Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Silenced: The federal government under Obama and Bush goes after whistleblowers (in CIA, NSA, and DOJ); the Kiriakou, Drake and Radack stories

Silenced”, directed by James Spione, tells the story of two of the eight people (as of now) arrested under the Espionage Act of 1917, during the Obama administration.  Only eleven total (three before Obama) have ever been prosecuted under the Act.
One of the people is John Kiriakou, who worked as a CIA operative and brought the waterboarding practices to light (particularly of the American Taliban person John Walker Lindh.  Kiriakou had been hired after a history professor, teaching as a cover and as a “spotter”, recruited him in college.  The other major case was that of NSA officer Thomas Drake (covered in the PBS Documentary series “The Program: The United States of Secrets”, covered on the TV Blog May 14, 2014).  The film also documents the work of former DOJ attorney Jesselyn Radack, who tried to help them when she discovered that the DOJ seemed to be participating in the coverups.

The film is shot as a docudrama, with actors in some scenes (such as FBI raids), and much of the setup footage in crisp black and white. 

Both Kiriakou and Drake were impoverished by the cost of defending themselves.  Drake eventually had most charges dropped, but was unable to find much work and now earns a more modest living working as a “genius rep” in an Apple store.  Kiriakou struggled with a plea deal, which he finally took.  At the end of the film, he is shown going to a Federal Correctional Center in the snow in Pennsylvania, after fibbing to his kids that he had to go away for two years to work on teaching unemployed people how to find jobs. 

The filmmaker points out that the word “whistleblower” has few desirable synonyms in the English language; it’s usually “snitch”, “stool pigeon” or “backstabber”.  The film also points out that the NSA crossed the legal line on domestic surveillance after 9/11 with essentially warrantless domestic spying, which Drake tried to expose.    

The waterboarding scene is graphic, reminding one of the movie “Extreme Rendition”, as well as “Zero Dark Thirty”.  Lindh is bound with duct tape, and will lose a lot when freed.

Also shocking is the NBC Today interview, where Kiriakou tries to make a statement that might get a pardon from Obama; and it goes very wrong, to say the least.

The official site from Tribeca Film is here. I think the film is likely to have commercial distribution soon, but Tribeca is also a commercial distributor, as is Sundance. 
The film was shown today by the AFI Docs 2014 Documentary Film Festival at the Naval Heritage Auditorium (near the National Archives in Washington DC).  Spione did a QA and the audience was vigorous (the weekday matinee was about half full).  One person attending was critical (to me) that festival venues don’t always provide hearing impaired services.  

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