Showing Solidarity With Whistleblowers, Defending Our Right To Know
This interview with Sarah Harrison of the Courage Foundation is based on a radio interview conducted by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese on Clearing The FOG, originally heard on We Act Radio, 1480 AM in Washington, DC, and also available by podcast.
Sarah Harrison is a British journalist, legal researcher and WikiLeaks investigation editor. She works with WikiLeaks and is a close adviser to Julian Assange. Harrison accompanied National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden on a high-profile flight from Hong Kong to Moscow while he was sought by the United States government. She is director of the new Courage Foundation, which seeks to defend whistleblowers as well as our right to know.
Kevin Zeese: Sarah, tell us what the Courage Foundation is and what the goals of the organization are.
Sarah Harrison: The Courage Foundation was born from the idea that whistleblowers need protection from prosecution. When we first started to help Edward Snowden, there were many other NGOs and organizations around the world that should have been able to help him; but, when it comes to high risk people with huge persecution from places like the United States, the reality is that to move quickly and robustly to provide the support they need is actually very difficult. So after we helped Snowden, we realized that there was a need for an organization that was able to do this for future Snowdens as well. So we set up Courage on that basis. In addition, Courage will be fighting for policy and legal changes to give whistleblowers the protections they deserve. I’m very pleased that you accepted to be on our advisory board Kevin.
Kevin Zeese: Thank you for inviting me to be on the board. I also like the way you frame the issue of the public’s right to know as part of the agenda because I think that is essential to having any kind of freedom of speech in the 21st century. It is important to frame it as not just our right to speak, but our right to have information.
Sarah Harrison: In the United States, they are aggressively going after whistleblowers and truth tellers. When you look at the Jeremy Hammond case, he exposed abuses by the private intelligence organization Stratfor that was spying on Bhopal activists. He was aggressively prosecuted by US courts and sentenced to 10 years in prison. You see persecution against individual journalists and publishers as well. Anyone who is speaking truth to power in any real manner is being come down upon by the US government to try and set examples and to stop the truth from being exposed in the future.
Kevin Zeese: That is exactly right. You are a good person to be directing Courage because you have showed a lot of courage. I don’t know if you knew what you were getting into when you escorted Snowden to Russia but I’m sure that it has had a big impact on your security and liberty. Now that you are based in Germany, are you able to go back to the UK? Do you fear prosecution? What are your thoughts on the risks that you took?
Sarah Harrison: I was aware that there were obviously potent risks. I think it was dependent on how far we managed to get in the process. But, I think it was a risk worth taking. I wanted to show that there was another example, other than Chelsea Manning who was put in a cage. Chelsea was the last example of a high-profile whistleblower that the world had seen. I wanted to show that there was another possibility – that you could be in another country with asylum. In addition, I think it was important to show future whistleblowers that if you come forward and expose wrongdoing, that there are people who will stand with you and help you, no matter what the cost.
Previous whistleblowers, Thomas Drake, William Binney and Daniel Ellsberg talk about it and often say it is a process where they feel very alone after they’ve blown the whistle because they miss their job, their families and their whole world. And I think it is very important to show a sense of solidarity around whistleblowers.
The reason that you spoke about me not being able to go home: I’m from the United Kingdom which has a very strange law that is part of the Terrorism Act called Schedule 7. It is what they stopped David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s partner, under and it happens in seaports and airports, essentially, where you are not fully in UK jurisdiction, but you are subject to the will of their officials. If you’re stopped for questioning under Schedule 7, you are compelled to answer their questions. You have no right to silence. And if you do not answer some of their questions, which someone in my position would be unable to do for source protection reasons, you commit a crime upon entry. It’s a very unique situation in the UK that makes it actually quite dangerous for anyone that really has to uphold source protection for their job.
Margaret Flowers: What are some of the legal changes that you see are necessary to protect people who are trying to expose the truth?
“People need to see that these are dangerous precedents that are being set and fight against these secret processes.”
Sarah Harrison: There are a couple of things: first, we really need to understand that precedents are trying to be set around the world that allow prosecution of publishers, editors, journalists and whistleblowers. For example, if you look at the grand jury examining WikiLeaks in the United States, this is a secret court proceeding that is trying in any way possible to convict a publisher. People need to see that these are dangerous precedents that are being set and fight against these secret processes.
When it comes to whistleblower protections, one of the things to fight for going forward is to understand the realities of the situation. It is unrealistic to expect that a country is suddenly going to put in place laws that are really going to protect someone like Snowden who comes forward with such high value classified information. It is better to focus on agreements and conventions between countries that prevent extradition so there is the ability to support a whistleblower from another country somewhere else.
