Earlier this week, a group of high-profile journalists and free-speech activists announced the launch of the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF), an initiative intended to thwart a two-year financial blockade against WikiLeaks and to fund-raise for similar nonprofit organizations.
Designed to fund journalism institutions that are dedicated to "aggressive, uncompromising journalism in the vein of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers," FPF collects donations for media outlets that expose "mismanagement, corruption, and law-breaking in government." As WikiLeaks puts it, FPF "will crowd-source fundraising and support for organizations or individuals under attack for publishing the truth."
FPF's co-founders include legendary "Pentagon Papers" whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg; John Perry Barlow, who co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and for decades wrote lyrics for the Grateful Dead; EFF writer and activist Trevor Timm, who is also FPF's Executive Director; and Rainey Reitman, who co-founded the Bradley Manning Support Network and serves as FPF's Chief Operating Officer. Also on the board of directors are Guardian columnist and lawyer Glenn Greenwald; actor and activist John Cusack; award-winning documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras; Boing Boing co-founder and co-editor Xeni Jardin; and Josh Stearns of Free Press. EFF web developer Micah Lee is FPF's Chief Technology Officer.
Best known for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971, FPF co-founder Daniel Ellsberg is also the author of the books Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers; Papers on the War; and Risk, Ambiguity and Decision. Ellsberg has been awarded the Gandhi Peace Award, the Right Livelihood Award (referred to as the "Alternative Nobel Prize"), and the Ron Ridenhour Courage Prize.
Born in Chicago, Ellsberg holds a PhD in Economics from Harvard University, also studying at Cambridge. Ellsberg served in the U.S. Marine Corps, the Pentagon, and in the State Department. But it was Ellsberg's work as an analyst with the RAND corporation that precipitated his legacy; while at RAND in 1967, he contributed to a top-secret study on the Vietnam War. The documents resulting from this study later became known as the Pentagon Papers. "There was no question in my mind that my government was involved in an unjust war that was going to continue and get larger. Thousands of young men were dying each year," Ellsberg stated. "I felt that ... as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public."
With the help of the staff of U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, in 1969 Ellsberg secretly photocopied the classified documents, which showed that President Johnson's administration had consistently lied to Congress and the general public; that the government knew early in the Vietnam conflict that the war could most likely not be won; and that the war would result in massive casualties. Ellsberg gave his 7,000-page collection of documents to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous other newspapers. After the Times published a few excerpts, the Nixon administration obtained a court order that briefly barred further publication - an order that the Supreme Court reversed in the landmark case New York Times Co. v. United States.
In the words of former White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman, the Pentagon Papers showed "that people do things the president wants to do even though it's wrong, and the president can be wrong." The Nixon administration targeted Ellsberg for a smear campaign that included a failed 1971 "covert operation" to discredit the whistleblower by committing burglary to access his psychiatric records. Ellsberg also faced Espionage Act, conspiracy, and theft charges; however, his case was tossed out of court amid revelations of prosecutorial misconduct and evidence that Ellsberg had been subjected to illegal wiretapping. Multiple sources further reported a government plot to have a dozen Cuban-American waiters working as CIA assets to dose Ellsberg's food with LSD before the activist was due to speak at a public rally. Reportedly, this plan was aborted for logistical reasons.
Ellsberg has said: "The public is lied to every day by the President, by his spokespeople, by his officers. If you can't handle the thought that the President lies to the public for all kinds of reasons, you couldn't stay in the government at that level ... The fact is Presidents rarely say the whole truth-essentially, never say the whole truth-of what they expect and what they're doing and what they believe and why they're doing it and rarely refrain from lying, actually, about these matters."
The whistleblower has continued his activism over the years. In 2005 he was arrested while protesting the Iraq War, and in 2011 Ellsberg camped out in support of the Occupy movement. Last year he was arrested during a protest of Manning's detention at Marine Corps Brig, Quantico; a strong WikiLeaks supporter, he has referred to Julian Assange and Bradley Manning as two of his new "heroes."
Regarding FPF, Ellsberg has stated: "We're definitely trying to resuscitate WikiLeaks," which in his view "serves a legitimate and necessary function in exposing an administration that is completely lacking in transparency." Ellsberg further explained: "Whistleblowing leaks-exposing governmental lies, errors, illegality-are the lifeblood of a republic. Publishing wrongly-kept government secrets in the public interest is clearly protected by the First Amendment, and is crucial to our democracy ... WikiLeaks is not only a legitimate journalistic enterprise but an essential one... and we don't want to see it go down under government pressure. I think it is now an indispensable part of journalism." But, Ellsberg added, FPF is "also emphasizing that we'd like other organizations to furnish the same kind of capability ... Let a thousand flowers bloom."
