N.S.A., denied fourteen times that the agency had the technical capability to intercept e-mails and other online communications in the United States.
Of course, they were both lying.
Here’s another question. At what point do constraints of secrecy become lies in spy bureaucracies like the NSA or in our government in general?
Let me explain. At least one way the PATRIOT Act can subvert your average American is by forcing them to lie. The Act allows the FBI to not only request your records without a warrant but to forbid the provider of the records from ever revealing that the request was even made. This is 1984 territory: you must tell the truth to us, but you must never tell the truth to anyone else about us. Put less abstractly, it turns librarians and internet company officials into liars and stool pigeons under a legal seal of silence; a kind of legal blackmail. The threat to democracy lies not only in the evisceration of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process, the rights against self-incrimination and coerced confessions, and other rights that form the backbone of the criminal justice system, but also in eroding freedom of the press, seeing journalists and reporters as “aiding and abetting” the criminal telling of government secrets. Secrets, by the way, that shouldn’t even be secret. Steven King’s assertion that Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian should be jailed for his article on Snowden is but a crude manifestation of the ultimate logic of such ‘rules’.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has known about PRISM for some time and been appalled, but could not speak openly about it because it is classified, and his pleas to fellow senators to do something about it were shamefully deep-sixed by his colleagues.
Here’s yet another question. Who actually benefits from all this ‘intelligence’? The Boston Bomber plot appears to have come off without a hitch, despite multiple emails, Facebook posts, tracking of Jihadi websites and the like. They left a trail your average Cheetos huffing hacker could have tracked with his eyes closed. Yet we have amputees and at least three dead. Hello, NSA? Seems we have a problem. You might make the argument that Osama bin Laden was successfully assassinated thanks to our super surveillance state, only that’s a lie too. His compound was a digital black hole, no internet access from there at all. Why? Because they knew all about electronic intercepts and wisely didn’t believe a word of James Clapper’s testimony. In some ways, the PRISM program is an exercise in intellectual masturbation. One ex-intelligence official, Coleen Rowley, put it succinctly, “it does not make it easier to find a needle in a haystack if you continue to add hay.”
Programs like PRISM and the tautologically named Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD) don’t work because the hard work of analysis to figure what information is relevant and what is dross becomes continuously more difficult and longer with each new scoop of excess data. According to Rowley, “Researchers long ago concluded that the NIMD-type promise of detecting and accurately stopping terrorists through massive data collection was simply not possible.”
So why continue? Because there’s another answer to the question of who benefits from this intelligence.
Consider the following: Roughly 9-10 billion dollars a year are spent on the NSA’s electronic surveillance capabilities. That money doesn’t go to Federal employees however, or at least not the lion’s share. No, the vast majority, about 70% of that kingly sum goes to private firms, like, for example, Booz Allen Hamilton for whom Snowden worked. James Clapper, that magnificently lousy poker player, just happens to be the pioneer who helped Michael Hayden oversee this amazing privatization campaign.
Here’s a little history. According to the Nation, in the late 1990s, faced with a telecommunications and technological revolution that threatened to make the NSA’s telephone and radar-based surveillance skills obsolete, the agency decided to turn to private corporations for many of its technical needs.
The outsourcing plan was finalized in 2000 by a special NSA Advisory Board set up to determine the agency’s future and was codified in a secret report written by a then-obscure intelligence officer named James Clapper.
“Clapper did a one-man study for the NSA Advisory Board,” recalls Ed Loomis, a 40-year NSA veteran who, along with William Binney, Thomas Drake, and J. Kirk Wiebe, blew the whistle on corporate corruption at the NSA.
(By the way, they too are being prosecuted by Eric Holder and the Attorney General’s office.)
“His recommendation was that the NSA acquire its Internet capabilities from the private sector. The idea was, the private sector had the capability and we at NSA didn’t need to reinvent the wheel.”
Hayden, who was the NSA director at the time, “put a lot of trust in the private sector, and a lot of trust in Clapper, because Clapper was his mentor,” added Loomis. And once he got approval, “he was hell-bent on privatization and nothing was going to derail that.”
