Koa Books


Koa Books

Voices of Dissent

Foreword by Daniel Ellsberg

This is a book that should be leaked into the government. I would like to see it, in digital form, hacked in its entirety into every personal computer in the Pentagon, the White House, State Department, NSA, CIA, and FBI. Is there someone out there who could do that?

That would be a marvelously subversive act. Nothing could be more subversive of the shameful silence to the Congress and American public within those institutions, the tolerance of dishonesty and manipulation, the complicity by those who know better with wrongful policies that endanger lives and our Constitutional order. We might even avoid a repetition, in Iran, of the horrors those public servants saw coming in Iraq and did their very best to avert.

If you who are fortunate to hold this book in your hands do not yourself hold office in the
"national security apparatus" if you lack guilty national secrets, if you have no safe in your office filled with documentary evidence of governmental crimes and lies (like the Pentagon Papers I belatedly revealed) do you know someone, a friend or relative, who does? I urge you to share this book with them, your own copy after you have read it or a new one; I don't count on their choosing to pick it out themselves. And, then, keep after them to read it. It's not for their coffee table or their overstuffed shelves. It should be by their bedside or in their bathroom. (I's very readable, and each brief story stands alone, though the cumulative effect is overwhelming).

These suggestions are not rhetorical. Even someone like me, who has lived through the same trajectory of official experience, disillusion, and new choices as those in this book, will find this account illuminating and remarkably impressive. For one thing, though I have made it a point to come to know personally many of these individuals whose actions I so much admire, I didn' realize, till reading their resignation letters and interviews here, how amazingly prescient they had been about the course in Iraq they were criticizing internally before they left office.

Were there others in their agencies who foresaw what lay ahead so clearly? Almost surely so; some of those here mention it. I's a credit to their departments that such good officers, so conscientious and knowledgeable and candid as these, were on the inside, having risen through the ranks; and, of course, discreditable to these departments that they were so little listened to or influential, and in effect compelled to leave as the current catastrophe approached. Congress should hold investigative hearings that call them, and others like them then and now, to testify as to what was knowable at the time; and call their superiors as well to explain, along with them, how what they knew was suppressed within the bureaucracy, concealed from the public, and lied about at highest levels, and how those superiors came to participate in disastrous illegalities and cover-up.

The object of these hearings would be not punishment but enlightenment and reform. Is there any reason to suppose that this process of lying the country into new aggression is not being repeated right now, with respect to Iran and perhaps other target-areas of which Congress and public are still ignorant? Such hearings could provide a forum, which did not exist in Congress for those described here under Republican leadership as the war approached - and still does not exist under Democrat-chaired committees! - for potential truth-tellers like these still on the inside or recently resigned to educate Congress, in public hearings, under oath. Readers, press your representatives to hold such hearings now, before the onset of the next war, and perhaps we will be able to avert it.

If you're at all like me, you will have a whole set of new heroes when you finish reading this. Who has too many of those - people you'd like to know, to be like, to act as they did? Most of the individuals depicted here would probably dissent from their description as heroes. I's not a title one gives oneself. In any case, they would probably point out, they just did what anyone in their position, with their knowledge, should have done. And that is true. But how many of their colleagues and others in the same position, knowing pretty much what they did and, many of them, feeling about it much the same way, actually did do what they should, what these people did - withdraw their complicity and their silence, tell the truth to those outside their own organizations, at cost to their own clearances and careers?

Whistleblowers are few and isolated in any walk of life, but there have been, until very recently, many more of them outside the national security establishment than within it, though remarkably, this book has gathered together more of the latter than would have been possible even a few years ago. No doubt that is because whistleblowers in industry or civilian agencies, though they generally suffer greatly in their advancement, careers, and personal lives, do not have to face the possibility of prosecution or the almost-certain charge, however misdirected and unfounded, that they have hurt national security, allegedly endangered troops, shown disloyalty and lack of patriotism, or (more factually) broken promises to keep secrets on which their clearances and access were based.

Most of those national security officials who do not blow the whistle when they should, are not even conscious of the conflict with the oath of office they all took, which was not to the President or Commander-in-Chief, not to their agencies or the secrecy system, but solely to uphold and defend the Constitution. They fail to see a conflict between their complicity with unconstitutional or illegal policies and their oath of office simply because they have never reflected on what the latter obligation - which, in fact, many of them violate every day they keep silent - might actually entail. The rare exception like Lt. Ehren Watada (pp. 161-3167), who testifies here that he did perceive this contradiction and did act to resolve it by disobeying illegal orders, is perhaps the single officer in the U.S. Armed Forces today who has actually been faithful to his oath of office.

Yet the very same oath has been taken by every officeholder in the government and by every member of Congress, most of whom are in actual practice no more loyal to the Constitution than I was - having taken that oath to defend it as a Marine, an official in the Department of Defense, and a Foreign Service Officer (FSR-1) in Vietnam - before I revealed the Pentagon Papers and started telling the truth I knew to Congress and others. When British diplomat Carne Ross says (p. 54), "I am ashamed that I didn' speak up earlier," and former FSO John Brady Kiesling, the first U.S. diplomat to resign in opposition to the coming war in Iraq, says (p. 25), "Because we were loyal to the President and our careers, we failed the American people," they speak for me.

Katharine Gun of Britain (pp. 39-343), 28 years old at the time, is the single civil servant known to me who did what I have been urging others to do for the past two years with respect to Iran: release an incriminating classified document to the public before the war. Her success in helping deny the U.S. the votes of support it sought in the UN Security Council - though it did not prevent, as she had reasonably hoped, the U.S. or even the UK from going ahead without Security Council authorization - did deny them any cloak of legitimacy for what was, thereby, clear-cut aggression (triggering the resignations and later revelations of Elizabeth Wilmshurst and Robin Cook, pp. 43-348). Gun'ss own fidelity to international obligations and its effects may yet preserve the possibility, in the future, of a world of law.

This book in the hands of current, future, or recently resigned officials, with its examples of moral courage in people like their own colleagues, like themselves, could awaken them to do likewise, to do better than they have done so far. This country will not escape further human, legal, and moral catastrophes, or preserve itself as a democratic, constitutional republic, if that does not happen. It is for the rest of us to hold our officials - and ourselves, in whatever groups and organizations we participate - to that standard.

This book can change your life.

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