FPF co-founder and Wyoming native John Perry Barlow is also a board member of internet freedom and civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a former lyricist for the Grateful Dead, and a retired rancher. A founder of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Barlow was first to use the term "cyberspace" as it is now applied. The Guardian has called Barlow one of the most influential champions of the Open Internet. Barlow belongs to the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and serves on the advisory boards for the Marijuana Policy Project and several other companies. He is currently working with a startup that aims to turn sewage into jet fuel. Time Magazine has ranked Barlow -- a Wesleyan graduate in comparative religous studies -- among the "School of Rock: 10 Supersmart Musicians."
While a student in Colorado, Barlow met Bob Weir; Weir later joined the Grateful Dead, whom Barlow introduced to Timothy Leary. For more than two decades, Barlow wrote lyrics for the band, including the songs "Cassidy," "Estimated Prophet," "Black-Throated Wind," "Hell in a Bucket," "Mexicali Blues," "Let It Grow," "Saint of Circumstance," and others. He has also collaborated with members of the musical groups The String Cheese Incident and Mr. Blotto.
Barlow co-founded EFF in 1990. He serves as vice-chairman of the board of EFF, which strives "to build a legal wall that would separate and protect the Internet from territorial government." He has asserted that cyberspace law should reflect the community ethics, rather than "the coercive power that characterized real-space governance." Barlow, who penned "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace," has written for The New York Times, Wired, Nerve, and other publications.
Barlow describes FPF as an effort to "crowd-fund the right to know": "This isn't just a way to support WikiLeaks. It's a way to support a principle ... We feel there will be more groups like WikiLeaks, and we want to inspire them as quickly as possible, because there's a lot the public needs to know. ... We now have private organizations with the ability to stifle free expression. These companies have no bill of rights that applies to their action -- they only have terms of service." Referring to the financial blockage of WikiLeaks as "censorship," Barlow adds: "When a government becomes invisible, it becomes unaccountable. To expose its lies, errors, and illegal acts is not treason, it is a moral responsibility. Leaks become the lifeblood of the Republic. ... Whatever one's opinion of WikiLeaks, every American should be offended that two elected officials, merely by putting pressure on corporations, could financially strangle necessary expression without ever going to court. What happened to WikiLeaks is completely unacceptable in a democracy that values free speech and due process. ... We intend to assure that it can't happen again."
FPF board member Glenn Greenwald is a lawyer, journalist, and author who writes about civil liberties for The Guardian. He has written four books, including the three New York Times bestsellers How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values From a President Run Amok, A Tragic Legacy, and With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. The Atlantic named Greenwald one of the most influential political commentators in the U.S. Greenwald has won the I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism and the Izzy Award; he received the Online Journalism Association Award for his work regarding Bradley Manning's detention. This year Newsweek dubbed Greenwald one of America's Top 10 Opinionists Having appeared as a political pundit on the ABC show "This Week,"National Public Radio, C-SPAN's "Washington Journal," "Democracy Now!", Fox News, "The Colbert Report", and numerous other media outlets, Greenwald has also contributed to The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and more.
A New York City native, Greenwald earned a J.D. from New York University Law School, and later litigated constitutional and civil rights cases. Soon after its launch, his blog "Unclaimed Territory" received the 2005 Koufax Award. Greenwald became a Salon.com contributor soon after, and this year left to write for The Guardian.
Greenwald strongly supports Manning, whom he describes as "a national hero similar to Daniel Ellsberg." Of the WikiLeaks financial blockade Greenwald has said: "What possible political value can the internet serve, or journalism generally, if the U.S. government, outside the confines of law, is empowered ... to cripple the operating abilities of any group which meaningfully challenges its policies and exposes its wrongdoing? ... That the U.S. government largely succeeded in using extra-legal and extra-judicial means to cripple an adverse journalistic outlet is a truly consequential episode ... Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power. Few priorities are more important ... than supporting and enabling any efforts to subvert the ability of the US government and other factions to operate in the dark. It's particularly vital to undercut the US government's ability to punish and kill groups that succeed in these transparency efforts. Those are the goals to which this new press freedom foundation are devoted, and I hope that anyone who believes these goals are important will find ways to support this effort."
