Entries Tagged 'Whistleblowers' ↓

Why’s the CIA’s David Shedd texting me out of the blue?

The image shows a text-message sent from 17034082506 on Wednesday August 3 at 5:20 a.m. The message reads: "Good morning Ed. This is David Shedd writing from our new place in south Florida in response to your wonderful update letter. Before writing more, I want to make sure that you get this note and the text works.  Warm regards, David"
There’s more to this than meets the eye

On August 3, I woke to see on my smartphone a text from David Shedd, a retired career intelligence officer who started at the CIA as an intern decades ago and climbed the ranks to senior management, even meeting with Obama face to face in 2008 to discuss continuing the agency’s torture program. Why is a lifelong spy who also headed the Defense Intelligence Agency messaging me at five in the morning? He’s as spooky as anybody in international espionage: he was on the transition team of organized crime-linked Donald Trump, he’s on faculty at Patrick Henry University — a Creationist school requiring all students and staff to attest that the Bible is their deity’s inerrant word — and who knows what else. And now he’s in my texts.

Back to back in 2018, I wrote one article, for Buffalo’s Daily Public, and contributed to the writing of another, at Boing Boing, regarding video footage Shedd ordered censored that year. So that’s why I’m on his radar generally. But all that was more than four years ago. Why ping me now?

First, some background to contextualize his odd message.

The Backstory

Left to right on the whistleblowing panel: Heather Marsh, moderator Laali Vadlamani, David Shedd, Ewen MacAskill

On February 27, 2018, the Oxford Union held, then censored at Shedd’s demand, a three-person panel on the very topic of whistleblowing. Here in the United States we don’t hear much about this debating society, but in the United Kingdom the Oxford Union is a huge deal: not only have Malcolm X, Winston Churchill, and additional historic figures spoken there, but over the years three of their student presidents have become U.K. prime ministers. A few months ago, one of the planet’s biggest newspapers offered the headline: How the Oxford Union created today’s ruling political class.

The controversial panel, held in the forum’s Goodman Library, consisted of philosopher and human rights activist Heather Marsh, longtime Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill, and Shedd. Toward the end of the evening, the spy didn’t fare well in a back-and-forth with Marsh about torture and other subjects involving how hurting people in shadowy cages is bad actually, so with a politican’s pettiness, Shedd told the Union never to release the video recording. Marsh and her lawyers contend the Union is contractually obliged to upload the film as promised to youtube, which they’ve so far failed to do. The handful of photos they posted don’t count.

Marsh, Shedd debating during panel. Her friend is former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr.

A few months later, Marsh became a whistleblower herself, posting audio of her portion of the panel as well as a transcript. She wrote an accompanying analysis of the censorship, too, discussing how free speech for corporations, predators, and tyrants is shrilly upheld but the words of women and other marginalized people against the powerful are regularly shut down. When the Oxford Union bills itself as the “world’s most prestigious debating society” and the “last bastion of free speech” — then agrees to third party censorship of their own footage of a panel on whistleblowing — the society reveals its ultimate loyalty to the likes of Shedd making up the protection racket that today’s governance amounts to, where the arch-abusers run wild, occasionally promising security and belonging to the gullible who surrender their self and become obedient.

Learning of Marsh defeating Shedd, and Shedd’s subsequent censorship demand, I decided to cover the story and bought phone numbers for the his homes so I could ask him for comment. Through public records sites, personally identifiable information of just about anyone in the United States, king or streetsweeper, is available online legally in exchange for lucre. I politely called the Shedd-associated numbers, which did not include the one he texted me from. His wife — I think that’s who answered — came to the phone, but didn’t put him on the line. “Stop with the harassing phone calls!” she said, though I’d been well mannered, and though her husband had been a senior manager at a notorious worldwide purveyor of waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation — you know, harassing people, to say the least.

Marsh, Shedd debating during panel. Read more about ICE.

Politely seeking comment is harassment? They clearly have an outsize sense of persecution. I simply wanted to ask him straightforward questions such as Mr Shedd, should I describe you in my article as petulant? Or do you prefer petty? How about sore loser? Anyway, my calls to his homes were the only contact I’ve ever had with Clan Shedd, and since I didn’t get ahold of the man himself, I’d never had contact with him until his weird SMS. It’s a routine thing: journalist writing article requests comment; doesn’t hear back. But more than four years later, a sudden text?

To finish up the backstory, note that while the Oxford Union student newspaper mentioned the controversy in 2018, and so did the World Socialist Web Site that same year (one; two; three; four), nobody else — besides me (with my in-depth reporting), Marsh, and social media supporters — has uttered a peep. Even Ewen MacAskill, the third panelist, has said nothing from his perch on good terms with the highly influential Guardian newspaper. Likely that’s because in the aftermath of the censorship, the Oxford Union gave MacAskill a paid lecture series to talk to audiences about, you guessed it, whistleblowing. You see, experts on whistleblowing don’t talk about censorship they know of. They keep quiet like good puppies awaiting treats. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

Now fast-forward to this summer, what triggered Shedd to contact me out of the blue.

Why now?

In the time frame of Shedd’s message, two things were occuring that might have prompted him to send me his strange little note.

One: Unbeknownst to me until late August, the Oxford Union in July asked Marsh to give a solo talk, something she wrote about today on her Patreon in a public post. She asked if they’d post the panel video — with Shedd blurred and muted if necessary, something they’ve done before when an individual didn’t want her performance published. In response, the Union ghosted Marsh. Presumably the debating society, following up on her question, asked Shedd if he’d change his mind, and the hierarch must have said No. And had nothing better to do than text a freelance journalist deceptively — petty and petulant and a sore loser — worrying about how all this is going to reflect on his legacy. Silverbacks like Shedd love legacy: parades, presidental libraries, pyramids. Retired and aging, he must fear the facts around February 27, 2018 will correctly tarnish his status in history. Books and articles are routinely published that trumpet Shedd (and separately, the Oxford Union), so he’s accustomed to accolades, not dissent.

