Dreyfus and Whistleblowing: Snowden, Manning and Manifest Surveillance

admin —  August 19, 2013 — 6 Comments

By Dr Binoy Kampmark, Victorian Senate candidate for the WikiLeaks Party

It is a pity that an Attorney General with the surname of Dreyfus has decided that history, notably one of injustice, is something for other people. The Dreyfus Affair, France’s divisive scandal involving Captain Alfred Dreyfus’ alleged communication of French military secrets to the German embassy in Paris, plagued France from 1894 to 1906.

The point of it was that Dreyfus was framed and made an example of, banished to Devil’s Island. He was convicted – twice. He was exonerated only in 1906. The military establishment, with its baubles and pleasantries, had been keen to keep evidence coming to light that a certain French Army major by the name of Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy was responsible.

The modern Australian Dreyfus, given name Mark, is of a different nature, a creature of an establishment indifferent to the exposure of corruption and crime via a vigorous blow of the whistle. According to the highest serving legal officer of the government, Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning are, in fact, not even whistleblowers.

Last Tuesday, speaking to the Security in Government Conference in Canberra, Dreyfus not merely attempted to disabuse his audience of the very idea that Snowden and Manning had performed feats of noble duty in untenable situations. He defended Australia’s own telecommunications interception programme. His policy: trash and defend.

There was nothing too surprising about his brief. When the establishment speaks about matters of security, notably about those from within it who breached those onerous covenants of secrecy, its voice is unimaginative and unrepentant. “Where an activity has been authorised under law and overseen by appropriate government bodies and where no wrongdoing has been identified, the disclosure of information is not ‘whistleblowing’.”

Dreyfus is evidently inhabiting another space of political contemplation. Crime is up for redefinition. “Collateral Murder” was evidently authorised, a product of a legal, if misguided enterprise. The Iraq War logs were of the same ilk. And the broadest surveillance programs in history, a product not of parliamentary approval but executive gluttony, was perfectly in order. Ergo, it’s all legal, and Manning and Snowden are wrongdoers, merely common “politically motivated” criminals.

Besides, spying on Australian citizens was perfectly legitimate for their own good. “I want to reiterate that Australia’s intelligence activities are carried out in a manner that is consistent with our law, and or the purpose of protecting Australia’s democratic values.”

But are such measures, questionably legal to begin with, effective, let alone necessary? Hardly, if you consult the figures in the 2011-12 financial year. They reveal that 293,501 disclosures of metadata to various government and non-government organisations under the Telecommunications Act resulted in a paltry prosecution rate of 0.7 percent. The trawling operation is proving to be simply that, a desperate attempt on the part of the government to get a bite.

The Greens have alleged, with some foundation, that there is a “bipartisan agreement” between the Australian government and the opposition coalition to trash and tarnish the role of whistleblowers. Democratic health is evidently too cheesy for them to stomach. For them, the gagged are the good.

Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam was particularly forceful at a conference of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network about this understanding. “We have, over the last day or so, seen our attorney-general declare that people like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are not whistleblowers and respectively cutting them loose indicating that the Australian government doesn’t support the kind of legal protection that really should be [given] to whistleblowers who disclose war crimes.”

Such behaviour demonstrates, yet again, that the centre of Australian politics is polluted, a sinister consensus that surveillance is good, or at worst benign. This is a concept of manifest surveillance, or, to use Ludlam’s term, a “surveillance agenda”.

Various symptoms result from this manic behaviour: self-censorship and a cultivated climate of constipated fear in revealing information; a further entrenchment of the very security culture we should be guarding against. Ultimately, such atmosphere manifests a process of inadvertent collaboration: the citizen is encouraged to collaborate in his or her own silence.

Such a strategy also suggests that the surveillance state is merely an extension of broader interests disconnected with the democratic experiment. Spying is what makes us good; monitoring is what makes us decent.

To Ludlam’s credit, a bill has been introduced to Parliament that would limit the government’s ability to accumulate and gorge itself on intercepted information. How far it goes given the asphyxiating stance of the major parties remains to be seen.

A few starting steps are required to redress this disease. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested a measure in the form of a global data protection agreement, though one can’t help feeling that this was done well after the horse of surveillance had bolted. When caught in the act, any response is bound to be disingenuous.

Even more disingenuous are the staff of the office of the Australian Attorney-General himself. One spokesperson considered that the legislative hoods of Canberra would consider supporting the “protection of communications and personal information held by private and public sector organisations” in such a global scheme but reiterated that old hoary chestnut of “balance”: intelligence services need their fill; private citizens need their privacy.3

That equation has been out of balance for years now, and needs desperate correction. It is not bound to come from that man Dreyfus.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and is on the Victorian ticket for the Senate, running with Julian Assange and Dr. Leslie Cannold. Email: [email protected]


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6 responses to Dreyfus and Whistleblowing: Snowden, Manning and Manifest Surveillance

  1. The CIA is so funny! They have finally admitted to the 1953 coup that toppled Iran’s Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh after he tried to nationalise his country’s oil wealth from the British – declassified documents.

    “The military coup that overthrew Mossadegh and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of US foreign policy,” stated in one of the documents.