Clapper, of course, has denounced Snowden’s Guardian leaks as “reprehensible.” He called the disclosures, “literally gut-wrenching” and said they had caused “huge, grave damage” to US intelligence capabilities. But this is dubious at best: Al Qaeda was well aware US intelligence service intercepts. Really, even the extent of domestic spying isn’t a surprise to those of us who have been paying attention.
As the inimitable Charles Pierce has noted, “All Snowden did was tell us what we’d been paying for, and (maybe) remind “our adversaries” to use disposable cellphones, which they could have picked up from any episode of Law And Order after 1995. Maybe we should indict Jack McCoy for treason.”
None of this has to do with ‘effectiveness’ of responding to ‘threats’ or gathering information against those threats. It has to do with the appearance of effectiveness, and, naturally, money. Privatization is an ideology which is also a path to riches for pliant officials–one reason they have such a fervent faith in the free market. And, as with Wall Street, the officials feeding at the trough are entirely bipartisan.
According to the New York Times: “As evidence of the company’s close relationship with government, the Obama administration’s chief intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., is a former Booz Allen executive. The official who held that post in the Bush administration, John M. McConnell, now works for Booz Allen.”
That’s the revolving door in its purest form, flipping between private and public troughs, depending on the party in power. And there’s a lot of money to be made. Last February Booz Allen Hamilton announced two new contracts with Homeland Security, worth a total of $11 billion, for “program management, engineering, technology, business and financial management, and audit support services.”
Yet Booz Allen is only eighth on the list of the top 100 government contractors. Think about that.
Dana Priest and William Arkin conducted an intensive two-year investigation of national security for the Washington Post. They identified 1,931 private companies working in “about 10,000 locations” around the country, with 854,000 of their employees holding top-secret clearances.
They also found enormous redundancy and waste, along with an inability for human beings to effectively absorb and use all the information produced. Analysts were then publishing some 50,000 intelligence reports each year. And since this report was completed nearly three years ago, things can only have grown worse.
The huge drain on public coffers is only one of the downsides of this intelligence behemoth. Another is the lack of accountability when private employees do government work. According to the New York Times:
“The national security apparatus has been more and more privatized and turned over to contractors,” said Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group that studies federal government contracting. “This is something the public is largely unaware of, how more than a million private contractors are cleared to handle highly sensitive matters.” Even the process of granting security clearances is often handled by contractors, allowing companies to grant government security clearances to private sector employees.
All this is significant and should raise concerns, but it’s not the important question. The important question came from a writer named David Foster Wallace who in 2007 began to see the shape of things to come and asked this:
Is it worth it?
“What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”? In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?”
Wallace goes on to argue that we willingly accept 40,000+ domestic highway deaths each year as the price of a mobility in our society. In terms of concrete deaths for abstract ‘rights’, we appear to love the Second Amendment to such a degree that we’ll accept 30,000+ deaths by guns and still not demand a simple universal process for background checks, much less a gun registry.
Wallace continues: “Why now can we not have a serious national conversation about sacrifice, the inevitability of sacrifice—either of (a) some portion of safety or (b) some portion of the rights and protections that make the American idea so incalculably precious?
Where and when was the public debate on whether they’re worth it? Was there no such debate because we’re not capable of having or demanding one? Why not? Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur?”
There was no debate because no one asked permission. Because the relevant agencies kept their program shrouded in secrecy (No Such Agency!), even when their first efforts were soundly rejected. But now we have an opportunity to have this discussion. To answer this last question:
Are we willing to sacrifice our constitution on the altar of a dubious national security state in a pyrrhic effort to feel safe?
The question isn’t whether Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor. The correct question is, what are we?
Here’s the thing: the NSA listening dumps have been an ongoing invasion of privacy since shortly after Bush finished reading My Pet Goat, or, to be precise, the day the Patriot Act passed. As this dismal week draws to a close, the NSA Verizon phone scandal was probably the least of our worries.
For example, late last week the Washington Post and Guardian dropped concurrent bombshell reports. Their subject was PRISM, a covert collaboration between the NSA, FBI, and nearly every tech company we rely on daily. Its stated purpose is “to monitor potentially valuable foreign communications that might pass through US servers”, but it appears to have gone far beyond that in practice.