John Cusack is an actor, director, screenwriter, and producer who has appeared in more than 60 films, including Being John Malkovich, The Grifters, Hot Tub Time Machine, Say Anything, Grosse Pointe Blank, and Sixteen Candles. During the 1980s he had a cameo in a music video for the band Suicidal Tendencies. Cusack played Edgar Allen Poe in this year's release The Raven. Also a political activist, Cusack is vocal on civil liberties and government transparency issues. During the recent U.S. war in Iraq, he blogged at The Huffington Post about his opposition to the conflict and to the Bush administration. Cusack has criticized Barack Obama's government for its policies regarding drones and the NDAA. Born in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, Cusack is reportedly a fan of local sports teams, and has led a Wrigley Field crowd in a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." He holds a black belt in kickboxing.
Attorney, writer, and EFF activist Trevor Timm has contributed to The Guardian, The Atlantic, Harvard Law and Policy Review, and Al Jazeera. Before his work with EFF, Timm assisted New York Times General Counsel James Goodale in authoring a book about the First Amendment. Also a former employee of The New Yorker, Timm holds a J.D. from New York Law School. His Twitter account @trevortimm tracks developments regarding WikiLeaks and other civil liberties issues; he also contributes to the Twitter account @drones, which reports on the global and domestic use of drones.
"Since WikiLeaks became a front-page news story, secrecy has gotten worse in the U.S," said Timm recently. Of FPF, he explains: "WikiLeaks was the inspiration for it, but we wanted to make the mission much broader than WikiLeaks ... We want to encourage other developers to start working on WikiLeaks-like submission systems." Acknowledging that "there's no magic bullet for solving the problem of government secrecy," Timm says, those at FPF "want to tackle it with death by a thousand cuts." But he also speaks of FPF's role in ensuring survival for independent writers, and of his hope that the organization will serve as a "Red Cross for journalism": "If someone's in trouble, we want to be able to come save them."
Documentary filmmaker and producer Laura Poitras lives in New York City. Her 2003 documentary Flag Wars received a Peabody Award, won Best Documentary at the South by Southwest Film Festival, and was nominated for an Emmy. Poitras received an Academy Award nomination for her 2006 film My Country, My Country (about the U.S. occupation of Iraq); her 2010 film The Oath -- about the U.S. "war on terror" -- won a Sundance Film Festival award and snagged annother Emmy nomination. In 2012 Poitras received a MacArthur Fellowship and was included in the Whitney Biennial. Reportedly, she is working on a documentary about WikiLeaks, government surveillance, and internet freedom. Poitras has been detained and interrogated at the U.S. border regarding her work more than 40 times; she reports that agents have seized her computer, her notes, and her cell phone, and once threatened to deny her entry back into the U.S.
Xeni Jardin is a co-founder and co-editor of the collaborative blog Boing Boing, a tech culture journalist, and a digital media commentator. A Wired contributor and a correspondent for the National Public Radio show "Day to Day," Jardin has made appearances on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC World News Tonight, BBC Radio 5, and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. She has also written for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Guardian. Of her involvement with FPF Jardin says: "We're supporting many organizations dedicated to transparency ... and who are attacking unnecessary government secrecy in a variety of innovative ways ... We want to crowd-fund a new generation of independent media which will be more resistant to corporate and government influence."
Reitman acts as Activism Director for the EFF; she is also a founder and steering committee member for the Bradley Manning Support Network, sits on the board of the directors for the civil liberties organization Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and serves as a steering committee member of the online rights group Internet Defense League. She opines that the blockade on WikiLeaks was censorship not only of the organization, but also of those individuals "who wanted to express their opinions by making donations." Reitman, who has expressed interest in privacy issues relating to technology, states that FPF will safeguard donors' privacy by not maintaining records showing who has given funds to WikiLeaks.
Josh Stearns is a journalist and organizer for press freedom and tech policy. He is the Journalism and Public Media Campaign Director at Free Press, and has won awards for tracking U.S. media suppression. His articles have appeared in Mother Jones and the Columbia Journalism Review.
Stearns states that his interest in FPF springs from the organization's emphasis on "support structures" for independent journalism. "There is a range of threats facing journalism in the digital age," he says. "At the same time as the Internet and technology have democratized the tools of media making, our rights to use those tools are increasingly coming under threat. The evidence is in the stunning number of journalists arrested in the past year, the debates over whistleblowers and leaks, as well as the credit card companies blocking Wikileaks funding, and the spike in government surveillance of citizens and journalists." Meanwhile, Stearns adds: "As the landscape of journalism is changing, increasingly the people on the front lines, in the halls of power, or digging up dirt behind the scenes don't have the backing or protections of traditional journalism institutions. We desperately need to build new networks of support that can adapt to the changing structures and demographics of journalism."
Micah Lee is EFF's web developer; his work has appeared in 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. A GNU/Linux enthusiast, Lee has spent more than ten years writing code in numerous languages and for different platforms. He is especially interested in cryptography, computer privacy and security, Free Software, and web freedom.
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