Point one: Daniel Ellsberg yesterday in the Washington Post, in a piece on the Snowden case, referred to what might, surprisingly, be called the more easygoing legal climate of 1971, when he gave the Pentagon papers to the New York Times, the Washington Post and 17 other newspapers. For 13 days, while he distributed copies, he was in hiding, the last few as “a fugitive from justice.” He surrendered himself in Boston and was released the same day on personal-recognizance bond. Later, as charges against him mounted, his bond was increased to $50,000. But for the next two years, under indictment and awaiting trial, he was able to go wherever he liked. “I was free to speak to the media and at rallies and public lectures.” That isn’t the kind of treatment Edward Snowden would receive, he said, or Bradley Manning has received.
Ellsberg misses that “different America”: “There is no chance that experience could be reproduced today, let alone that a trial could be terminated by the revelation of White House actions against a defendant that were clearly criminal.”
Ellsberg didn’t go into the criminal actions taken against him. The domestic side of Richard Nixon’s White House, from policy to politics, had the aspects of a kind of malevolent screwball comedy. In August 1971, aides to Nixon discussed a covert operation to get damaging information on Ellsberg from his psychiatrist. The following month they burgled the office of Lewis Fielding. They didn’t find anything.
Ellsberg went on trial in early 1973, charged with theft of classified documents, conspiracy, and other charges related to espionage. During the trial the break-in of Dr. Fielding’s office was revealed. So was evidence that Ellsberg had been wiretapped without a court order. His defense team, learning all this for the first time, was incensed, and the judge himself either felt or imitated umbrage. The government’s actions, he said, “offend a sense of justice.” The events surrounding the case were “bizarre” and had “incurably infected the prosecution of this case.”
He then dismissed all charges against Daniel Ellsberg, whistleblower.
* * *
Point two, the other whistleblower case that came to light Sunday. It came from Foreign Policy magazine’s online news site, The Cable, which noted that the office of a law firm that represents State Department whistleblower Aurelia Fedenisn had been broken into. Citing the reporting of a local Fox TV affiliate in Dallas, The Cable said the burglars took three computers and broke into a locked metal filing cabinet. Other items of value—silver bars, electronic and video equipment—were left untouched. KDFW aired video footage from a security camera showing two people, a man and a woman, entering the office building in which the law firm, Schulman & Mathias, is located.
Cary Schulman, Fedenisn’s lawyer, told The Cable: “It’s a crazy, strange and suspicious situation.” He said he thinks whoever broke in was “somebody looking for information and not money.” His most “high-profile case” is Fedenisn’s, and he couldn’t think of “any other case where someone would go to these threat lengths to get our information.”
So what did whitleblower Aurelia Fedenisn blow the whistle on?
She is a former investigator in the Inspector General’s office in the State Department. Agents for the department had been working on investigations that uncovered serious and criminal wrongdoing. Their work, they said, was subject to influence and manipulation by higher-ups at the department. Agents told the IG’s office they were told to stop investigating a U.S. ambassador in a sensitive post who solicited prostitutes in a public park. Fedenisn, a 26 year veteran at State, went public. John Miller of CBS News broke the story on June 11.
Schulman says that since Fedenisn blew the whistle, she has been subject to attempts at intimidation. “They had law-enforcement officers camp out in front of her house, harass her children, and attempt to incriminate herself,” he said.
After the Miller story, State Department spokesman Jen Psaki denied the department was doing anything wrong.
Tuesday, in a telephone interview, Schulman told me the break-in was “odd—curious.” Adding to the strangeness, the burglars seem to have come not once but three separate times over the weekend of June 28-30. That’s “high risk behavior for a burglar,” he said. “I have never seen a commercial burglary where they come back multiple times.”
The burglars took three Apple computers, forced open a locked metal file cabinet, and took one credit card, leaving others behind.
The burglary has been reported to local police and the FBI.
Maybe it was just a third-rate if highly original burglary. Maybe it was related somehow to another case, though Schulman says he can’t think what that case might be.
* * *
Still, the Nixon-era whistleblower whose psychiatrist’s office was broken into has some tough words, in an op-ed piece, for the current administration—just as word comes…