Shedd sitting on the panel looking angry.
Subterfuge Shedd losing debate

The other: On an ongoing basis I have for years submitted pieces to mainstream and alternative media sites that either focus on, or include, Shedd’s censorship. Revelation of the facts in a large venue would greatly help impute guilt to Shedd in the public record so he can accordingly be shunned and feel shame, unless of course his emotional processing is atrophied, which it probably is from aiding in the command of the CIA. That organization has a long history of propagandistic manipulations of the media. See for instance Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein’s 1977 Rolling Stone deep dive on the topic addressing cover-ups of how the United States news media “worked hand in glove with the Central Intelligence Agency.” All that said — to indicate the water I’m swimming in — I have no evidence, nor even intuition, that anything illicit has happened with my freelancing, but it’s within the realm of possibility somebody at such a venue told somebody who told somebody who told somebody a freelancer named Doug is still working on winning amplification for this story, and it reached Shedd’s ears.

With the 2018 and 2022 contexts established, let’s scrutinize the spy’s missive.

Scaredy cat’s sneak attack

Good morning Ed. This is David Shedd writing from our new place in south Florida in response to your wonderful update letter. Before writing more, I want to make sure that you get this note and the text works. Warm regards, David

The message arrived at 5:20 a.m. Pacific time (I’m in Seattle). Assuming he was actually in Florida, that would be 8:20 a.m. Eastern. Pretty early to shoot off a mysterious communiqué — maybe he was in a bad mood, rising on the wrong side of the bed after earlier listening to the Oxford Union ask his permission to publish the video. Since he apparently controls them now and apparently told them No way.

I have no idea who Ed is, if anyone. In December 2020, Shedd authored an op-ed titled “Edward Snowden Should Not Get A Pardon Under Any Circumstances,” so I don’t think Shedd means him.

Shedd looking offended and off guard.
Shedd on the debate panel he lost

As stated above, I’d never before seen this (703) 408-2506 number, but it’s a northeastern Virginia area code where the CIA is located some ten miles from D.C. And my trusty public records services confirmed it belongs to David R. Shedd. Now I have a convenient number to call him at in case I need to request comments again. And so do you.

Regarding Shedd obtaining my phone number, maybe he paid for public records too, maybe he successfully stored my digits for over four years and put in the effort to move them to his (703) 408-2506 device, or maybe, as I documented the Austin-based private spy firm Stratfor assisting with in an unrelated but similar matter, he called a friend with access to surveillance databases and got it that way, saved himself a few bucks. He spearheaded the 2008 revisions to Executive Order 12333, which outlines when and how federal intelligence agencies may spy, so I’m sure he knows multiple ways to grab someone’s digits.

Here’s the big question. Why the deception gambit? The message asks the recipient to respond to confirm the connection is good. Why not just address me as Douglas and say … what exactly? Stop talking about me getting whopped in that debate?

Surely after more than four years, it was no mere pocket-dial or oopsident. If you’ve spent time reading leaked cables between government agents and the like, you know they pick words carefully and stamp security classifications on their papers and all that jazz. Somebody in the spy-versus-spy, backstabber-versus-backstabber world of meetings in the White House and the intelligence agencies is probably going to take his communications pretty seriously especially in light of Marsh concurrently asking the Oxford Union to release the recording.

To understand this better, let’s turn to the spy glossary created by that Austin firm Stratfor, sometimes called a “shadow CIA,” staffed with former military, former intelligence agency spooks, and an assistant to corporations in defending against activists. They define disinformation in part as “A plausible story designed to confuse the other side or to create an uncomfortable political situation.” Pinging the system means in part “Emitting information that is designed to be intercepted by the other side. Usual purpose: figure out their response patterns. Other uses, confusing the other side.” In short, subterfuge is a way of life for these people, including propaganda and manipulation of media like freelance journalists. They’re not serving the public honestly; they’re serving the shareholders and themselves; so why expect a message from a straight shooter?

My guess is Shedd, too timid to use his own name, was trying to bait me into responding, and/or stress me out: I’m watching. CIA is watching. But if you ask them for comment, they’ll just say I must have dialed the wrong number. Hahaha!

Since vanishingly few have ever published about the whistleblowing panel censorship, you have to wonder who else besides the Oxford Union Shedd is intimidating. He’s not stopping me.

David Shedd keeps losing

This is a color photograph of the whistleblowing panel showing the moderator on the left, Ewen MacAskill on the right, and in the center, Shedd looking surprised and off guard

Such childish antics are among the activities of egregious human rights-violating hierarchs — when they’re not losing debates. Because on their side, they don’t have the truth. He prefers propaganda and fears the facts.

If Shedd’s goal was to scare me, he failed. Fragile Shedd lost again. Whatever the CIA (or Stratfor) may say, protection rackets for the highest bidders, as Marsh pointed out on the panel, aren’t security. As she said, “security is strong involved and supportive communities networked with other communities.” When I moved to Seattle in 2016, I began participating with local chapters of the Hearing Voices Network and Food Not Bombs. These egalitarian movements — and more associations with genuine activists — have afforded me close friends who, unlike many among the civilian/loyalist population, understand my work and show up to support me regularly or when something spooky happens like Shedd’s text. Protective, interlocking horizontal networks turned Shedd’s grenade into a grape bouncing off me harmlessly.

