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Fallacies on Whistleblowing


It did not take long for the critics to pounce on the shootings at the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. on September 16 as the product not so much of a disturbed mind but one who had not been sufficiently policed and excluded. 13 people were left dead, one of them being the assailant himself.

According to his employer, The Experts Inc. , Aaron Alexis had a “secret clearance”. The link in this chain is that the company in question is a subcontractor assisting Hewlett-Packard service the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet.

Alexis had been working as a computer contractor, though that also entitled him to have access to a card granting him entry into the Navy Yard and various other facilities. Such are the joys of the privatised military state that Alexis could move about at will with his Common Access Card (CAC). CEO of The Experts, Inc. Thomas Hoshko has apparently substantiated the claim.

Speculation arises that Alexis entered the base on Monday using another individual’s identification card, though reports on this are sketchy at best. Once in the compound, he headed for Building 197, a monster of a structure housing the headquarters of the Navy Sea Systems Command. Heavily armed – a handgun, a shotgun and an AR-15 assault rifle – Alexis apparently made his way to the fourth floor. Then came the carnage, the blood, the bodies.

What is perturbing in the narrative here is that pro-security tendency to conflate security “breaches”. Of interest here is how, incongruously, Snowden has appeared in the same company as the deceased gunman. Greta Van Susteren, in a Fox News delight with Sean Hannity, could not resist the temptation of likening one deviant contractor with the other. “Snowden didn’t have much of a security check as a government contractor, what in the world are we doing with these government contractors that seem to have so much access to information and abilities?”

Dennis M. Crowley of CNS News draws a parallel as well. “Edward Snowden, an IT specialist, and former CIA- and NSA-employee, is accused of leaking information from several top-secret U.S and British-government intelligence programs.” Then, the search for the comparative voice – and inculpating suggestion. “Both Snowden and Alexis were employed in the IT field through private contractors and were able to get federal government security clearances. Both men also had never graduated from college.”

The comparison between Alexis and Snowden is tantamount to finding similarities between apples and oranges, though the security experts tend to see broader descriptions of rotten fruit. Snowden exposes the vestiges of a corrupt surveillance regime with global access; Alexis allegedly goes on a rampage for motives as yet unknown. Are these people different? No, screams the Fox News crew with its Hurrah Harries.

John Hamre, former deputy of defence and chairman of the Defence Policy Board is in a similar boat to Hannity and company, seeing complete, unvaried similarities. For The Washington Post (Sep 19), Hamre would write that, “The murders by Alexis and the betrayal by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden both underscore a problem with our security clearance process.”

Naturally, is it imperative that the enemy of suspicion is painted with a damning brush, with loud colour schemes suggesting impropriety and bad behaviour. The Big Bad Wolf here is painted as Alexis, though one is left in graver doubts who the bigger one is. He had a past littered with “misconduct issues”, for which he had been honourably discharged in 2011. He was arrested in 2010 and charged with firing a bullet through the floor of his upstairs neighbour’s apartment in Forth Worth, Texas. In 2004, he was charged with firing three shots into a car parked near his Seattle house in what has been described as a “blackout”.

And so, we have the fallacious comparison, a “stand-off” in symbolic imagery between the maligned whistleblower (Snowden, one who did not go the full yards with university, with “discrepancies on his resume”) and Alexis, allegedly responsible for shooting twelve people dead.

Such suggestions are not merely the stuff of idiocy, but indicate a state of pervasive blindness. If there is anything correct at all in the assertions of the Fox Network, it is that the privatised military state is the problem, with its diffuse connections spanning civilian and military operations. It takes a Snowden to remind the establishment of that particular condition: the privatised military state has been gnawing away at our freedoms since the arms complex got into bed with the constitution.

The first instinct of Snowden’s detractors, as with those against other whistleblowers, is to discredit the activity as the outcome of a diseased mind, one warped by bad graces and insufficient understanding. How could you do this to your country? Alexis, after all, supposedly killed people in haze of lunacy, a suspension of sanity. Truth be known, it is the very exposure of that disease that warrants the extreme reaction.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He ran for the Australian Senate with Julian Assange for the WikiLeaks Party.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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