Kevin Zeese: Those are great points. You know in the United States there are a couple of things I would add to answer your question, Margaret. One would be the Espionage Act. It was a World War I law that was rarely used and President Obama has used it more than any other president; in fact, he has used it more than all the presidents combined and doubled. It was the most serious charge of which Chelsea Manning was convicted. The constitutionality of the Espionage Act is an issue that every media outlet, every publisher in the country, should side with Chelsea Manning on because if what happened to Chelsea is allowed, it destroys freedom of the press. Chelsea, who was not a spy, was convicted of espionage and the judge said there was no need to prove that she intended to commit espionage. The fact that no intent to commit espionage needs to be proved means that if a media outlet publishes any document related to national security, it can result in an espionage conviction. It makes it almost impossible to report on national security issues.
The other thing in the United States is most of the whistleblower protections do not apply to national security cases. So that is a gigantic shortcoming. Those are two areas in the United States where we need to take some actions.
Sarah Harrison: When Edward Snowden blew the whistle, he was actually a contractor at that time, so even the supposed protections that are meant to be in place do not apply to contractors.
“The media really has to look at what national security really means.”
It is also important for the media to question the rhetoric that the government uses. For example, when the government comes out and says “Oh well, there were other avenues he could have taken,” this should not be taken as truthful because, in fact, there were not other avenues. Rather than blindly reprinting the quote, the media should be questioning it. When the government throws out concepts like “national security,” which they are really just using as fear mongering words, it needs to be questioned by the media. In fact, what national security risks were created by Snowden’s disclosures or Manning’s disclosures? The media really has to look at what national security really means. It means protecting the security within a nation. It is not an excuse to go invade another country halfway around the world. The media should really be examining the rhetoric the government throws out and looking at what it really means rather than allowing the government to falsely describe the impact of these leaks and allowing Chelsea Manning to be forgotten in jail.
Kevin Zeese: That’s exactly right, and I think a lot of that has to do with the lack of independent media. We have a very corporate-dominated, mass media, and that media works closely with the government. In addition, the media is kept in fear by the government and if the Espionage Act is found to be constitutional without any proof of criminal intent – without the government having to prove any intent to commit espionage – it is just going to make it harder for the media to tell the truth because they will be in even more fear. So it is a gigantic problem. Let me just close with a final question for you Sarah, what’s the first campaign of Courage?
Sarah Harrison: So we are starting with a campaign for our first beneficiary who is Edward Snowden. It is called Stand With Snowden and the point of this campaign is to show solidarity around the world for Snowden. There are a few reasons for this: first, it is important for the whistleblowers themselves to know they will have support. Secondly, we want people to really show their government they support Snowden at this critical time for him, as his temporary asylum period in Russia ends. So we are asking people to upload photos to the Courage Foundation site, CourageFound.org, and you will see the tab there for campaigns and you can upload your own photo saying, “I stand with Snowden” and include your city and country. Trustees of the Courage Foundation will in a few weeks be writing to those governments formally and asking them to act as their public wishes them to and grant Edward Snowden political asylum. There is a high school that did a group photo . . . there are some very nice ones. People should have a browse around.
Kevin Zeese: There are a lot of photos up there from all over the world. It is great to see the movement in support of Snowden growing and we hope to help build that support even more. Sarah, I really appreciate the courage that you have shown and the work that you’ve done for the last few years. It is really good you are heading this new effort and we want to do what we can to help.
Margaret Flowers: You also worked closely with Julian Assange in recent years. He has just finished two years of being held in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he has political asylum. Reportedly there continues to be an investigation of Assange in the United States and people have been calling for an end to that investigation and protesting outside the embassy. What are your thoughts on the threat to the publisher and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks?
Sarah Harrison: I think Julian Assange’s situation is yet another precedent being set that we should fight against – his right to take up his asylum is being blocked. His asylum is not related to the Swedish case, but the US threat. Not only that, but there is a lack of due process in the Swedish case. Both Mr. Assange and the Ecuadorian government have asked the Swedes to question him in the embassy (and before that Mr. Assange asked that they question him when he was under house arrest), and yet the Swedes refuse, although this is a normal legal procedure. These are just some of the abuses in the Swedish case – there are many which you can read about at Free Assange Now and Justice For Assange.
To me it is very worrying that even in such a high profile case, there can be these obvious abuses of international law and so few step in to act. With regards to his situation in the embassy – he continues to work hard, but it cannot be easy being in such a small place, with no sun, horizon or much movement for two years. I hope that soon either Sweden or the UK will stop abusing his case; in the meantime he will continue to work, as can be seen by the WikiLeaks publication that we made on TISA on his two-year anniversary in the embassy.
Kevin Zeese: We encourage people to donate to the Courage Foundation and its campaign to defend Edward Snowden. You can donate to Courage here.
Sarah Harrison: Thank you very much for having me.
Margaret Flowers: Thank you for taking the time.