When the NSA monitors phone records via Verizon, it’s only supposed to collect the metadata. To and from whom the calls were made, where the calls came from, and other generalized information. According to authorities the actual content of the calls was off-limits.
By contrast, PRISM allows full access not just to the fact that an email or chat was sent, but also the contents of those emails and chats. According to the Washington Post’s source, they can “literally watch you as you type.” The type of data that Prism collects includes:
“…audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs… [Skype] can be monitored for audio when one end of the call is a conventional telephone, and for any combination of “audio, video, chat, and file transfers” when Skype users connect by computer alone. Google’s offerings include Gmail, voice and video chat, Google Drive files, photo libraries, and live surveillance of search terms.”
Did you get all that? Similar depth of access applies to Facebook, Microsoft, and the rest. This covers practically anything you’ve ever done online, up to and including Google searches as you type them.
So this new scandal, PRISM, makes the Verizon scandal look like a legal hang nail.
That about peaked my outrage meter for last week, until I heard about the anonymous hacker in Kentucky whose house was ransacked by the FBI because he had the temerity to reveal to the world what amounted to a cover up of a rape in Steubenville, Ohio. You might remember that story. Two high school football players were convicted of sexually assaulting a young girl at a party. The case gained national attention after the “hacktivist” group Anonymous leaked significant social media evidence implicating the assailants — including tweets, Instagram photos, and a 12-minute video of Steubenville high schoolers joking about the rape. But it turns out that working to expose those rapists may land one Anonymous hacker more time in prison than the rapists themselves.
Deric Lostutter, whose house was raided, confirmed he was KYAnonymous, the leader of KnightSec, the Anonymous offshoot that carried out “Operation Roll Red Roll,” which targeted Steubenville over the rape by two football players of the 16-year-old girl. In a few weeks in late 2012 he became a well-known figure in the Steubenville storyline, at one point giving an interview to CNN in a Guy Fawkes mask. (The two football players were found guilty of rape in March.)
In a statement posted on his website, Lostutter described the raid:
“As I open the door to greet the driver, approximately 12 F.B.I. Swat Team agents jumped out of the truck screaming for me to ‘Get The Fuck Down’ with m-16 assault rifles and full riot gear armed.”
“This is my call to you, in the media, in the world of anonymous, who look to change the world to a free, transparent one, to my friends and family as well, to come to my aid, if you can find it in your heart, share my story, donate, buy a sticker, rally in the streets to demand the investigation against me be dismissed.”
Now I am not one to applaud online hacking in any form, but I’m having a tough time legitimizing our government secretly listening to every digitized byte of information on Earth, while at the same time viciously prosecuting similar behavior that tries to reveal a problem, rather than cover it up.
If our government is actually going to bother to sift every last inch of our digitized souls, you would think there might be a few leads out there about money laundering hedge fund managers who stash their gold in off shore bank accounts? Eh? Or, football players who brag about their rape victims in online forums with impunity until some hacker cooperative finally lays them out?
Instead, they prosecute the whistle blowers -KYanonymous, in this instance– but more broadly folks like Bradley Manning and Julian Assange who have the temerity to point out the subterfuge of government’s actions on a global scale.
Oh, that’s right. And Bradley Manning’s trial started this week, too.
From a quick perusal of stories, it appears our press is trying its hardest to fit the Manning trial into a narrative of how we should keep our data more secure and do better background checks on folks with top-secret clearance—emphasizing Manning’s ‘mental’ state, his gender confusion, his personal excesses, etc. Almost no word, of course, is given over to the actual horrific crimes—war crimes—that Manning exposed.
Slate was one of the few outlets that did a decent job summarizing those crimes:
• During the Iraq War, U.S. authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape, and murder by Iraqi police and soldiers, according to thousands of field reports…
• There were 109,032 “violent deaths” recorded in Iraq between 2004 and 2009, including 66,081 civilians. Leaked records from the Afghan War separately revealed coalition troops’ alleged role in killing at least 195 civilians in unreported incidents, one reportedly involving U.S. service members machine-gunning a bus, wounding or killing 15 passengers…
• In Baghdad in 2007, a U.S. Army helicopter gunned down a group of civilians, including two Reuters news staff…
This last incident was the notorious video in which our helicopter pilots shot a group of civilians, murdering reporters and wounding two children in a van, to which our pilots quipped, “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”
So far as I can determine, not one of these folks has gone to jail, or had the FBI break down their doors in the dead of night, for that matter.