I think, somehow, one day, the whistleblowing video will be released. And then Shedd will have an opportunity to realize he’s not entitled to exceptional treatment. It’s not just his lifelong subterfuge that he tried to deploy on me. I think he’s also trying to fool himself. The longer the footage stays secret, the more easily he — and the public — can follow the head-in-sand, pro-impunity bipartisan philosophy of “look forward, not back” to avoid facing the truths Marsh (and others) have brought forward about our real legacy of torture, governance protection rackets, and so many more injustices. And the more petty and petulant Shedd’s sore loser legacy becomes.

Shot of panel shows moderator watching Marsh with her hand raised, likely making a point, as Shedd looks on with angry expression.
Still the debate winner
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This blog post, Why’s the CIA’s David Shedd texting me out of the blue?, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (summary). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2022/09/01/why-cia-david-shedd-messaging-me/. You can find the full license (the legalese) here. To learn more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net. And gimme all your money!

Opposition to Roe v. Wade since the sixth century BCE

Note (added 31 August 2022): Two philosophically minded Greek physicians, Aretaeus of Cappadocia, who lived around the second century AD, and Hippocrates of Kos, aka the Father of Medicine, who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries BCE, would have made stronger examples of severe misogyny in ancient thinkersread here to see why but the philosophers I discuss below, Thales and Hippo of Samos, are revealing too.

Protest at US Supreme Court today after ruling

Today the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, giving states the green light to criminalize abortion. Half the fifty states are now expected to do so. This is an authoritarian assertion of control over women’s bodies; it is forced childbirth for those pregnant.

Some 2600 years ago, the progenitors of Western philosophy walked around ancient Greece conversing with each other, their followers, and the military leaders who grew up with them as tutors. (Anaxagoras taught Pericles; Aristotle taught Alexander the Great.)

The received view sees these men, and their conversations, as the starting point of Western philosophy. The ivory tower, the think tanks, the intelligentsia all starts with them.

Even Supreme Court decisions, the justices’ clerks pouring through tomes in the library, are built on this intellectual edifice that rests on ancient Greek philosophers.

The ancient thinkers kicked off Western philosophy with masculinist bias. For those not familiar with the word masculinism, consider it the opposite of feminism. In The Creation of Me, Them and Us, contemporary philosopher Heather Marsh defines masculinist theory as “based on research that only includes men or is presented from an exclusively male point of view or which sets the experience of men as the normative standard.”

Read W.T. Jones’ five-volume A History of Western Philosophy, covering thousands of years, and you will see not a single woman is included in all those pages. That’s masculinist theory for you. The tomes discuss battle and blood and sweat, but nearly nothing about caregiving and reproduction.

When the foundations of the intelligentsia were being built in ancient Greece, how did masculinist theory arise? After all, women have been heard more and more lately through #TimesUp, #MeToo, and #OpDeathEaters; today’s ruling is a slap in the face, trying to turn the volume down on women and the topics often associated with them.

Thales: All is what?

Drawing of Thales by Ernst Wallis based on a posthumous bust that was itself guesswork; note the heroic appearance given to the ancient philosopher

W.T. Jones and others present Thales as the father of Western philosophy. In the sixth century BCE, he lived on the Mediterranean shores of what is now Turkey.

If you look at standard resources such as the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on him (provided by the University of Tennessee at Martin), you will learn the most important idea of Thales was that all is water.

His metaphysical theory — all is water — is classified as material monism. Material meaning he didn’t say all is something nebulous such as energy, but all is something definitively material, water. As for monism, that means all is just one thing. Unlike, say, Empedocles, another philosopher of the era, who reduced existence to four different things he called “roots,” Thales credited water alone with being the universe’s fundamental stuff.

In her highly readable book Thales of Miletus, philosophy professor Patricia F. O’Grady explains what all is water actually means. Thales envisaged water as a cyclical, pervasive medium. Cyclical like the water cycle: puddles evaporate into clouds which rain; the rain solidifies into mud and maybe rock that eventually liquefies. Pervasive as in water existing everywhere as a kind of backdrop from which familiar objects (trees, sand, etc.) emerge and back into which they dissipate as they move and change. Thales is awarded historical importance for his theory partly because it is held to represent the beginnings of looking at the world scientifically: attributing happenings to the natural substance of water rather than supernatural divinities.

That may be the complete story of Thales’ idea.

However, it is a speculative reading, but Thales may have meant his water to have semen-like qualities. This is not something explicit I have come across in readings on Thales, but a passage by the famous ancient philosopher Aristotle suggests it to me. (Thales left no primary source writings, so we depend on other philosophers, particularly Aristotle, to learn his views.)

Conjecturing how Thales arrived at his watery theory, Aristotle suggests Thales may have observed that “the semina of all things have a moist nature, whereas water is the first principle of the nature of moist things” (983 b27).

The “semina of all things have a moist nature” is a pretty evocative phrase: it says all things include semina, or seeds — seeds in a broader sense than just sperm — and that these seeds are moist. He then says water is the first (fundamental) thing, when it comes to moist items, which apparently include everything since all things have moist semina.

It also seems to me Aristotle, or Aristotle’s Thales, is trying to associate the two — the water and the moist semina.

Not so much a “I proved he certainly meant this” and instead a psychological reading, as in: Gee, what do you think these guys are really talking about here with all this stuff about moist generative seeds?

He may have just meant botanical seeds, or Aristotle may be suggesting that an observant Thales saw, ubiquitous, moistness and seeds — even sperm, which is watery. Maybe the metaphysical water of Thales was intended to be understood as sperm or more plausibly sperm-like, with motive and generative powers, as Thales imbued it.

I could be flat-out wrong. Thales’s word for water, ὕδωρ, does not mean semen anywhere in ancient Greek. But I think the Aristotle passage is pliable enough for us to consider that Thales might have connoted, not “all is semen,” but “all is water, which is a lot like semen.”

