Coleen Rowley: Press Freedom Endangered By Surveillance State

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NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, center, accepts an award presented by former FBI agent Coleen Rowley, left, and other peace activists at an October ceremony in Moscow. Click on photo to see video of Rowley's recent talk in Minneapolis about Snowden, the NSA and the growing surveillance state.

Coleen Rowley, former Minneapolis FBI agent and an agency whistleblower after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, met with a packed house of peace activists at Mayday Bookstore, Minneapolis, on December 8. Her subjects: NSA spying on Americans, fugitive NSA analyst Edward Snowden, press freedom and the American surveillance state.

Rowley has been in the public eye since shortly after 9/11 when she wrote a memo to FBI Director, Robert Mueller. As reported by PBS on March 5, 2005, “When Coleen Rowley was an FBI agent in Minneapolis, her office got a lead just three weeks before 9/11: A known Islamic extremist named Zacarias Moussaoui had paid $8,000 in cash for lessons to fly a Boeing 747. Rowley’s team arrested him and wanted a warrant to search his laptop computer but Rowley’s superiors at FBI headquarters said, “No.”

In her talk last Sunday, Rowley argued that the real threat to national security is the government itself, not the whistleblowers, like Snowden, who are revealing the truth. We are rapidly moving toward total censorship of the press, she said, with freedom of the press under siege. As a former FBI agent of 24 years, Rowley is required to submit all she writes to the government for advance approval. The government is using the Espionage Act of 1917 with great frequency to muzzle the truth, she said. This act is described as, “One of the most controversial laws ever passed in the United States.

Recent attention has focused on Edward Snowden, the former NSA contract analyst who released documents showing the extent of U.S. government spying. He has been vilified by the government and the mainstream media, with many calling him a traitor. But Rowley said the real traitors are the senior government officials who been lying to Congress and the American people.

She said the Intelligence establishment itself is responsible for many leaks over the years. Tidbits are leaked to key Congressional leaders of both parties so that if and when the truth comes out these leak recipients can shrug and say, “I knew that.” Unfortunately, the shrugs get passed on through the media. Rowley says the current practice of legal action against journalists telling the truth is having a chilling effect on the rest of the media. Glenn Greenwald, the primary recipient of the Snowden papers, lives in Brazil and is afraid to travel to his home country because no one in the government will guarantee that he won’t be arrested at the border.

Rowley was part of an American delegation that traveled to Moscow in October to present the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence to Snowden. Rowley is one of only a few Americans who have been able to meet with Snowden since he sought asylum in Moscow. She was accompanied by former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, former NSA executive Thomas Andrews Drake, Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project and Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks.

L to R: Coleen Rowley, Tom Drake , Jesselyn Radack, Edward Snowden, Sarah Harrison, Ray McGovern

According to Wikipedia, “The Sam Adams Award is given annually by the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, a group of retired CIA officers, to an intelligence professional who has taken a stand for integrity and ethics. It is named after Samuel A. Adams, a CIA whistleblower during the Vietnam War, and takes the physical form of a ‘corner-brightener candlestick.’” Snowden was one of three finalist for Time Magazine’s “Person of The Year” (Pope Francis won the honor).

Rowley was a winner of Time’s award in 2002, sharing the distinction with two other whistleblowers.

Rowley described Snowden as a sincere young man who was disturbed by what he saw as serious violations of U.S. human rights and an unchecked, far reaching spying effort. The documents he released have been turned over to journalists Greenwald and Laura Poitras, with some of their contents being revealed in stories published by The Guardian and The New York Times. Rowley sees the eroding of press rights to continue and the onset of further censorship unless citizens fight back.

Watch video of Rowley’s full presentation below:

(Note: Rowley misspeaks at one point in her presentation when she says Wisconsin’s Rep. James Sensenbrenner recommended that former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden be fired. Hayden is retired; Sensenbrenner actually called for the firing — and prosecution — of James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, for lying to Congress about the extent of government surveillance of Americans.)

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