Commenting on Washington’s spying on journalists and members of the public, as well as his own treatment by US authorities, Julian Assange said:
“Over the last ten years the US justice system has suffered from a collapse, a calamitous collapse, in the rule of law.
“We see this in other areas as well — with how Bradley Manning has been treated in prison, with US drone strikes occurring — even on American citizens — with no due process.”
With regard to the war on whistle blowers, Matt Taibbi, in Rolling Stone, frames the larger point well: “If you can be punished for making public a crime, then the government doing the punishing is itself criminal.”
By the way, this week is also the anniversary of the publication of George Orwell’s prescient dystopia “1984”. Just saying.
Isana laughed. “And you, lady? Are you a woman of conscience or of ambition?”
The lady smiled. “That’s a question rarely asked here at court.”
“And why is that?”
“Because a woman of conscience would tell you that she is a person of conscience. A woman of ambition would tell you that she is a person of conscience—only much more convincingly.”
— Jim Butcher, Academ’s Fury
“Ambition is all very well, my lad, but you must cloak it.”
— Jonathan Stroud, The Amulet of Samarkand
Here’s a true story. The first time I saw Ken Cuccinelli he was on the floor of the Virginia State Senate giving one hell of a stem-winder in favor of payday lenders.
Not against them, mind you. Not against their usurious fees that regularly bankrupted their clients and sometimes approached a ludicrous 300%. No! He spoke in favor of the blood merchants. He walked into the lion’s den and grasped them by their manes and said “I LOVE you guys!” using the kind of speech that has since become a subset of speciousness on the right. We must not strangle these poor struggling businesses! We must allow these businessmen to take great risks and such risks as they take, they should be favorably remunerated in kind! For they are the engines of our economy and so forth and so on (I’m paraphrasing, of course). He went on for quite some time. When he was finished, the vote was held. Every Senator in that chamber voted to regulate the payday lender save one man who abstained, resilient in the face of adversity, holding fast to principle despite titanic political odds: Ken Cuccinelli.*
Later, of course, it was revealed that Ken “The Cooch” Cuccinelli received over $27,000 in donations from the payday lenders he had so adamantly defended—which might serve better to explain his energetic defense of the indefensible. Or maybe it was principle, but of the most obscure kind.**
Thus goes the way of principle and ambition in Virginia. The public face is always principled, cloaking ambition’s various machinations. Ken has been at this game for a while; but there’s something a little off about The Cooch, about how he’s playing his hand.
It’s not the current scandal he’s immersed in, per se. That is a problem, it goes without saying, but maybe a deeper problem is his inability to correctly mask that ambitious drive that underpins all his ‘principled’ positions. As any good scholar of Virginia politics would explain, the appearance of propriety is much more important than being proper, itself. Of course, the Governor is apt to take off in a $190,000 Ferrari on a road trip thanks to a special donor’s kindness, that’s standard scandal material. Of course, said donor might have some major legal problems (to the tune of $700,000 in outstanding state taxes) that need to go away. Of course, he has a business that needs kick started. All of that is standard. But do you take thousands in donations from a man who owns such a Ferrari, not disclose it, and all the while publicly prosecuting the Governor’s chef—who, as it happens, knows all about this man, his Ferrari and his favors?– for making off with some kitchen goods and produce? A frying pan and a handful of hotdogs, say? It makes no sense.
But let’s lay out the story in a little more detail. First, roughly speaking, everything above is true. The mystery man who lent Governor McDonnell his $190,000 Ferrari is one Jonnie Williams, chief executive of tobacco-company-turned-nutritional-supplement-purveyor Star Scientific, Inc. For much of its history, Star Scientific focused on “alternative tobacco products” such as Ariva, a tobacco-based lozenge that delivers more nicotine than a cigarette in a convenient pill. But recently, the company has announced that it will stop making tobacco products altogether and focus instead on dietary supplements and facial creams. The dietary supplement will ‘organically’ reduce inflammation and may help folks stricken with Alzheimer’s—or so the company literature suggests.
