Records Show President Trump Loved Going After Whistleblowers Even More Than Obama Did

from the MAGA-by-being-Obama-on-steroids dept

Ah, we were so young then. We excoriated the Obama administration for attacking and prosecuting whistleblowers at a faster clip than any other administration in history.

This happened despite the fact Obama presided over some of the most historic leaks in history -- ones that kickstarted changes in surveillance programs and surveillance attitudes. The Obama Administration claimed to be the most transparent ever, but behind the scenes, it worked tirelessly to punish whistleblowers and leakers who were bringing actual transparency to entities that had long resisted it.

The facts about the late, not-so-great Trump Administration are continuing to leak out. And Obama's enthusiasm for punishing professional and amateur transparency enthusiasts has been outdone by his successor -- a man who often engaged in leaking himself through his Twitter account. Here's Ken Klippenstein with the details:

In 2017, there were a staggering 120 referrals for leak investigations from government agencies to the Department of Justice — higher than any year since at least 2005. There were also 88 criminal referrals for leaking classified information in 2018, according to the document, 71 in 2019, and 55 for the first three quarters of 2020, according to the most recent data available. By comparison, during the Obama administration, there were 38 referrals in 2016, 18 in 2015, and 41 in 2014.

Trump was determined to be everything Obama wasn't. His efforts often seemed solely focused on overturning everything his predecessor had established. Judging from these numbers, this also includes the number of people punished for daring to speak truth to power.

The Trump Administration always had a problem with leaks. The man who often treated the government as a weapon to be deployed against his enemies directed multiple executive agencies to hunt down those who offended him by doing nothing more than exposing his words and actions.

Enforcement is nothing without deterrence. And even if most of these referrals never resulted in criminal charges or sustained accusations, the message was made clear: fuck with the Prez and his buddies and you're going to find yourself in a world of hurt.

In its leak indictments, the Justice Department has stressed how it hopes to “deter” further leaks, as it did in its 2019 indictment of military intelligence analyst Henry Kyle Frese, accused of leaking classified information to two reporters. That deterrence also has a political dimension: As The Intercept has reported, most leaks prosecuted by the Trump administration have pertained to the Russia investigation.

This may only detail "referrals," but every referral is a chance to prosecute. That most of these referrals never resulted in criminal charges indicates how baseless they were, rather than how receptive the Trump Administration was to additional accountability.

And for those of you who focus on the fact that these were "leak" investigations rather than the retaliatory targeting of whistleblowers who chose to work within the system, I'll just point out two things:

First, leaking works better than whistleblowing because it doesn't give the chain of command a chance to bury unfavorable facts.

Second, the Trump Administration -- like the one before it -- engaged in retaliation against whistleblowers who chose to follow the rules, suggesting the better route is to get the information to reporters who will expose wrongdoing, rather than be buried along with their objections.

And while we're burying Trump for being worse on issues we routinely excoriated Obama for, let's not forget his administration was particularly enthusiastic about extrajudicial killings. Obama's position as King of the Drone Strikes has been usurped by one of the worst presidents in history.

In 2019, air strikes from the US and its allies in Afghanistan killed 700 civilians, more than in any other year since the beginning of the war in 2001 and 2002, according to new research from Brown University's Cost of War project.

The new data casts light on US President Donald Trump's aerial warfare policies across the Middle East and in countries neighbouring the region, which have become less restricted and more opaque.

The report chronicled the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and Afghan air strikes over the past three years.

"From 2017 through 2019, civilian deaths due to US and allied forces' airstrikes in Afghanistan dramatically increased," the report said.

So, not only were we killing more people based on metadata than ever before, we've been killing more innocent people than ever before. GOD BLESS THE USA.

We'll see what Biden does with his first term in office. Despite running as the anti-Trump, Biden has shown no less enthusiasm for participating in forever wars. We may finally have someone who acts like a statesman, rather than a petulant child, in office. But that doesn't mean we, as a constitutional republic, can't still be as awful as ever.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: barack obama, donald trump, leaks, transparency, whistleblowers


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  1. icon
    WarioBarker (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 4:07pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Not sure who AC had in mind, but when I think "decades-long retaliation against people who called [him/her] by a mean name in an article decades ago" my mind goes to David Miscavige and L. Ron Hubbard before him.


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.