Once again the US federal judiciary has caved into demands from Obama’s Department of Justice that the media’s right to confidentiality and duty to protect sources should be torn up in pursuit of the administration’s quest to silence whistleblowers and in the process destroy what remains of investigative journalism in America.
This time the case involves a prominent New York Times journalist James Risen who the Department of Justice is attempting to force into the witness box to give evidence against a CIA source who revealed startling details of incompetence on the part of his bosses. Risen wrote up the episode, which concerned a flawed attempt to sabotage the Iranian nuclear energy project, in his book “State of War” which examined CIA operations during the Bush administration.
I won’t go into all the detail here since I attach a very good blog piece from the Washington Post which explains better than I can the history of the case and the meaning of a recent court decision upholding the DoJ’s effort to force Risen to give evidence.
But I think it is important to set this case firstly against a background of unprecedented harassment of whistleblowers and the media which has attempted to report the details of their whistleblowing during the Obama presidency and the stewardship of the DoJ by Attorney General Eric Holder. Readers will be aware of the targeting of Bradley Manning, Julan Assange and latterly Edward Snowden but the list is longer than that.
Obama and Holder have pursued twice as many whistleblowers and journalists and invoked the Espionage Act against them more times than the combined presidencies of the previous ninety years. It has been an unrivalled assault on the public right to knowledge, something that will mark the Obama presidency indelibly as way more reactionary than George W Bush, an unthinkable thought when Obama campaigned on ‘Change You Can Believe In’ back in ’08.
Most ominously in their efforts to silence dissent from within government, Obama/Holder are seeking to criminalize the media, insinuating in some prosecutions that by facilitating a whistleblower, journalists can be accomplices in crime. So far the White House has shied from actually following through with charges but it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that they may try to over the Snowden case, hence the fierce hostility to the radical journalist Glenn Greenwald in establishment politican and media circles.
America’s journalists, slowly awakening to the great dangers facing the media have finally realised that the effect of the Obama/Holder push will be to destroy investigative journalism. Whether they mobilise successfuly against the threat remains to be seen.
I mention all this so as to make a point about the Boston College subpoenas, or rather to reinforce the point since I have made it before. The US authorities are taking the hard line they have during the BC case not just because they and the PSNI share an agenda but because it is the wider interests of the American security state that has evolved since 9/11 to take a hard line on the IRA archives. To bend on the Boston case would weaken their stand on these other cases and that neither Obama nor Holder will do.
I am limited in what I can say here, but the Boston College case is facing its next legal challenge soon. On July 30th the US government is to decide whether to appeal a decision handed down by the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Boston that limited the extent of the handover of IRA interviews. If they do appeal, the baton will be in the hands of Boston College. Will the authorities at America’s leading Jesuit college answer the challenge or will they fold or turn again against their researchers and interviewees?
We’ll get the answer to that soon, but so far American academe has not shown the same resolve and alarm at this federal incursion of confidentiality rights that the American media is beginning to show. Sadly, I suspect it is way too late for one and almost too late for the other.
Anyway here’s the Washington Post piece: