With so much happening in our intelligence agencies, the average citizen has no idea of the invasive danger these rogue, secretive, overbearing groups present to our everyday lives. Over the next few weeks I’m going to present insider feelings of whistleblowing patriots, high level operatives from the FBI, NSA, CIA and DOJ.
The son of a longtime friend knew from age 5 that he wanted to “travel the world and carry a gun.” In the many years I’ve known “Brandon,” his life’s passion found the fulfillment of his destiny and resulted in assignments to include military intelligence in Haiti and Korea, guarding an Iraqi general, investigating a military payroll heist in Italy, and various other assorted and disavowed activities in undisclosed locations with unmentionable associates from alphabet agencies.
These forces of patriots spread out across the homeland and foreign soil protecting us and preventing the tragedies we all fear from madmen with biological, chemical and nuclear opportunities. Their actions often unknown, yet ever present, make our lives safer, and allow our freedoms to be enjoyed and shared.
Their motivations for such a life could be categorized into passion for our country, the love of intrigue and travel, or countless other personal expressions of self-fulfillment, but are valued and appreciated none-the-less for the dangers they encounter and survive.
But, worthy as some in public service are with their activities, some are alarmingly perfidious, dangerous, while secretly spying and subverting, invading our personal lives for purposes planned, and known only to a few who wish to gain or increase their power over us. We’ve seen it in the past but has the Trump light of scrutiny exposed more and more vermin than a New York sewer on Thanksgiving?
To bring to light the activities, familiar as well as unacknowledged, of these government watchdogs, it’s been a privilege to talk with people from the inside of some of our country’s top agencies. Patriots who dedicated years of service to doing what they thought right, best, honest and appropriate. All of these insiders having become whistleblowers, exposing the wrongdoing at great risk to future personal and career activities.
Many of us have taken the oath to support and defend the Constitution, to protect against “all” enemies, foreign and domestic, and yet never imagined that meant against our own administrations. Most of us grew up when the government and its many parts were respected, not feared; depended on, not worried about.
Being “just citizens,” most are limited in personal resources to fight against such corruption, misfeasance and malfeasance. When the IRS spies on the citizenry for no legitimate reason or the Social Security Administration starts to stockpile weapons, and seeing every email, text, and phone call under collection and scrutiny becomes normal……. It’s not your grandmother’s America anymore.
I introduce the special people assembled to express opinions, lay out the facts and abuses, and whose valuable time is so appreciated to share what should be an enlightening, and a warning discussion as to their own experiences and observations. You’ll see some answers are short. Reasons being 1) some of my interviewees are traveling internationally at this time and their valuable time limits long discussions. 2) Some subjects require restraint on the information they can give for personal, legal or career reasons.
This is part 1 of 2 from:
FBI – Coleen Rowley: After a B.A. degree in French from Wartburg College, graduated with honors from College of Law at the Univ. of Iowa. In 1981, Rowley was appointed a Special Agent with the FBI, and in 1984 was assigned to the New York Office working Italian organized crime and Sicilian heroin drug investigations. Rowley also served in the Paris, France Embassy and Montreal Consulates. In 1990 Rowley assumed the duties of “Chief Division Counsel” which entailed oversight of the Freedom of Information, Forfeiture, Victim-Witness and Community Outreach Programs as well as providing regular legal and ethics training to FBI Agents of the Division. In May of 2002 Rowley brought forth some of the pre 9-11 lapses and testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about some of the endemic problems facing the FBI and the intelligence community. Rowley’s memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller in connection with the Joint Intelligence Committee’s Inquiry led to a two-year long DOJ Inspector General investigation. She was one of three whistleblowers chosen as persons of the year by TIME magazine in 2002. In April 2003, following an unsuccessful and highly criticized attempt to warn the Director and other administration officials about the dangers of launching the invasion of Iraq, Rowley stepped down from her (GS-14) legal position to go back to being a (GS-13) FBI Special Agent. In early March 2003 she warned FBI Director Robert Mueller of further problems, including his going along with the Bush Administration’s deceptive plan to launch war on what would become the counterproductive war on Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks. (Sadly enough, despite all facts to the contrary, the Bush Administration was able to fool 70% of the American public into believing that Saddam Hussein was behind 9-11.)
RB ~ You, like myself, grew up in a small midwestern town but aspired to greater things. What drew you to the law and then the FBI for your career choice? How early in your life and what initially prompted you to enter public service?
CR ~ I, like many other kids, got ideas from TV and movies. At about age 11 or 12, my favorite TV show was “Man From U.N.C.L.E” a kind of law enforcement-spy show. I wrote a letter to our town newspaper stating that I wanted to join U.N.C.L.E when I grew up and asking how I could write to the organization. The paper’s response was that “UNCLE” was fictional but the closest to it in the U.S. would be the “F.B.I.” and they gave me the FBI’s mailing address. I then wrote to the FBI which sent me their “99 Facts About the FBI” pamphlet, one fact (followed by a convoluted explanation) was that women were not allowed to become FBI agents. But I got enthused anyway as I figured that rule was stupid and would change by the time I grew up. Later after majoring in French and going to law school, I took the Foreign Service exam and applied to a few other government agencies, along with the FBI.