Aristotle’s hypothetical Thales going on about semina, and seeds (of some sort) somehow being relevant to his foundational water, suggests the founder of Western philosophy may have been arbitrarily prioritizing men, a way of making men’s seminal fluid close to the foundational stuff of reality. After all, why could it not have been vaginal arousal fluid or amniotic fluid? If Thales was giving his foundational water qualities of semen, that would mean other, non-semen things fall in approval by comparison. A woman risking childbirth, a dangerous feat, would not be of foundational importance, if what’s close to the most important thing (water) is semen rather than her fluids. And if so, that is the historical origins of today’s Western intelligentsia: masculinist bias.

(I should note there are probably other ancient thinkers with views about sperm that I am simply unaware of. I just happen to have recently studied Thales and Hippo of Samos.)

Hippo of Samos: Listen up, men produce the soul

Ancient Greek vase showing physician bloodletting a patient

Roughly a century after Thales, in the fifth century BCE, the philosopher and physician Hippo of Samos said something similarly prioritizing semen in his explanation of the universe. He is conventionally described as coming from the island of Samos, but in fact he may have come from any number of places in the ancient world.

The theologian Hippolytus from a few centuries later records in his book Refutation of All Heresies the otherwise unavailable words of Hippo of Samos: “semen […] manifests itself to us […] from moisture […] it is from this [i.e. the seed] that, [Hippo] says, the soul is produced.”

In other words, Hippo believed the soul derives from semen. Moist semen, if you want the details. The soul is not the entire universe, but of course the soul is rather important.

If we agree it is semen, and nothing else, from which the soul is derived, then we might look down on other substances. What about vaginal arousal fluid or amniotic fluid? These are not soul-producers, according to Hippo of Samos, but we nevertheless know their importance in reproduction. They are left out of soul-production by Hippo of Samos because of masculinist bias: he’s established an exclusively male point of view, setting the experience of only men as the normative standard. He’s arbitrarily left out vaginal arousal fluid and amniotic fluid (and other things) to focus exclusively on semen.

Again, these ancient thinkers are those held by the ivory tower to be their system’s origins. It’s a commonplace that an undergraduate philosophy degree is good preparation for law school, with philosophy majors besting other majors in LSAT scores. Learning that everything is semen or that nothing but semen has a role in producing the soul sends a clear message as to whose voices are to be heard: men’s. Moving from that in the classroom to law school to clerking for the Supreme Court … well, you get the idea.

There are probably other ancients besides Thales and Hippo of Samos who have outlined masculinist systems. In The Creation of Me, Them and Us, Marsh writes the opinion that women are “subjugated by nature” is “an opinion philosophers and scientists have pontificated about for centuries with long treatises on passive eggs and active sperm.” It seems injustices need justification; we give way too much honor to philosophers justifying the unjustifiable.

The eye of biology

A single man can inseminate many, many women. But if you want humanity to survive, you wouldn’t want your species to consist of a single woman. She might die in childbirth (which is more dangerous an activity than often realized) and at the very least she will have to dedicate massive amounts of time and energy to pregnancy and presumably caring for a completely dependent infant across years. So, multiple women are needed, whereas just one man can get the evolutionary ejaculatory job done. Therefore we have a glut of inseminators: too many men. But humanity has to make sure to have enough women. Ergo, women are of higher survival value to the species than men. This argument appears to me rigorously true.

From unheard to heard

When men do not hear women, they pay a price.

I have spent many hours in coffeeshops sitting with some male friend discussing Western philosophers. What about the ancient philosopher Anaximenes, a material monist who said all is air? Stroking our chins, wondering whether we’re made entirely of water or entirely of air, seems a silly question isolated people on thrones would talk to each other about if they are exempted from salt-of-the-Earth efforts such as domestic cleaning, childbirth, taking care of houseplants, etc.

Old, small pot on the left; new, larger pot on the right. The reverse spider plant is named The Enterplant after Star Trek’s Enterprise spaceships

Of course, intelligentsia paints a lot of prestige onto philosophers — think of elaborate printed editions for the complete works of WhicheverAncientopholes — and I haven’t had too much success convincing my guy friends it’s all a bunch of hype. There’s a kind of machismo of the intellect, I’ve read more Empedocles than you, which to many men is worth more than successfully repotting a houseplant for the first time (as I did today!) or planning a hike with a friend and her dog.

The masculinist intelligentsia has spent millenia downplaying basic activities of life, activities frequently associated with women. Look at billionaire celebrity Elon Musk, promising Mars without ever once discussing who will provide the caregiving on his spaceships. He is speaking of a masculinist space fantasy, like those old Arthur C. Clarke science fiction novels with familyless protagonists who fly around the universe and save it singlehandedly without ever needing to do laundry or cook a meal. Maybe those who say laundry and cooking are irrelevant are often those who have someone else to do it for them.

Too many of my male acquaintances who look up to the right-wing machismos, the Jordan Petersons, the berating ex-military youtube coaches, are the very same guys I know who are simultaneously in financial desperation, abusing opioids, and at risk of (or already committed) suicide.

It may seem dramatic, but it really is a battle between life and death. In her essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin explores her lack of interest in the warfare superiority stories told by the conventional sources, and her preference for stories about, say, gathering food with children:

(“What Freud mistook for her lack of civilization is woman’s lack of loyalty to civilization,” Lillian Smith observed.) The society, the civilization they were talking about, these theoreticians, was evidently theirs; they owned it, they liked it; they were human, fully human, bashing, sticking, thrusting, killing. Wanting to be human too, I sought for evidence that I was; but if that’s what it took, to make a weapon and kill with it, then evidently I was either extremely defective as a human being, or not human at all.

That’s right, they said. What you are is a woman. Possibly not human at all, certainly defective. Now be quiet while we go on telling the Story of the Ascent of Man the Hero.

