Honoring an Iraq War Whistleblower
Editor’s Note: On Jan. 26, 2009, in Copenhagen, Denmark, former Danish military intelligence officer Frank Grevil was given the Sam Adams award for integrity in intelligence. The following is an extended version of the introductory remarks by former CIA intelligence analyst Ray McGovern:
Thank you, one and all, for coming this evening at such short notice and in such encouraging numbers. Our first order of business this evening is the presenting of the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII) award to former Danish intelligence officer, Maj. Frank Grevil.
You each have a handout explaining who former CIA analyst Sam Adams was, and why we, his former colleagues, created this movement in his memory.
Representing the Sam Adams Associates, I have the privilege, together with former British Intelligence officer Katharine Gun, who received the award in 2004, to honor Frank Grevil with the sixth annual Sam Adams Award. …
Hans Christian Andersen and Shakespeare
Whenever I come to Denmark, ringing in my ears are the wonderful stories with which your Hans Christian Andersen gifted the world. Not to mention the words that The Bard put in the mouths of his vivid characters in Hamlet, set in Denmark.
First, Hans Christian Andersen (we shall get to Shakespeare later): Most of you will remember the one about the king’s “Magic Suit of Clothes.” The American actor Danny Kaye immortalized that story on film. As a boy, I memorized his musical rendition of those tales and I now sing them to our grandchildren.
What follows is a kind of allegory with, I think, some teaching points.
Once upon a time, in a land far away…no, not far away, but here, in this land, Denmark…there was a king, who was simply insane about new clothes, because he thought they would enhance the distinguished image he craved. Well, one day swindlers came to see the king — there is an unconfirmed report that they came from the American embassy. In any case, they came to persuade the king to buy a suit made out of whole cloth — a suit they said was a “magic suit.”
Now, in truth, as they held up the supposed raiment, there was nothing there at all. But the swindlers were very clever. They told the king — or was it the prime minister? — that this was a magic suit and only a wise man would recognize this. But, to a fool the suit would be invisible.
Most important, they said the suit was distinctive for its so-called “weapons of mass destruction,” and that if the king were a wise man he could readily see them in the fine fabric woven by clothier Bush Blair Rumsfeld Ltd.
And not only that: They said the king could have the suit for free. All he had to do was vouch strongly and publicly for the existence of these weapons. And, if he did this on a specific date chosen by the clothier, he could then become a best buddy of Bush and Blair.
Moreover, then Bush would come and spend the night in the Danish kingdom. And, best of all, then could the Danish king — or was it the prime minister? — be invited to travel across the sea to Crawford Castle in the kingdom of Texas to have his photo taken there with Bush, and with Danish and American flags waving briskly in the background.
There were just a few other things the king should know, said the swindlers. A small war would be involved, and the king would be required to bring his country into it. Thus, the king was required to endorse the pretext for war precisely on the day before it started. This was the script the king — or was it the prime minister? — needed to memorize and assert publicly on that fateful eve:
“Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. This is not something we just believe. We know.”
The swindlers persuaded the vain king that “justifying” the war would be a “Schlammdunk,” and that this wee war of aggression would be a “Kuchenwalk” — suggesting ease in conjuring up a casus belli, and in achieving a quick and easy victory.
Best of all, his country was sure to be on the winning side and he would be invited to march in the very first row of the victory parade.
Now the king, not wanting to appear a fool, saw at once that the magic suit was fairly bristling with weapons of mass deception — sorry, I mean destruction. He enthusiastically joined the chorus of Sir Tony of Blair and other dodgy nobles who had been so ready to see the invisible. The king donned the suit and ordered a practice parade as a kind of rehearsal for the eventual victory parade.
The day for the rehearsal came, and the streets were lined with thousands and thousands of people. They had heard the story of the magic suit and wished to see it — and appear wise — like the king. And so they all were cheering like mad. That is, all but one fellow named Frank Grevil.
Now, it is understood that no one wants to appear completely out of step — and particularly not at a celebratory parade. And so Major Grevil strained his eyes and directed his considerable analytical skills toward the king in his “magic suit”… and was shocked.
“Look at the king! The king is in the altogether, he’s altogether as naked as the day that he was born.
“The king is in the altogether; it’s altogether the very least the king has ever worn!
“Call the court physician; call an intermission. The king is wide open to ridicule and scorn!
“The king is in the altogether, and it’s altogether too chilly a morn.”
The disruption caused by this burst of honesty was most unwelcome. You see, everyone but Grevil — whether nobles like Sir Tony of Blair or commoners — had their own reasons for going along with the king and pretending to see the WMD. And so they did.
