Whistleblowing: A matter of national security

Hisham Melhem
Hisham Melhem
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The phenomenon known as “whistleblowing” has a deep-rooted history in the United States.

Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked 7,000 pages of confidential documents known as "The Pentagon Papers" and uncovered president Lyndon Johnson's systematic deception of the Americans on the Vietnam War, is considered one of the most famous whistleblowers.

Today, Ellsberg and others describe intelligence analyst Edward Snowden who exposed the National Security Agency's comprehensive scheme to monitor Americans' phone calls and electronic communications of millions across the world as a national hero. Others describe him as a traitor. The major difference between the two whistleblowers is that Ellsberg uncovered illegal practices while Snowden uncovered legal practices carried out with the knowledge of the Congress.

What's non-debatable is that the September 2001 attacks brought America and its open society closer to the national security state more than ever, to the point where the obsession of fighting terrorism became a priority for all national security apparatuses.

The Patriot Act granted authorities expanded jurisdictions to monitor Americans' activity and communications. But the jurisdictions granted stirred a heated controversial argument. During this phase, Americans felt that their privacy and freedoms have become in the spotlight, beginning with thorough searches at the airport to intercepting their communications.

The legal and political controversy stirred by Snowden's leaks will continue. It's probable that it will lead to more direct reforms, transparency and monitoring by the Congress, like what happened following similar investigations of CIA practices at the beginning of the 70s.

All indications show that America will continue to be an open society despite the worrying growth of the "national security state." We must note that the free American press, even in the period after the September 2001 attacks, still publishes Snowden's leaks. Before that, it also published Bradley Manning's WikiLeaks.

Other whistleblowers' leaks were also published by the American media. This media exposed the Abu Ghraib scandal, torture at Guantanamo, sites which the CIA ran across the world, the intercepting of phone calls with individuals outside America suspected of involvement in terrorism and the like.

Despite that, fear of the national security state is justified especially that there is a worrisome partnership between intelligence apparatuses and private companies that collect intelligence data and spend 70 percent of the intelligence budget. In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower ended his term warning the Americans of the threat of the industrial-military complex. There are similar threats from the private intelligence companies that work in the shadows.

This article was first published in Lebanon-based Annahar on June 13, 2013.

Hisham Melhem is the Washington bureau chief of Al Arabiya. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. Melhem's writings appear in publications ranging from the literary journal Al-Mawaqef to the LA Times, as well as in magazines such as Foreign Policy and Middle East Report. Melhem focuses on U.S.-Arab relations, political Islam, Arab-Israeli issues, media in the Arab World, Arab images in American media. In addition, Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. Twitter: @Hisham_Melhem

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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