The whistleblower culture

This appears to have been the summer of the Whistleblower. With luck it will turn into the Winter of their discontent

Bin Laden is dead. Is it in the public interest to know exactly how that happened?
Dr. James Boys
On 5 September 2012 08:50

This appears to have been the summer of the Whistleblower. With luck it will turn into the Winter of their discontent. In recent months the world has been presented with a steady stream of indignant individuals coming forward and exposing the apparent wrong-doings of governments and military services around the world, and claiming all sorts of high-minded ideological reasons for doing so.

No doubt there have been occasions when revealing state secrets to the press was in the public interest and germane to investigative reporting. All too often, however, it has become the case that insignificant individuals with psychological problems that should in all eventuality have kept them from positions of authority, chose to seek vengeance on an apparently undeserving and ungrateful institution (be it a government or a military service) by disclosing highly sensitive information that they believe to be ‘in the public interest.’

Whether it be Bradley Manning consorting with Wikileaks, or Matt Bissonnette (a covert Marine who couldn’t even conceal his true identity until the book, No Easy Day, was published) exposing what he views as the discrepancies in the administration’s account of the raid that killed bin Laden, suddenly we are awash with characters who appear to know better than their superior officers what is and what isn’t worthy of inclusion in the public domain.

Every time one of these tell-all publications is released, or a plethora of sensitive documents are unveiled, we are told by the perpetrators that their release is in the public interest. But is it? Are these memoirs or releases really being issued in an act of benevolence or are more malicious elements at work?

Despite the high-minded expressions utilised to justify publication of sensitive material, all too often it emerges that the whistle-blower has more than a slight axe to grind. And grind it they do, all the way to the bank.

The latest example of this mercenary-minded effort to place sensitive material in the public domain was initiated by a supposed anonymous member of Seal Team Six, responsible for the assault that lead to the death of bid Laden. An event that should have seen solidarity of purpose and celebration, (if not necessarily sombre reflection) has descended into farce, with allegation and counter allegation in regard to the events in question.

Who shot whom, from where, under what circumstances? What were the true actions of those around bin Laden? Did they rush to defend him? Did he attempt to shield himself with them? What became of the body? Was it really buried at sea, or does it remain in some mysterious government lock-up along with the Ark of the Covenant?

These questions are tantalising, but ultimately irrelevant. Bottom line: America’s number one enemy was found, and liquidated. After ten years on the run, bin Laden was removed from the face of the Earth by the forces that were unleashed by the President of the United Sates, acting as Commander in Chief.

The raid was successful, it demonstrated American determination to avenge those lost in the war on terror that predated 9/11, delivered a message to nations (such as Pakistan) who continue to harbour terrorists that sovereignty would be violated in extreme circumstances in the furtherance of US national interest and national security policy, and reminded all who took notice, of US hegemony.

Alas, the mission has become a political hot potato due in part to the proximity of the election. The decision of Obama’s re-election campaign to focus on the raid in their advert this year, entitled One Chance, demonstrates how sensitive this matter can be.

No doubt Obama appeared to take too much credit for the raid in the advert, but he had visited with those responsible and thanked them directly. This was a rare chance for a Democrat to wrap himself in the flag and the reaction to this has been fascinating to observe. With the state of the economy, foreign policy may well become a refuge for Obama heading into the fall election campaign, an area where his administration can point to some progress in their eyes.

Yet this will again become muddied water with the release of Kathryn Bigelow’s new film, Zero Dark Thirty, which again, details the raid that killed bin Laden. The allegation this time round is that the administration assisted the production to improve its image in an election year. Such is the storm brewing with regard to this, that the release has been postponed until after the election.

This is, of course, all a mere distraction from the serious debates that should be had over the course of policy during the next four years, in both foreign and economic policy. Remarkably little has been forthcoming so far. And little should be expected during the Democratic National Convention.

At this rate American voters will learn more from a tell-all book and a docu-drama than they will from their leading politicians. Such is the state of affairs in the United States: Leaders are failing to lead, politicians are failing to legislate and the media are doing little more than squabbling amongst themselves.

Little wonder that voter participation has decreased, that every angst-ridden soul who feels under-appreciated wants to write a book exposing what he sees as government failings and why a bored populace laps it up and pays through the nose for it, despite the economic hardship so many are feeling.

So long as this climate of ignorance continues, the much-heralded “change” that generations of politicians have promised remains an unlikely prospect.

Dr. James D. Boys is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. He is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King's College London, Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond University in London and a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Policy Institute. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @jamesdboys

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