And thus began this nasty little war against people of darker hue who happen to swim on a sea of oil. But, alas, no victory parade is now envisaged. Bush Blair Rumsfeld, Ltd, has declared bankruptcy and is no longer weaving garments out of whole cloth.
Worse by far: hundreds of thousands died. And there were very, very few who lived “happily ever after.”
The Supreme Irony
One who did live through all this — and happily, it would seem — was the prime minister — Oops, I mean the king. I mean the one who thought it politically wise to claim, despite the lack of real evidence, that he knew that weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq. I mean the one who thus shares moral responsibility for the carnage that ensued.
You will find this hard to believe, but the king sits on the throne still to this day. The great majority of his subjects are either unaware of his complicity or prefer to ignore or deny it. What comes off the printing presses makes little mention of it. [At the time of the Iraq invasion – and now – Denmark’s prime minister is Fogh Anders Rasmussen.]
What about Frank Grevil, the one who called attention to the king’s nakedness? His reward? Four months in prison.
We are grateful for the Grevils of this world. We call them whistleblowers — people of integrity and courage who buck the tide and refuse to be intimidated or silenced. The good they do usually goes unheralded. It is, nevertheless good — and worth doing — because it is good. The results, as history shows, are not always in the hands of the truth tellers.
The whole-cloth clothier, Bush Blair Rumsfeld, was right about one thing; i. e., there IS evil in the world. And the Briton, Lord Acton, also had it right, when he famously pointed to what lies so often at the core of major evil like wars of aggression — little or large. Acton’s observation: “Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Recognizing what they are up against, some whistleblowers have quipped that their rewards are “out of this world.” Black humor aside, there is ample support for that observation in the Biblical tradition from which many of us come.
Indeed, people of integrity like Frank Grevil give flesh to the Biblical assurance: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
And for that we are all very grateful.
Shakespeare and 'Something Rotten'
As I landed in Denmark reflecting on Frank Grevil’s imprisonment for speaking truth, it struck me there must be “something rotten in Denmark.” I had not thought of that quote from Shakespeare in many years, but when it came back into mind, its context came with it.
And I realized I had misquoted Marcellus’ remark to Hamlet’s friend Horatio. Marcellus says, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” — the allusion being to the political hierarchy at the top. He is saying the state of Denmark is like a fish rotting from the head down.
Shakespeare is highlighting the main theme of Hamlet — the connection between the crime of a ruler and the health of the country as a whole. Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, King of Denmark, is a calculating, ambitious politician who will stop at nothing in his lust for power. I shall leave it to you to ponder whether there may be any parallels in today’s Denmark, or not.
Rot is hardly confined to Denmark. It is as universal and noxious wherever senior officials seek to exercise unbridled power. Legislative oversight committees have become overlook committees.
Often, the only brake on the Executive’s exercise of power is the whistleblower willing to take the risk of shedding light in dark places. And Frank Grevil is not alone in suffering from the abuse of power. In Washington, too, whistleblowers have a price on their heads.
One of our Senators with fascist tendencies, Kit Bond of Missouri, currently vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has spoken out with special venom against whistleblowers.
At last week’s confirmation hearings for Dennis Blair, nominated by President Barack Obama to the most senior intelligence post (Director of National Intelligence), Bond pressed the nominee on whether he would try to prosecute leakers of classified information.
Falling in nicely with Bond’s proclivities, Blair did not disguise his repugnance toward whistleblowers: “If I could ever catch one of those [leakers], it would be very good to prosecute them. We need to make sure that people who leak are held accountable.”
It is, rather, Senators and Directors who need to be held accountable. And they tend to show their true colors at such hearings.
On Aug. 2, 2006, for example, Sen. Bond actually suggested that leakers be Guantanamo-ized: “There is nothing like an orange jumpsuit on a deliberate leaker to discourage others from going down that path,” said Bond.
Dennis Blair has now been confirmed by the Senate, but there is also some good news.
On Jan. 29, the House of Representatives voted to strengthen whistleblower protections for federal employees, including those working in national security agencies. The bill’s sponsors believe that, if the Senate also approves, President Obama will sign it into law.
Fair warning: the likes of Dennis Blair can be counted on to lobby the Senate strongly against approving this legislation.
Those, like Frank Grevil, whose conscience prompts them to disclose suppressed truth on important matters, will continue to be ostracized — and sometimes imprisoned. There will always be a need for a community of support to give them hope.
Sam Adams Associates and those who have been honored with our annual award comprise that kind of community. Previous awardees are Coleen Rowley of the FBI; Katharine Gun of British Intelligence; Sibel Edmonds of the FBI; Craig Murray, former U.K. ambassador to Uzbekistan; and former U.S. Army Sgt. Sam Provance, truth teller about Abu Ghraib.