    Lo and behold Mossadegh upsetting Britain by trying to work in the interests of all people by moving to take over Anglo-Iranian Oil Company which is now BP! Like the oil is not the sovereign wealth of the people… The CIA brought on the toppling with a cast of scaremongering via the Cold War, Soviets and other nonsense, as they would do again three years later when lo and behold Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal – what were they thinking said the meritocrats at the time… But despite the release of the documents 60 years later, British diplomats in Washington apparently tried to convince the US to suppress the “very embarrassing” details of its M16’s role in the Iranian coup… The coup was cause for the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a US ally, to return, till he was toppled by the 1979 Islamic revolution… Well that’s another story, and the whole Oliver North/Iran Contra deals… I suppose 60 years of wait too for that… but then there’s WikiLeaks… how good would it be if WikiLeaks changed freedom of information terms of reference and their time frames, and brought on transparency? You know, WikiLeaks has been known to open Governments, what if they became part of Government, that type of integrity would bring on accountability.

  2. It maybe tomorrow that whisteblower Bradley Manning is sentenced.

    Each nation needs adequate whistleblower protection laws and for shield laws for journalists and for litigation to be amended so as it cannot be maliciously used against journalists and publishers.

    Maybe someday there’ll be an UN Convention for nations to ratify. In my own microcosms, on three occasions in three different domains I’ve been a whistleblower and hence endured the personal costs for this despite the greater good my whistleblowing achieved. And as a journalist I’ve fronted the Supreme Court unrepresented because I have refused to stop investigating subjects others want to go away, or because I refuse to support the removal of my articles from the public domain.

    My integrity in the public interest means more to me than what public institutions can do to me, or how they may wish to portray me, this must be the way for all of us, and with The WikiLeaks Party we stand behind the call for shield laws, whistleblower protections, transparency, accountability, justice.

    We have to stand solid with the truth-telling, with the public interest, be able to construct public records for the public interest, and not allow the ability for the discovery of the truth to be outstripped by the capacity to manifest deceit.

    We need the Australian Senate to do the justice and chase in shield laws, whistleblower protections, fair litigation. We need Senators to rise to the occasion. Actually, we need WikiLeaks Senators who will chase down each piece of legislation on its merit, standalone, no wheeling and dealing, no trading on legilsation. We need justice in the Senate, a real check and balance.

    We have to stand solid with the public interest or hence the public interest is denied. Julian Assange has been effectively detained without charge for 989 days, 429 days in an Ecuadorean Embassy. Bradley Manning is in prison without sentencing 1183 days, with a horrible outcome likely tomorrow, Jeremy Hammond is in prison without sentencing 535 days. There is a secret Grand Jury on WikiLeaks now active 1068 days. Is this the world we want or do we want our Senators in the House of Review, who are responsible for each piece of legislation to start getting in order the unequivocal rights of humanity and the public interest?

    WikiLeaks Party senate candidate WA, Gerry Georgatos

  3. Apologies I should have directed my comment to Dr Kampmark.

  4. Well put Cassie. Speaking of that “hoary chestnut – balance”, while balance may be in the eye of the beholder, at the moment issues of transparency, privace and surveillance are not balanced and are weighted heavily tipping the scales further into the realm of big brother style governments with little regard for freedoms and liberties once taken for granted.

    Those who expose wrongdoing, whether by governments or corporations, should be judged by the veracity of the information they reveal than by the mode of how the information was shared. Speaking of balance, punishment of whistleblowers is all about maintaining power weighted in favour (as a privilege) of an elite group who benefit directly from secrecy.

  5. Yes! The major parties do not represent or protect the citizens in a healthy and fair manner. When “Whistle Blowers” are refused to be recognised and protected; and an Australian citizen (Julian) is jettisoned to the wolfs by our own government, then it is obvious that transparency, fairness and honesty from our major parties has devolved into deceit and some may also say corruption.
    Across Australia the Coal Seam Gas (CSG) deceit is another example of the major parties totally ignoring Australian citizens and many rural communities who do not want it. Further, there is no adequate transparency about who are really behind the CSG ventures , the actual type and amounts of chemicals used, the short/medium/long term effects on people, land, water.
    I strongly suggest that all Wikileaks Party candidates for the Senate, talk to organisations and people/rural communities about the lack of transparency of CSG; that you would support a halt to CSG activities until proper inquiries reveal the extent of changes to applicable laws and corporate conduct that gives control back to the people. Just Google to get the various organisations around Australia who are against CSG; contact them, ask them to support your stance against CSG by encouraging their communities to vote for you. I feel this could really upsurge the vote for you. The arrogance of the present system, supported by the major parties, has become detrimental and dangerous for ordinary citizens! We need need Wikileaks Party to get the balance of power in the Senate.

    Kindest Regards

  6. “Where an activity has been authorised under law and overseen by appropriate government bodies and where no wrongdoing has been identified, the disclosure of information is not ‘whistleblowing’.” No wrongdoing? If the people of this country feel its a wrongdoing, then a wrongdoing it is. We, the people, are the true ‘law’, the ones who ultimately decide, not a misguided lawyer or minister. Laws, in a democracy, were originally intended to protect, not harm.

    “….and or the purpose of protecting Australia’s democratic values.” This is a contradiction in terms. How can spying on innocent people possibly be construed as protecting democratic values? In a democracy, people are innocent until proven guilty.

    These statements show not only a lack of understanding of two of the key principles of democracy, but a willingness to distort them for political ends and an expectation that people will quietly roll over and accept them..

    I have lived under 2 European dictators- Salazar in Portugal, and Franco in Spain – and there is absolutely no difference between the surveillance activities of their governments then, and ours now. None whatsoever, apart from the technology involved. The purpose is exactly the same – keep a close eye on everyone so that any troublemakers can be quickly identified and punished.

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