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Ray McGovern: Free speech tamped down in US

File photo of the New York Times investigative reporter James Risen, who has been threatened with prison for his reporting of America’s confidential missions to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. © AFP

Press TV has interviewed Ray McGovern, a Washington-based former CIA analyst, to discuss prosecution of whistle-blowers in the United States.


The following is a rough transcription.

Press TV: What do you make of this case? First of all, let’s look at the sentences; Three and a half years in prison for leaking classified information. Your take Sir.

McGovern: There should have been no conviction, there should be no sentencing. The information that he was convicted on was extremely circumstantial. The judge herself said in the court - I was in the court for this trial and then today for the sentencing - she was very defensive, she said that ‘alright, it was all based on circumstantial evidence but sometimes circumstantial evidence can be really powerful.’ What she was referring to of course were these telephone calls, illegally acquired, which showed James Risen talking with Jeffrey Sterling. Now, did they mention this operation in any of those telephone calls? No! So there was no proof other than... so you talk to somebody for 17 times... that is enough to convict you for addressing a subject that wasn’t mentioned in any of your information? It doesn’t work that way. Now, we have in our country something called the First Amendment; the right to free speech, the right to publish. That is sacred and that is why I can speak with you today. That is why I can be just as candid, just as frank with you, and as honest as I am with US media. I have to tell you that this case has to do with the First Amendment, because what the Department of Justice lawyers were told to do is to make sure that no one ever talk to an investigative journalist like James Risen or, worse still, to James Risen himself for a fear of being put in jail for many years; that is what this is all about. James Risen escaped the subpoena but they are willing to put him in jail. The warning goes out, this fellow is in jail for 3.5 years, ‘do never never talk, never exercise your First Amendment rights in telling the press stories that no one else will tell.’

Press TV: So what does happen to the legal system there? You are talking about the right of the freedom of press and the right of free speech, but what has happened to it that on the one hand you are saying and also the judge said that it was circumstantial evidence but yet we see this individual facing three years in prison.

McGovern: That is very selective prosecution, a point that was made earlier in you program. When General Petraeus, who was head of the CIA, shared with his mistress all manner of secrets including the identities of all our spies and assets in Afghanistan, gave the notebooks to his mistress, and she had them for several days before he realized “Whoops! I am going to be head of the CIA now and security is going to be following me all the way around. So I better get the notebooks back!” so he calls her... this is all right in the telephone logs... he calls her now “Please may I have the bound books back?” So he gets the books back just before he is surrounded by the CIA security people who he didn’t want to get to know what happened. Now, he not only did that, but he lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation twice, right through his teeth! It was proven that he knew that he was lying and he lied, and he knew that this was a criminal case. Did they charge him with that? No, they forgot to charge him with that! They didn’t even mention it except for mitigating or extending circumstance in his trial. So what did he get? He got a 100-thousand dollar penalty. Guess what he makes for one hour, for one speech? 130 thousand dollars! So talk about selective prosecution; this is a classic case of going after people you don’t want to be talking to the press while not prosecuting people who commit heinous crimes in exposing identities, operations, conversations with the president of the United States. Petraeus walks free, gets a wrist-slap and Jeffery Sterling goes to prison for 3.5 years.

Press TV: What does this mean in general, one for whistle-blowers of information that many feel the public should be privy to? What does it do as far as with journalists trying to get out certain information that they think that the overall public would benefit from?

McGovern: This is the name of the game here. This is what it is all about. The government is trying to make sure that there are no whistle-blowers. That is why they prosecuted Thomas Drake of NSA for 4 years, before the judge said, ‘You justice department lawyers! Don’t you ever bring a case like this into my court again based on flimsy and forged information!’ It is the same “justice” department that has prosecuted Jeffery Sterling. One of the top prosecutors was almost amusing today, he said, ‘You know? We got to know... get how hard we worked on this case. But one of the pleasures was to get to know these CIA case officers... what a wonderful bunch of patriots they are!’ While in reality CIA case officers did what case officers always do. They did a snow job! They convinced not only the prosecution, but the judge herself, that Jeffrey Sterling was guilty and that he was guilty of terrible crimes. It was all transparent right there; the judge saying, ‘well it was circumstantial but we had enough!’ and then the prosecutor saying, ‘these are wonderful fellows these CIA case officers. Not realizing that he had been had!’

Press TV: What does this do in general? When cases like this happen and individuals such as this gentleman is prosecuted? What type of message is it really sending to the journalists, to those who may want to blow the whistle? What kind of message does it send to them?

McGovern: The message is, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t talk to reporters and especially don’t talk to James Risen.’ Now, James Risen has so many sources that he is still doing it. He is still exposing wrongdoing. So the attempted effect is to tamp down any descent or any exercise of the First Amendment. But the real effect would be to have honest analysts to think, ‘Wow! You know? I might be going to let the federal government deprive me of the sacred rights that our forefathers fought for and are inculcated in the First Amendment of the Constitution. No! And I have a way to do that, Wikileaks! I have all manner of electronic ways to get the word out. I think that my conscience impels me to do it, and so I think we will see more of this not less.   


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