Thinking again of Hamlet, one might say we have taken to heart the wise advice Polonius gives his son Laertes:
“Those friends thou hast and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.”
It can be very lonely out there. Community, as well as conscience, are what enrich and sustain whistleblower friendship and support. We encourage one another to follow, as Frank Grevil has, the rest of Polonius’s advice:
“This above all—
To thine own self be true;
And it must follow
As the night the day,
Thou canst not then
Be false to any man.”
Former FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley, the first recipient of the Sam Adams award, has sent us for this occasion a corollary quote in the vernacular. It is from Texan politician/populist Jim Hightower:
“The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.”
And so we are back to rotten fish.
The Witness of Other Truth Tellers
We are painfully aware of the experience of Frank Grevil. In more fortunate circumstances, whistleblowers have scored major successes. Let me mention a couple, before we give Frank the Sam Adams award.
It has been 50 years since my first extended visit to Europe as a university student. Most of you are too young to remember, but a “wonder-drug,” Thalidomide, had just come on the market. This drug gave temporary rest and relief to millions, especially prospective mothers with morning sickness and problems sleeping.
Stationed in Germany more than a decade later, I witnessed the human results of the horrible side effects of Thalidomide, which had become available all over Germany, the rest of Europe, and beyond.
Over 10,000 babies in 46 countries were born without limbs or otherwise disfigured and disabled. Those still alive would be in their late forties now. Perhaps you have encountered some of them.
How did the United States escape this plague? One whistleblower, a woman named Frances Kelsey of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration saw through the charade — the magic suit, you might say, of the swindlers from the drug company.
Although Doctor Kelsey came under extreme pressure to fall in step and approve the drug, she would not be moved. She saw right through this particular magic-suit-type scheme, scorned the testing that had been done by the Thalidomide manufacturer, and blocked introduction of the drug into America.
As the sixties and seventies wore on, the horrible damage caused by the drug made itself known. And what also became clear was the reality that a decade of American babies born in whole, with all their limbs, owed a debt of gratitude to Frances Kelsey, whistleblower par excellence!
Tom Clark, who did so much to help arrange this evening’s event, tells me that he is of that generation, that his mother suffered from morning sickness in bearing him, and that he might well be missing a limb or two today, had his mother been able to acquire Thalidomide in the United States.
W. Mark Felt
Just last month, W. Mark Felt, now perhaps the most famous whistleblower in our country’s history, died at the age of 95. Felt was the senior FBI official referred to as “Deep Throat,” who resisted and exposed the cover-up of the Watergate crimes under President Richard Nixon.
Felt leaked to the press so much damaging information that President Richard Nixon was driven out of office when it became clear that he was trying to be king, rather than president. With help from journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post — an independent newspaper in those days — a would-be dictator was forced to resign the presidency.
One must make some practical application here in order to explain why Bush and Cheney were permitted to serve out their term.
It was the power of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) and the cowardice of an invertebrate legislature that were responsible for the fact that those war criminals were not impeached, convicted, and removed from power — a process for which the provident Founders of our country were careful to provide in the Constitution.
Freedom is endangered when there is no truly free and independent Fourth Estate, which the British statesman Edmund Burke called the “most important estate of all.”
The biggest sea change I have witnessed in the American body politic in the 45 years I have been in Washington is the reality that our country no longer has, in any meaningful sense, a free media. That is, as we say in America, BIG! Perhaps the situation is better here in Denmark?
The morphing of Bob Woodward is perhaps most instructive of all. He kept his explicit promise to Felt to avoid revealing the identity of “Deep Throat” until Felt released the reporter from that pledge shortly before Felt’s death.
Woodward did not, however, keep the implicit promise of an investigative journalist to pursue truth without fear or favor. Rather, like the craven Washington Post, Woodward made an unconscionable transition from fearless “junkyard dog” to Historian to the Court of George W. Bush and his regent Dick Cheney.
It was the price Woodward would pay for uniquely privileged access to them.
All, including investigative journalists, are vulnerable to the temptations of power. Lord Acton’s dictum at work once again.
Sadly, Britain’s Lord Goldsmith seems blissfully unaware of Lord Acton’s dictum. Or perhaps he means to prove it! Goldsmith is the U.K Attorney General who conveniently obliged when then-Prime Minister Tony Blair told him to change his legal opinion on attacking Iraq from illegal to legal.
I am not making this up. An official British document that was leaked to the Sunday Times contains the minutes of a July 23, 2002, meeting with Blair at 10 Downing Street and has become known as the “Downing Street Memo.” The minutes record Goldsmith as saying that “the desire for regime change was not a legal basis for military action.”