In Virginia to date, two of Mr. Jonnie William’s biggest political pals have been Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Governor Bob McDonnell. This makes sense because Virginia public servants and tobacco go together like mint and julep. In fact, Cuccinelli is so obviously enamored of Williams’ business acumen that his one and only declared stock investment is in Star Scientific. He has also, it should be mentioned, received gifts from Williams totaling at least $18,000.
According to the C-Ville Times, McDonnell has benefited even more from Williams’ largesse, declaring more than $9,600 worth of gifts from the company in 2011 and 2012, and accepting over $100,000 in free air travel for himself and his political action committee since 2009. Even worse, the governor failed to disclose the fact that the $15,000 catering bill for his daughter Cailin’s 2011 wedding (which was held at the Executive Mansion) was paid by Williams. Around the same time, McDonnell’s wife Maureen traveled to Florida to tout Star Scientific’s latest anti-inflammatory product, and later co-hosted an Executive Mansion luncheon with her husband to promote the product.
Why does any of this matter? Well, the fact that Star Scientific is currently engaged in a legal battle with the Commonwealth of Virginia over a $700,000 tax bill (and was forced to repay $300,000 of a nearly $1 million state grant due to its failure to create jobs) does not instill great confidence in the company. Add to that the fact that both Cuccinelli and McDonnell kept their dealings with Williams hidden as long as legally possible, and the entire thing starts to whiff faintly of scandal, even beyond the usual odor of Virginia politics as usual.
Ultimately, you have to ask, did those revelations come about because of pangs of principled conscience, or because somebody, or something made Ken and the Governor give it up?
I won’t hold you in suspense: I suspect the later. That someone or something is a fellow named Todd Schneider who, until quite recently, was the Executive Chef for the Governor’s mansion.
Now this is where the story gets interesting. Up until the moment that The Cooch had to reveal all his shenanigans with Williams and Star Scientific, this particular story was pretty tame—at least by Virginia standards—which, by the way, ranks 47th in ethics out of all the other states, meaning we’re in the top three for corruption (we excel at some things besides puerility, after all. Who knew?). But If Todd Schneider’s defense is correct in their timeline—and their story is as credible as Cuccinelli’s or McDonnell’s, if not more so—than what went down with Star Scientific and the Governor’s Mansion’s kitchen was something like this:
Several months before Schneider’s March 2012 departure, someone called the state’s hotline for waste, fraud and abuse allegations.
Subsequently, Schneider, a well-known Richmond personality whose Web site says he trained with Martha Stewart, was charged with four felony counts of embezzling more than $200.
Simple on its surface—and rather clean—if that were the end of the story. But it’s not.
According to the Washington Examiner, “In defending himself against the embezzlement charges, Schneider suggests that he was told to pay himself by “taking it out in trade” when the state would not pay him. [In other words, grab stuff in our pantry to pay for your services]. Also, according to Schneider’s defense team, “Schneider told investigators more than a year ago that a wealthy businessman (Williams) paid for $15,000 in food at the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter but that the governor never disclosed the gift. His lawyer, Steve Benjamin, argued that Cuccinelli, who had his own ties to Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr., did not pursue the matter. Furthermore, their questions suggest that McDonnell children not living at the mansion — either because they were away at college or grown up and living on their own — raided the state pantry, refrigerator and liquor cabinet.”
According to the Washington Post, “The attorney for Chef Todd Schneider made it clear at [last] Thursday’s hearing that he plans to push the idea that Schneider is a whistleblower whose tips about alleged wrongdoing by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, were ignored by Cuccinelli.”