Go on, say I, wandering off towards the wild oats, with Oo Oo in the sling and little Oom carrying the basket. You just go on telling how the mammoth fell on Boob and how Cain fell on Abel and how the bomb fell on Nagasaki and how the burning jelly fell on the villagers and how the missiles will fall on the Evil Empire, and all the other steps in the Ascent of Man.

Men can also feel disgust at bombings and delight at gathering food. We men need to stop telling ourselves the stories of masculinism and ask women what they know. Maybe someday men can provide traditional male virtues too, such as strength, in ways that are not harmful but helpful.

Resistance

Mexico’s movement for abortion rights took several years of effort, but it paid off

Even amid the masculinist forces of hierarchy and war, to flourish in life requires growing, increasing one’s autonomy; the Supreme Court pushed women down today, taking autonomy away, but things don’t have to end here. The stakes are higher than many just seeing the headlines might know. For example, the National Right to Life Committee is calling for criminalizing aiding people in finding abortions. (Planned Parenthood and others currently continue to assist pregnant individuals in just that manner.)

In Mexico, the abortion rights movement took several years to build the capacity for marches, occupations, and even strikes, and it paid off: in September 2021, the Mexican Supreme Court decriminalized abortion across the country. Those in the United States may be unfamiliar with having a prosocial, genuine nation around oneself, and may be unfamiliar with the kind of work put in by such a people to win political gains. From Sofia Tafich’s excellent article “Abortion Rights Movement Grows in Mexico“:

on March 9, 22 million women participated in a milestone national strike, #UnDíaSinNosotras (A Day Without Us), to visualize a Mexico without women. No women in the streets, no women at work, no women in school, no women shopping, no women on social media. The business group Concanaco Servytur estimated that if every woman took part, their absence could cost the economy up to 1.37 billion dollars. Women who couldn’t participate for personal reasons were invited to wear purple as a sign of solidarity.

Instead of accepting defeat, individuals in the United States can join forces and escalate their efforts, perhaps starting with some of these tactics. Responding to the Supreme Court, Putingate whistleblower Reality Winner tweeted today:

Dethrone and turn the volume down on wrongly hallowed masculinist philosophers and academics — don’t be fooled by their weighty editions in fancy fonts — and turn the volume up on people putting in the work for great justice.

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This blog post, Opposition to Roe v. Wade since the sixth century BCE, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (summary). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2022/06/24/opposition-to-roe-v-wade-since-the-sixth-century-bce/. You can find the full license (the legalese) here. To learn more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net. And gimme all your money!

#PardonRealityWinner: Whistleblower moves to three years of supervised release on November 23, 2021

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 46 of 52.

You probably remember the name Reality Winner and at least some of her story: in May 2017, when Trump fired then-FBI director James Comey for his investigation into the Putin regime’s interference with the presidential election on behalf of a certain cheeto-colored demagogue, a whistleblower in her twenties leaked a classified document detailing how the Russian military hacked US election systems just days before the November 2016 election. I reported in person from her August 2018 sentencing in Augusta Georgia, where, in the Trump administration’s first espionage case against a domestic whistleblower, Reality Winner was given the longest prison term ever for a disclosure to the media.

This week, news in the United States — whether social, corporate, or other — will likely focus on Reality Winner again since the Bureau of Prisons on Tuesday is changing her status from her current home confinement situation (began June 9) to three years of supervised release, phase similar to the more familiar, state-level term parole, which technically no longer exists on the federal level. Her ankle monitor will finally be removed. Recent and ongoing media of various types continue to focus on her case, especially this week.

As a result of the news, the public may have a lot of questions. This post provides an overview of her case, the leaked document and its implications, as well as the surrounding media discourse, plus definitions of relevant Bureau of Prisons jargon and a menu of actions you can pick from to help Reality Winner gain a pardon, the chief goal her family is calling for help with.

Who’s Reality Winner again? What was that document about?

Reality Winner is an idealistic, intelligent, and altruistic Texan. The two best sources of information about her as a person are probably the 2017 New York Magazine profile titled “The World’s Biggest Terrorist Has a Pikachu Bedspread” and the twitter feeds of her family: her mother Billie J. Winner-Davis, her sister Brittany Winner, and her (step)father Gary Davis. If you’re interested, follow those accounts, or at least know how to search their tweets. A good rule of thumb for whistleblower cases: get your information not from the social-climbers and co-opters, but from their families, loved ones, and lawyers like Reality Winner’s attorney Alison Grinter. (The whistleblowers themselves are usually under gag orders.)

Beginning of the document Winner leaked

Winner is also an Air Force veteran who, at the time she snailmailed the restricted document to The Intercept, was working for Virginia-based spy contractor Pluribus International. You might know the US spy agencies — rebranded intelligence agencies especially following 1970s revelations of scandals such as Operation Mockingbird — are mostly staffed by contractors, whose trade secrets and other private properties are exempt from public oversight due to the laws of biz. In other words, the so-called intelligence community, its structure if not particular individuals within, is motivated not by public safety, but by profit and worse. For Pluribus International, the multilingual Winner translated into English surveilled terrorist communications from languages such as Farsi and Pashto. As Trump was firing Comey, a secret network board system, akin to a classified version of Reddit and accessible by Pluribus International staff, ranked a certain document highly, indicating wide interest in it.

The document, and The Intercept article about it, describes cyberattacks, carried out just days before the 2016 elections, by Russian military hackers against more than 100 local election officials in the United States and at least one U.S. supplier of software used to manage voter rolls in multiple counties. In short, Winner gave everyone information required for self-governance, gave everyone necessary knowledge otherwise unavailable. That includes any voting vendor staff who, without security clearances, would not have been able to access such protective classified information unless it appeared in open discourse. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, wrote in a June 9, 2017 post on his personal website that the cyberattacks disclosed by Reality Winner “illustrate the real threats and vulnerabilities facing our elections, and they point to solutions.”