But no matter. Under great pressure, Goldsmith was persuaded to change his mind. And so did all the lawyers in the Foreign Office — all, that is, but one Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the deputy legal counsel.
Wilmshurst had been deeply involved in negotiations with the International Criminal Court regarding crimes of aggression. She knew a war of aggression when she saw one.
Wilmshurst would not go with the flow like the proverbial dead fish. When her boss Michael Wood and her colleagues did a 180-degree collective change of mind on the legality of attacking Iraq, she resigned on March 18, 2003, one day before the war began.
In her letter of resignation, Elizabeth Wilmshurst wrote that she was leaving “with very great sadness” after almost 30 years in the legal department of the foreign office:
“I cannot in conscience go along with advice — within the Office or to the public or Parliament — which asserts the legitimacy of military action without a [new Security Council] resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.”
Her boss, Michael Wood, who went with the flow, was rewarded with knighthood the following year. So was Christopher Greenwood, the outside jurist from whom Lord Goldsmith sought cover, when he dutifully changed his opinion on the legality of the war. O Tempora, O Mores!
The bravery of Katharine Gun is well depicted in the book published last year, The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War.
Working on Chinese affairs in the British equivalent of the U.S. eavesdropping agency (NSA), Katharine had little access to sensitive information regarding the Middle East. Yet at the turn of 2002-2003 it became clear to her that the U.S. and U.K. had decided to attack Iraq, whether or not it had threatening weapons, and whether or not the UN Security Council approved.
Still, Katharine was startled to see set down in black and white, in an e-mail of late January 2003, a blanket instruction to her colleagues to help the U.S. National Security Agency “surge” the monitoring of conversations of Security Council members in New York, in order to give American and British diplomats the wherewithal to pre-empt any initiative that could block the path to war.
Her conscience led her to make that blanket instruction available to the media.
Katharine’s objective, pure and simple, was to prevent a war of aggression. And, absent approval by the Security Council, that was precisely what an attack on Iraq would be.
She expected that if she provided unimpeachable documentary evidence, including the full name of the senior NSA official ordering the “surge” in monitoring, this would demonstrate to the world how hell-bent Bush and Blair were on war — even if illegal.
Katharine Gun reasoned that exposing the wealth of detail regarding what the NSA was urging in order to rig the results of any discussions among Security Council members would bring a flurry of attention in the Western press. She expected that this, in turn, would give a boost to those trying to stop the launching of an unprovoked war.
As things turned out, Katharine was shocked that the information she leaked was virtually ignored by the U.S. Fawning Corporate Media (FCM), which had long been cheerleading for war.
She was arrested and brought to trial. Her pro bono lawyers argued that she was trying to prevent a war. They contended that the war was illegal, which of course the British government denied. However, when asked to make public the opinion(s) of the British Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, on the legality of the war, the government refused.
Blair was not inclined to let his own and Lord Goldsmith’s dirty linen hang out for all to see. As a result, Katharine escaped the fate that befell Frank Grevil.
I would now like to introduce to you that same Katharine Gun, and ask her to read the citation awarding Frank Grevil the Sam Adams award:
The Sam Adams Associates
Awarded to Frank Grevil
Know all ye by these presents that FRANK GREVIL is hereby awarded The Corner-Brightener Candlestick, presented by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.
Heeding the dictates of conscience and true patriotism, Danish Army Maj. Frank Grevil put his career and his very liberty at risk for democracy. He did this by exposing the deceptive nature of the intelligence conjured up in an attempt to “justify” Denmark’s role in the attack on Iraq in March 2003.
Maj. Grevil and other intelligence analysts had warned the Danish government that there was very little evidence that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction.” Despite this, on the day before the invasion of Iraq, Denmark’s Prime Minister told Parliament: “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. This is not something we just believe. We know.”
Grevil believes it to be extremely destructive of democracy when national leaders deceive the citizens’ representatives, whether in Parliament or Congress, into voting for what the Nuremberg Tribunal called the “supreme international crime” — a war of aggression. He thought it essential that Danish citizens learn that their political leaders had not told the truth. And so he gave to the press documents that exposed this, fully aware that, in doing so, he ran the risk of going to prison.
Like previous SAAII annual award winner, Katharine Gun of British intelligence, the documents that Frank Grevil released shone a laser beam of light through a thick cloud of deception. Grevil set a courageous example for those intelligence analysts of the “Coalition of the Willing” who have first-hand knowledge of how intelligence was corrupted to “justify” war, but who have not yet been able to find their voice.
Presented this 26th day of January 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark by admirers of the example set by our former colleague, Sam Adams.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was a CIA analyst for 27 years and is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
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