Two-Tiered Transparency

Today National Journal reports that since March, the Justice Department has been investigating former top CIA lawyer John Rizzo for allegedly disclosing classified information about that agency’s highly secretive drone program. The Justice Dept. opened the investigation following Newsweek’s article, “Inside the Killing Machine,” in which Rizzo divulges specific details about the drone program.

Former CIA lawyer John Rizzo

Reason for Rizzo to leak information on the CIA’s use of Predator drones abounds. They frequently kill people without knowing who they are, critics within the administration complain about broad criteria for drone use, and drone victims are often innocent civilians, including these 16- and 12-year-old Pakistani boys. This all contrasts with top counterterrorism aide John Brennan’s claim in August that “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.”

A major factor contributing to the program’s growing problems is its secrecy. The US government does not admit that it has a drone program, though the public has known about it for years, and it has its own congressional caucus. Last month, when Brennan was asked about its existence, he “struggled to suppress a smile, he said, ‘If the agency did have such a program, I’m sure it would be done with the utmost care, precision…’ and the next part was garbled by the laughter of the audience…” Hilarious.

Perhaps Brennan is reluctant to acknowledge the unmanned weaponry because many suggest that it’s illegal.

Predator Drone

Surely leaking any information to the press about this Top Secret, accountability-free program would illicit calls of outrage, widespread condemnation, serious charges, and long-term imprisonment for John Rizzo, right?


“people familiar with [Rizzo’s] investigation said they expected this one to end with some sort of formal reprimand, and possibly a financial penalty such as a decrease in his government pension, rather than with his imprisonment.”

So for giving an exclusive interview, in which Rizzo freely gives his own name before leaking details about the secret program, he could be subject to a strongly worded letter. Meanwhile, as Trevor Timm noted, for allegedly leaking war crimes and government abuse, PFC Bradley Manning has been imprisoned for a year and a half, including 10 months of torturous solitary confinement, and has still yet to stand trial.

Why will Rizzo get a meaningless censure while Manning gets accused of the vague, unprecedented, “aiding the enemy”?

This is an illuminating example of what Glenn Greenwald labels our two-tiered justice system, wherein the powerful are shielded from accountability and the weak are made examples of, instead of living equally under the law.

John Rizzo has been called “the most influential career lawyer in CIA history,” who approved some of the CIA’s most controversial programs. This Frontline report on Rizzo says his accolades include “helping draft the ‘extraordinary’ presidential authorization that provided the legal underpinnings for many of the war’s covert actions, and helping come up with the ‘enhanced interrogation program’ and the CIA’s secret prison system” – in other words, some of the United States’ most egregious offenses of the last decade.

PFC Bradley Manning

Clearly, Rizzo is a man of great importance to the US government. According to Rizzo, “during the presidential transition, Obama’s team ‘signaled’ that they had no intention of rolling back many of the CIA’s controversial programs.” It follows, then, that Obama’s DoJ won’t punish this leak with anything more than a “formal reprimand.” The investigation hasn’t concluded yet, and it’s theoretically possible that Rizzo would be prosecuted more severely. But as the National Journal sources concede, “Investigations,” let alone prosecutions, “into current or former senior CIA officials like Rizzo are exceptionally rare.”

The 22-year-old PFC Manning, on the other hand, who leaked lower-level classified documents, is of no importance to the U.S., and thus awaits his trial in prison. Manning is comparatively weak, and is part of Obama’s larger crackdown on whistleblowers generally. The gap between the two tiers of justice widens further.

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