Such computer vulnerabilities ultimately show how state, corporate, or other criminal actors (or combinations thereof), anywhere in the world, can manipulate elections, anywhere in the world, to secretly condition the public into believing lies. As philosopher and former Wikileaks Central editor Heather Marsh explains in my article from Winner’s sentencing:

“This document is more than just evidence of Russian interference. In many ways, the US election is a high-profile, long-term investigation into the nature of how democracies work today. Opinions are manipulated by organizations such as Cambridge Analytica in conjunction with intelligence collection by organizations such as Wikistrat. These are problems which have plagued all democracies for years now–Canada’s 2011 voter suppression robocalls and Andrés Sepúlveda’s decade-long manipulation of Latin American elections are two earlier reported examples of modern election interference.”

Marsh’s quotation continues in my article from her sentencing. The public’s understanding of TrumPutin wouldn’t have developed to the extent it did, had Winner not gifted us (and Congress) with the secret document.

In that same article of mine, long-time elections integrity activist Bev Harris explains the cyberattacks described Winner’s in disclosure are part of the same cyberattacks that make up the last count in then-special counsel Robert Mueller’s ’12 Russians’ indictment against the Putin regime’s military hackers. The top prosecutorial agency in the United States issuing an international criminal indictment drawing in part from the deed of this imprisoned whistleblower, an individual in her mid-twenties wrongly called by that same agency’s lawyer Bobby L. Christine “the quintessential example of an insider threat,” suggests, as do many other things, that Winner deserved a medal, not a prison sentence, and at the very least deserves a pardon now.

Sinners in the hands of an angry audience

First page of revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards's 1741 sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Audience
Reality Winner did nothing wrong

FOX News ran a paint-by-numbers campaign tarring Winner, the arguments of which are easy to dismantle. The TV hosts, typically on whatever forms of speed — just hit pause and look at their eyes; also, how do you think they manage to broadcast nonstop? — raged about how on social media, Winner called Trump an “orange fascist” and messaged her sister about hating America. Besides considering Trump’s actual fascism and horrible things done by the United States (for instance, by the CIA), just imagine for an analogy that you’re waiting at Discount Tire for the mechanics to finish with your car. In the morning, a caffeine-deprived mechanic in the back employee area, perhaps a decorated veteran like Winner, grouses to another mechanic about hating Discount Tire’s early start times and lack of vegan food in the break room. As afternoon arrives, the same mechanic and a third mechanic talk together about how the company does offer them good things too, including the opportunity to tinker with a steady stream of various automobiles. By evening, the mechanic says they have mixed feelings about Discount Tire and the company should make some improvements. That’s essentially what the comments of Winner and everyone else venting about politics on social media boil down to. It isn’t difficult for those outside tunnel vision to understand.

Meanwhile, on the mainstream US left, comfy members of the public have seemingly decided that nothing is possible except voting for evil on un-auditable computerized election infrastructure while making fun of whistleblowers’ unusual names. If horrific human rights violations happen every day and humanity goes extinct, well, the thinking seems to go, at least they got a few more moments to [insert distractions here]. Expecting lifelong entertainment, these audiences will get angry when instead they’re presented with education.

The duopoly stereotypes above are fortunately dissolving faster and faster as the public, especially younger generations, communicate interpersonally more and more, thanks to the Internet. However, the propaganda battles online continue, as does increasing authoritarian control of the online world.

Bottom line, fight for justice: don’t be a newb whose biggest ‘contribution’ this week is shitposting lazy remarks about Reality Winner’s excellent aptronym; instead, learn more about her case (below) and select a way to help her get a pardon (also below).

Recent or ongoing media offering more about the whistleblower and/or the document she disclosed

Photo from stageplay Is This a Room

Reality Winner is the subject of Is This A Room, a new Broadway stageplay based on the transcript of her FBI interrogation, during which she was not Mirandized: she was not read her rights, not for remaining silent, not for a lawyer’s presence. This (il)legal sleight of hand was pulled off in the courtroom by the prosecutors denying the context and insisting Winner “would have felt free to terminate the encounter.” But the eleven FBI agents, each male and almost all of them armed, pressured her in many ways, tantamount to coercion, including by bullying her into the titular seven-by-nine-foot unfurnished back room she told them was “creepy” and “weird.” With her cramped into the claustrophobic space, they blocked the doors and proceeded with the supposedly voluntary interrogation. According to reviews, the stageplay — I’ve yet to see it — reunites the transcript and the context, helping to alter our crazymaking world into something new that actually drives people sane.

(Such isolation and control as the FBI agents’ is similarly employed elsewhere in our lives to produce bogus psuedo-realities. To take one example out of zillions, consider an antidepressant trial started when the COVID-19 pandemic started. How’s the confound of a terrifying pandemic removed from the analysis of the psychopharmaceutical’s efficacy? Likewise, the context of study participants being paid and promised better lives, is likewise snipped out by contractor scientists who sometimes even hold conflict-of-interest patents on the pills in question, since unlike salaried scientists, contractor scientists, akin to those contractors staffing spy agenices, are exempt from disclosure requirements, that is, transparency and accountability requirements.)

Is This A Room, 70 minutes with no intermission, runs at the Lyceum Theatre through November 27. Official website; buy tickets. The stageplay has received critical acclaim and sudden popularity.

Given the success of the stageplay, the Broadway Podcast Network recently launched a series entitled This Is Reality. With more on the way, they presently offer four full episodes, released between October 18 and November 17. I recommend listening for great, up-to-date information about Reality Winner, her case, and more, including how the 1917 Espionage Act, more than a century old, is used federally not to prosecute individuals for sharing military movements with foreign enemies, but to prosecute domestic whistleblowers for sharing restricted knowledge with the public (usually via the media), i.e. the enemy of authoritarians is the public, you and me.