Among other things, the defense motions seek records concerning “state goods and resources” taken by McDonnell, his wife, Maureen, and their five children, including: “lodging and resources provided to Jeanine McDonnell during her residence at [gubernatorial retreat] Camp Pendleton, believed to be for several months in early 2012; bottled waters, cups, Gatorade, protein powder and other items taken from the mansion by Sean and Bobby McDonnell for use at their college residences; flats of eggs taken from the mansion by Rachel McDonnell; liquor taken by Rachel McDonnell or her boyfriend, Nick, from the mansion for a private party at Camp Pendleton; pots and pans from the mansion given to Jeanine, Rachel or Cailin McDonnell by Maureen McDonnell.”
That’s pretty funny actually, and farcical. So much so that The Rachel Maddow Show spent a few minutes making national fun of the new Virginia food scandal.
“Keeping it classy and fast, Virginia!” she quipped. Ouch.
So did Schneider actually embezzle the state and is he simply politicizing the story in his defense as Cuccinelli contends, or was he a whistleblower whom Cuccinelli is trying to silence through an abusive use of his office?
No one knows, at this point, and frankly, the truth might lie somewhere between those two extremes. But it’s worth noting that neither McDonnell nor Cuccinelli had said word one about their financial relationships with Star Scientific and Williams until forced to do so because of the Schneider case. And, of course, we have Cuccinelli’s history of using, if not abusing, his power as Attorney General for ideological ends far beyond the limits of his office.
The Cooch just doesn’t fit into the Southern gentleman’s suit where such transgressions in propriety would be frowned upon. He’s got a little mean streak, after all. Maybe it’s the Italian in him. Maybe it’s the Northern latitude of his birthplace (born in New Jersey, an area Bruce Springsteen famously noted can ‘rip the bones from your back’). Maybe he has a deeply suppressed desire for men (witness his peculiar fascination with sodomy). Whatever the cause, something isn’t healthy, and besides filing frivolous lawsuits that gets you very much unwanted media exposure as you try to run for public office, it tends to distort personalities in other ways. You write ridiculous books filled with delusions of self-important grandeur. And most importantly, you use your power in vindictive ways that can sometimes come back to bite you.
The Cooch’s vindictiveness is pretty well documented. In a quixotic effort to deny climate change, Cuccinelli sought a broad range of documents related to Michael E. Mann, a climate researcher now at Penn State who was an assistant professor at UVA from 1999 to 2005. The Cooch was trying to set Mann up for a violation of the 2002 Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act—which, frankly, was a real stretch, arguing with no discernible merit that climate change wasn’t real and his research was somehow fraudulent. While climate change skeptics have challenged Mann’s work, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a Penn State investigation cleared Mann of charges that he falsified or suppressed data. Of course, what should have been– at most– an argument between well-regarded scientists turned into a ridiculous and highly politicized match between climate change skeptics and the scientific community. The Washington Post quoted Rachel Levinson, senior counsel with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) as saying Cuccinelli’s request had “echoes of McCarthyism.”
A. Barton Hinkle of the Richmond Times-Dispatch (one of the most conservative newspapers on the Earth, I would note) criticized Cuccinelli for “employing a very expansive reading of Virginia’s Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.”
But that’s not the only time Cuccinelli used the power of his office to pursue an obvious ideological end.
In June, after nine hours of debate and two votes by the Va Board of Health members agreed to ‘grandfather in’ existing abortion-performing clinics so that they wouldn’t need to immediately comply with the newly passed TRAP (Targeted Regulations Against Abortion Providers) law.
But after a 10-year quest to pass this legislation as a state legislator, Cuccinelli was determined to get what he wanted — the most extreme version possible. So, first, he refused to certify the new regulations if the board didn’t reverse their vote. But then he went even further, and vindictively told members that the state would not represent them if they were sued in response to their decision. So not only did he say he would refuse to sign the regulations, but he threatened to leave them without the state’s legal defense if they were sued as a result of their decision. In other words, sign off on this, and open yourself up to any potential libel suit.
According to the Washington Post, “it was in keeping with Mr. Cuccinelli’s crusading style when he threatened members of the state Board of Health, warning that they might have to bear the cost of their own legal defense unless they toed his line on abortion regulations. That gambit bore fruit a few days later when the board, evidently intimidated, reversed a position it had taken in June and voted to impose severe new regulations on abortion clinics, where most of Virginia’s 25,000 annual abortions take place.”