It always appealed to me to be on the side of working for justice and helping solve (and hopefully) reduce crimes.
RB ~ Did your overseas positions add any different perspective to your overall view of national security?
CR ~ When I joined the FBI, I was also pursuing joining the Foreign Service (of the State Dept) and had taken the (very difficult) foreign service exams and even went through their interview process. However the FBI recruiter told me the FBI had its own “foreign service” branch, called “legal attaches (legats)” who worked in liaison with foreign law enforcement and intelligence agencies and which at the time were stationed in 13 foreign countries including France. In the course of my FBI career, I worked for a few weeks in both Paris and Montreal as a “temporary duty” assistant legat just filling in and mostly helping with translation of French information in response to FBI leads. The number of “legats” grew from 13 to over 60 by the time I retired. I haven’t checked what the number is now but I suppose that increase in the FBI’s foreign assignments reflects U.S. hegemony and this notion that the U.S. needs to exercise more control over the world. (I don’t think our national security has improved, however, due to all the counter-productive wars and violent regime change actions the U.S. has undertaken.)
RB ~ Today we see such a pervasiveness of corruption in the higher levels of” leadership. In the early days, was there more of a separation between national security and politics? The line seems very blurry these days.
CR ~ I think that it’s obvious some of the leaders of the bigger intelligence agencies have indeed used and abused their “national security” surveillance powers for improper political purposes. Some of us warned that would happen if the massive monitoring and data collection was not reigned in after Snowden’s and other NSA whistleblowers’ disclosures. (See my 2013 essay on CNN: “Massive Spying on Americans is Outrageous”.)
The current situation is a bit of history repeating itself if you go back to the J. Edgar Hoover days, when Hoover’s broad, virtually unfettered spying, including on political figures, was based on his (and Joseph McCarthy’s-HUAC’s) hysterical fear of communism during the Cold War and then the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The Church Committee reigned some of those abuses in after Hoover died, but almost all of the Church Committee reforms–for instance in the form of Attorney General Guidelines and strict separation between criminal and intelligence matters– have now been rolled back.
Hoover’s 47 year term as FBI Director and his gathering of info (including a lot of “dirt,” in some cases creating secret files on politicians and government leaders, made him arguably more powerful than the presidents and other politicians. But as a balance, the FBI was the agency most restricted from engaging in any partisan political activity under the strictest provisions of the Hatch Act. I’ve read that Hoover himself, realizing his vast power, boasted that he would not even vote (so as to not show favoritism). Over the years, the Hatch Act got watered down, first reducing the prohibitions on the Department of Justice and US Attorneys’ offices, to allow them to engage in more political activity, and then even reducing some of the restrictions upon FBI personnel.
Perhaps more importantly, corruption occurs via politically appointed agency leaders constantly going back and forth through the “revolving door” to profit from their public service in the private sectors. Nearly all FBI managers get lucrative second careers after early retirement which sets up numerous potential conflicts of interest. This happened far less frequently when I joined the FBI, partly because after a 25 to 30 year career, most FBI agents just retired on their pensions and did not go on to lucrative second jobs.
RB ~ It used to be we never thought of much except who’s playing Friday night at the high school, where’s lunch after church on Sundays, but now… it’s the gov’t in our face, the IRS after our records, the NSA storing emails and phone numbers and the CIA doing who knows what. Did this really need to get to the level it is with normal everyday patriotic Americans
CR ~ Well as many lament, Orwell’s “1984” was not supposed to be a “How To Manual.” It’s a very sad situation that has now developed and which may have gotten its start when Eisenhower’s warning about the “Military Industrial Complex” went unheeded. Now we have a Military-Congressional-National Security-Media Complex that has fully metastasized as I detailed in “War on Terror: a False Promise for National Security.” Even the rule of law has taken a back seat these days which, by the way, was what Founding Father James Madison, Father of the Constitution, warned, that “no country can maintain its freedom in the midst of continual war.”
RB ~ People used to think that national security meant protecting us from foreign entities bent on our destruction. But then talk of special phone equipment rooms in San Francisco surfaced with connections to the government and that huge collection facility in Camp Williams, Utah came to light. People couldn’t believe their eyes. How were explanations handled internally about such expansion? Or was it common knowledge that the government was now in the data collection/citizen surveillance business?
CR ~ When the NSA turned on its illegal, warrantless surveillance of Americans just days after 9-11, then called the “Presidential Surveillance Program” enabled via secret legal interpretations and emergency orders signed off every 90 days by the Attorney General, it was a closely held secret. Even those attorneys working on regular (legal) secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) matters, were not all in the loop. The first whistleblowers, like DOJ Attorney Thomas Tamm, whose father had been an FBI official, figured out that the illegal surveillance was taking place but he was cautioned not to ask any more questions. I retired at the end of 2004 and although I think at that time, most of us suspected that things had already vastly changed, most of these draconian changes, not only the illegal surveillance but also the illegal kidnappings and torture was still a closely guarded secret from most employees of the intelligence community.