The DC-based Dworkin Report, hosted by politico Scott Dworkin, cofounder of The Democratic Coalition political action committee, offers a trio of recent interviews. First, from August 4, an interview with Winner’s lawyer, Dallas-based Alison Grinter. Second, from October 5, an interview with the whistleblower’s sister, Brittany Winner. Third, from October 7, an interview with Billie J. Winner-Davis, Reality Winner’s mother who on social media fiercely advocates for her family every single day. Those Dworkin Report links have been going down sometimes, so if they’re temporarily unavailable, try elsewhere: first interview, second interview, third interview. Make sure you listen to Scott Dworkin’s interview of Billie J. Winner-Davis, the whistleblower’s mother. I’ll note two things about it. First, she calls upon Biden to grant her daughter clemency (a pardon is a form of clemency). Second, about Glenn Greenwald. After I spearheaded a successful effort to drag him in 2014 long before it became popular to do so (see here, here, here, here, and elsewhere), I switched to just ignoring Greenbacks, since that’s often the most effective way to turn someone’s volume down. However, Billie J. Winner-Davis says something in the third interview that I think is worth making an exception for, worth amplifying. Reality Winner was burned (arrested) as a source for The Intercept because (as the official story goes, anyhow), journalists there not only talked with government officials trying to confirm the document’s veracity (which is fine), but also sent them the document itself (which isn’t fine), enabling them to track the whistleblower down from various clues associated with the document. Asked about that, Billie J. Winner-Davis told Scott Dworkin:

“Glenn Greenwald is, I mean, he’s hard to figure out; he likes to use Reality to create, you know, a social media storm. But that’s what he’s doing: he’s using her. I wish he would just stop. You know, I have gotten so much support from people from The Intercept and from First Look Media who have reached out to me personally who have expressed the regret about what happened to Reality and who have expressed their support for her and for our family. Glenn Greenwald is not one of those people, and I just wish he would go away.”

I predict that during this new decade, revelations will arrive of popular US-based or US-ish lefty journalists being on the take (receiving illicit money from) the BRICS regimes such as Putin’s. Occasionally I look at job openings at tiny “radical news” outlets and see the high pay and think, yeah, this doesn’t add up. As Spock might say, simple logic. An important byproduct of Winner’s leak has been the reactions of others, exposing who cares about inflating themselves as Great Men while supporting red-brown alliance (red commies cliquing up with brown fascists as oft black-clad anarchists go on as DIY as ever) and BRICS interests (here’s looking at you, clan Assadnge), versus who cares about human rights, including for whistleblowers who are women (and thus too often downplayed or ignored), as well as open democracy over authoritarianism.

Another source of information: documentary filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck’s 93-minute movie United States vs. Reality Winner that premiered earlier this year.

Finally, my August 2018 article from her sentencing is the only detailed narrative from the courtroom, and one of the very few written detailed analyses, besides the original Intercept article, of the leaked document. I’ve also written posts about her case here, which you can find via clicking my blog’s Reality Winner tag. I have some additional unpublished investigative material I plan to pull together for release soon.

Cover art for Worldly Wise vocabulary book 4 shows a pencil sketch of an owl with words on the owl's front
Vocabulary workbook series given to students at in my K-12 in the eighties and nineties, in Texas

Frequently asked vocabulary

Like any bureaucracy, the carceral industry and the Bureau of Prisons in particular have their own specialized, intentionally impenetrable jargon. Since these terms will be thrown around this workweek — and in the future regarding other federal whistleblower cases — here’s a quick glossary explaining what the lingo actually means on the federal level and how it pertains to Reality Winner.

Note: To follow the below, it helps to understand the timeline of Winner’s imprisonment: after sentencing, she was moved to incarceration at FCC Carswell in Fort Worth. Then on good time earned, she was moved a little early to incarceration in person at a halfway house. Next, on June 9, she moved to home confinement, still considered incarceration, involving conditions such as a buzzing electronic ankle monitor, and requiring frequent reporting to the halfway house for drug testing and the like. Then Tuesday she’s no longer incarcerated, but on three years of supervised release, basically the federal equivalent of parole.

Now the definitions. On Monday I asked Winner’s lawyer Alison Grinter about these terms, but any mistakes are mine.

Supervised release) A period of time after incarceration that’s supposed to help prisoners re-integrate back into society. Sort of a midpoint between full Bureau of Prisons custody and living out in the free world. It’s close to the more familiar, state-level concept of parole, which no longer exists on the federal level. If a prisoner on supervised release is held to have violated conditions, the Bureau of Prisons can yank them back behind bars for the remainder of the sentence.

Halfway house) To be exact, halfway house is an umbrella term that encompasses a few different types of facilities. Generally, though, and in Reality Winner’s case, a halfway house means what the Bureau of Prisons calls a Residential Reentry Center (RRC), unsurprisingly run by a private contractor. Typically, federal prisoners go to these halfway houses directly after incarceration and physically stay there. Later, during home confinement, the prisoners frequently report to the halfway houses, which set the conditions of their home confinement period.

Home confinement) Still considered incarceration, home confinements see prisoners living at home with a heavy electronic ankle monitor. They’re expected to obey strict conditions and report to the halfway house periodically.

Clemency) Formally speaking, clemency isn’t a federal concept. Informally, though, it refers to the remedies an executive can give prisoners, among them commutations and pardons. Reality Winner asks for clemency, specifically (and more precisely) a pardon.

Commutation) A commutation is a federal remedy that essentially speeds up a prisoner’s sentence. A commuted sentence is stopped early; prisoners’ sentences are over sooner than they would have been otherwise. But with the behind bars, halfway house, and home confinement phases over on Tuesday, Reality Winner is no longer seeking a commutation; instead, she’s seeking a pardon.