Happy days for women’s clinics all across the state.
Unfortunately for the Cooch, this destructive victory may have given him a sense of invulnerability he doesn’t really possess. Maybe he decided he could use his power to silence a whistleblower in much the same way.
Whatever the case, if the broad outline of Schneider’s story is true, one can imagine a half-dozen different scenarios in which Cuccinelli might have avoided what is turning into a major political embarrassment. A little more emphasis on propriety, a little less swaggering and pugilistic prosecuting might have sailed him over these troubled seas without a whisper. But The Cooch is The Cooch and one can sense his anger at having some audacious chef taking it to the Governor and his own office. So perhaps he used his power to try to silence him; but as any good Southern gentleman will tell you, Cooch: you don’t burn the help.
Oh, and now The Washington Post reports, the FBI is interested, too.
Link here for the quotes and payday lending information above.
*Cuccinelli was the Only Member of the Senate to Not Vote on Legislation to Cap Exorbitant Payday Lending Interest Rates
In April 2008, Cuccinelli was the only member of the state Senate to abstain from voting on bipartisan legislation to cap exorbitant interest rates charged by payday lenders.
According to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the bill would cap interest rates at 36 percent, extend the time borrowers have to repay loans, and limit to ten the number of loans that may be obtained in a year. The bill would also require the creation of a database to track borrowers and loans and allow lenders to charge a $5 fee per loan to pay for the creation and maintenance of the system.
The bill was the result of three years of negotiation and passed the Senate 38-0-1 (abstention) and the House 90-7 and was signed into law. SB 588, Vote 4/23/08; Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, General Assembly Preliminary Legislative Report 2008
**Cuccinelli Previously Collected $27,400 from Payday Industry
In March 2011, an editorial in the Virginian Pilot noted, “He has collected $27,400 from predatory lending companies over the past decade, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.” [Virginian Pilot Editorial, 3/09/11]
Matt Taibbi covers the bases in this Rolling Stone Politics article by addressing the continued good efforts by our whistleblowers, the disintegrating rule of law in America and an SEC cover up scheme that makes Watergate seem tame. Where at one time corruption in the news was startling, this is just this week’s best article on “bad behavior”.
The dominant purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit the widespread practice of government suppression of embarrassing information. ~ William O. Douglas, Supreme Court Justice
It must have been embarrassing for our government to learn that they had been given a considerable amount of warning one month in advance of the 911 attacks. They were warned “in FBI Headquarters in over 60 emails and frantic telephone calls that “this is a guy who could fly into the World Trade Center.” Afterwards, we shouldn’t have needed a whistleblower to tell us that a national security breach like that had been covered up – but we did. That’s a good example of how the national security concerns over whistleblowing run in both directions.
When we have adequate protections in place to guard against their abuse, whistleblowers come forward to help us, though it always seems like a bitter win. That a corporation in America would manipulate the chemicals in cigarettes to addict more people while knowing the dire health risks is quite disturbing. Whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand put a stop to that practice at great personal risk and loss.
It became our duty in 1777 when the Continental Congress went to bat for whistleblowers and wrote the first legislation to protect them. “That it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”
Thomas Drake was recently set free, but in May, Jane Mayer wrote The Secret Sharer, a great article about his frightening experience as a whistleblower under our two recent administrations. Who knows how much money we spent trying to put him in jail, but according to the New York Times, “The visibly angry judge [Richard D. Bennett] said that Mr. Drake had been through “four years of hell” and that the dragging out of the investigation — and then the dropping of the major charges on the eve of trial — was “unconscionable.”
How readily whistleblowers come forward is probably commensurate with the amount of risk they have to face. Even with recent bolstering in Section 922 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, overall protection for them has been backsliding and it’s often called window dressing. At one time, president Obama admitted that “Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism should be encouraged rather than stifled.”
Congressional acts to stifle their voices are not representative of the people’s interest and should be stopped like S5172. Despicably framed as a national security issue, it was in fact designed to punish animal rights whistleblowers.
It’s hard to imagine where we would be without some of our famous whistleblowers. If we encourage and honor them with impunity, they won’t be whistling in the dark.