I made a few complaints to the Department of Justice Inspector General regarding wrongful and illegal surveillance actions that I became aware of and I detailed some of these, including the wrongful post 9-11 detentions of nearly 1000 immigrants in a letter to Mueller in February 2003, written to caution against his going along with going to war on Iraq.
Eventually the NY Times broke the story of the illegal “Presidential Program” in 2005, over a year after they got the story but were threatened by the Bush Administration not to publish it. Bush immediately re-labeled the program the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” and although some aspects changed, it mostly continued in different forms, despite being disclosed by several NSA whistleblowers, and eventually in documents from Edward Snowden.
RB ~ While surveilling citizens with ties to terrorists should warrant close examination, can’t John Doe and his parents be left alone in peace? (AKA James Rosen from FOX News?)
CR ~ Before 9-11, nearly all of the news industry thought that the First Amendment provided them some protection in publishing news from their sources, even if the information was classified. The thought was that there was some remaining remnant of “Reporters Privilege” and/or that the provisions of the old 1917 “Espionage Act” that could be used to charge reporters with receiving/retaining classified information would be held unconstitutional if ever the Department of Justice decided to charge a member of the press with that violation. But that’s no longer the case after the Plame investigation wherein reporters were jailed or threatened with jail for not giving up the identities of their news sources; after FOX Reporter Rosen was named as a “conspirator” in a search warrant; after the DOJ went after then NYT reporter James Risen for publishing classified information and other cases like this. Members of the press now realize they have very little legal protection under the First Amendment so some try to be pragmatic and rely on their own efforts such as encryption to keep their sources’ identities’ secret. Unfortunately, I think the majority, with few exceptions, have taken their cue from the government’s threats and have become more like stenographers of government press releases instead of actual investigative reporters.
RB ~ You had your own pushback toward the Bush administration related to this invasion of Iraq. Is national security, surveillance, foreign policy all mistakenly wrapped up together?
CR ~ US wars and violent “regime change” actions have come home with devastating consequences for all of us even though most Americans have not connected the dots. I have written tomes on this problem of “blowback.” And so have others. A recent piece that I co-authored detailing some of this is “Recipe Concocted for Perpetual War Is a Bitter One.”
RB ~ When the average American thinks about all this data collection, the feeling is the gov’t should be spending time, money and resources chasing bad guys in Yemen, Iran or Syria, not worrying about some conversation or email between a guy and his grandmother. Are there hidden reasonings behind collecting so much private and inconsequential information about non-threats within the country?
CR ~ As I’ve said and written many, many times, how does it help if you are looking for a “needle in a haystack,” to add more hay?! I attended a Senate Hearing in 2013 about the massive illegal monitoring of Americans where this and other bizarre and deceptive excuses were made (and wrote about it) but to answer your question, the collection of non-relevant data is not warranted. NSA whistleblowers will tell you that the NSA Director and other intelligence agencies were given vast budgets after 9-11 and they just wanted to “collect it all.”
RB ~ Is the invasion of our privacy “rights” (and maybe I’m suing the term loosely) growing or has the presence of Trump in the oval office stemmed the tide of intrusion into our lives?
CR ~ Unfortunately it hasn’t been stemmed at all. I cannot believe that House Intelligence Chair Nunes, and other congresspersons recently voted to enlarge the monitoring even though they are well aware of how the agencies have abused their powers for political purposes. Even more than mere “privacy rights,” the entire Bill of Rights and other parts of the Constitution have been greatly undermined. As Cicero observed hundreds of years ago, “In times of war, the law falls silent.”
RB ~ In dealing with Mueller at the time, did you find him considering or totally dismissive of your position against the war? What do you see in him now that you did or didn’t see at that time? Do you trust him to do things right or things political?
CR ~ Well Mueller was brand new—he had only been director for one week before 9-11. And when I met him in person in June 2002 after my memo went public and I was going to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he had not been on the job for even a year. So I had a relatively more open mind back then.
But in light of all the deception and wrongdoing that they have been involved in, I don’t think either should be trusted or put on pedestals. See “No, Robert Mueller and James Comey Are Not Heroes” and “‘This is Nuts’: Liberals Launch ‘Largest Mobilization in History’ in Defense of Russiagate Probe.”
RB ~ From what you know now, at the time, did you consider “Trailblazer” an invasive threat to personal freedoms? Was it a tool available to the FBI and if so how was it applied domestically?
CR ~ All of these secret legal opinions and programs were initially closely held secrets and I retired in 2004 before they were openly revealed. I will add however that from my current reading, it appears that the FBI is using NSA domestic surveillance of American citizens in its targeting for sting operations as well as using NSA info to start investigations via what is called “parallel construction,” by which the NSA or CIA info that gave rise to the FBI investigation is kept secret
Our thanks to Ms. Rowley for her time and input. Next is part 2 which expands on more internal agency surveillance, the actions of Eric Snowden, the Steele dossier and more. Any information or views presented are those of the interviewed and not necessarily those of Ron Boat or talkamericaradio.com.
Soon to follow an interview from the NSA insider.