Pardon) A convict receiving a federal pardon is no longer a felon; in the eyes of the law at least, they’re fully and completely forgiven. Yet there’s no federal expungement: the pardoned individual’s case still happened. The point of the pardon is that legally, any and all the felony conviction disabilities, as the adverse consequences are called, are removed. That said, what specific employers or apps choose to do regarding a pardoned former felon, may be up to them.

Expungement) This isn’t available at the federal level. Expungement is a state-level remedy. For example in Texas, an expungement (“expunction” in the Texas statutes) means files about a crime are destroyed and the offense is removed from the person’s criminal record.

Parole) A state-level concept. Parole technically no longer exists at the federal level; it’s been replaced by the concept of supervised release. For general audiences, though, it’s fair enough to imprecisely refer to someone’s supervised release as parole, but for the more exact among us, supervised release is correct.

Probation) This doesn’t relate to Reality Winner’s case. Probation is something imposed in place of incarceration. For example, at a sentencing, a federal judge might impose two months of probation on a defendant as opposed to two years in prison.

Office of Probation and Pretrial Service) Also known as the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System, this is the bureau in the judicial branch that not only administers probation, but also administers supervised release.

Probation officer or supervised release officer) Employed by the Office of Probation and Pretrial Service, this person is the one making the day-to-day decisions about a felon’s supervised released conditions. Technically, they’re called a supervised release officer. They might refer to themself as a probation officer, given their employer. That may even be true of Reality Winner’s officer, despite her being on supervised release, not probation.

Those are the vocabulary terms for how the federal carceral system is supposed to work, although as a May 2017 article I wrote for The Cryptosphere shows, things may play out differently in practice, suggesting a strange mix of incompetence and/or decision-makers who aren’t on the up and up, to say the least.

#PardonRealityWinner

It’s important to recognize that even on supervised release and afterward, Reality Winner, though outside prison walls, isn’t free. Her felony record and plea agreement will continue to prevent her from fully speaking out about her case and the leaked document and its implications. On Monday, I asked Winner’s lawyer Alison Grinter about that adverse consequence of her conviction and the additional adverse consequences I describe in the two paragraphs below, but again, any mistakes are mine.

Reality Winner standing next to a Christmas tree at home and smiling
Photo of Reality Winner taken by her mother in December 2016. A pardon would be the best present

While Winner’s on supervised release for three years, she must obey strict conditions, which may vary according to her supervised release officer’s interpretations or caprices. To legally dispute the officer requires expensive, time-consuming, and stressful requests to the court in Augusta Georgia. Winner on supervised release has a curfew (can’t leave before 6 a.m. and has to be home by 10 p.m.) and must remain physically within the Southern District of Texas, though it’s the Augusta Georgia court that convicted her that ultimately calls the shots. The officer may choose to continue the surveillance of her smartphone. References in interviews to dating apps blocking her as a user revolve not around the supervised release conditions, but rather those apps querying databases and determining she’s a felon and thus barred from swiping.

Without a pardon, Winner will suffer what lawyers refer to as the disabilities of being a felon. For example, she’s banned from certain federal lands (the specifics are complicated). She’s not eligible for various federal benefits such as housing. She can’t own weapons (not uncommon in rural Texas), nor, in a strange provision, may she own body armor. Certain other countries may forbid entry or permanent residency to a U.S. felon. The list goes on.

A pardon would delete all of the above problems and restore Reality Winner’s freedom. It would allow her to share the full story. Like the full story, a pardon would also send an enormous domestic and international signal that the United States does not endorse TrumPutin-style autocracy. In other words, in the interest of open democracy, the United States Government has the need and ability to pardon Reality Winner not just for her, but also for itself and the public. Obama commuted the sentence of, but did not pardon, whistleblower Chelsea Manning; that suggests a pardon for Reality Winner can indeed happen under the Biden administration, but it will take significant effort.

Here are several ways to make #PardonRealityWinner happen:

  • Correspond with the US Pardon Attorney by phone +1 202 616 6070, by email USPardon.Attorney@usdoj.gov, and/or by snailmail: U.S. Department of Justice / Office of the Pardon Attorney / 950 Pennsylvania Avenue – RFK Main Justice Building / Washington, DC 20530. It would be very helpful for them to be deluged with international messages explaining how a pardon for Reality Winner would improve the international standing of the United States after the Trump administration convicted her for keeping the investigation into Russian interference alive.
  • Share articles and posts about pardoning Reality Winner, including in places other than your most familiar/comfortable social media sites. For example, during offline conversations, on social media sites you aren’t yet familiar with, via art such as graffiti or music, and so on.
  • If you know more than one language, translate and share articles and posts about pardoning Reality Winner.

  • Politely badger elected officials about Reality Winner, always pushing for the goal: pardoning her. Schedule appointments, call, donate a small amount to get them to actually reply (hey if corporate interests can bribe so can constituents). I’ve talked about Reality Winner with Kamala Harris at one of her campaign stops; I’ve talked to federal staffers, etc. If you haven’t done similar already in your life, you should, even just for the interesting experience.

  • Anything else you can dream up. Don’t listen to the naysayers boasting of their cynicism to promise themselves it was wise to have given up in life. Beautiful Trouble is a handy resource book / toolkit for learning nonviolent tactics.

  • Sign the online petition, but don’t let that stop you from doing any or all of the above.
Photo shows Reality Winner sitting atop a bale of hay petting a large horse looking up at her.
Billie J. Winner-Davis’s photo of Reality Winner on Nov. 19, 2021
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This blog post, #PardonRealityWinner: Whistleblower moves to three years of supervised release on November 23, 2021, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/11/22/realitywinner-whistleblower-supervised-release-pardon/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.