Today, writer and programmer Heather Marsh, whose global data commons project GetGee The Public was the first outlet to report on, released transcript and audio of what she said as a panelist at the February 27 whistleblowing panel that the prestigious Oxford Union hosted—but you can’t watch the professionally filmed video, or at least not yet. Why not? It’s an acclaimed forum with previous speakers including Malcolm X and Mother Theresa, so surely they’re able…?
In a second piece issued this morning, Marsh explains that another panelist, the former Central Intelligence Agency operative and prior Defense Intelligence Agency director David Shedd, demanded that the film not be uploaded to YouTube:
The purified thought bubble surrounding Oxford students welcomes derision against any weaker members of society but does not permit criticism of those in power. I shared a panel with David Shedd, a former CIA operative who also held the posts of Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and Deputy Director of U.S. National Intelligence. The entire panel was censored from Oxford Union’s YouTube channel at his order, despite their contractual obligation to publish it there and the prior release forms signed by all involved. “It is ironic that we are censoring a Whistleblowing Panel!!” chirped their bursar, Lindsay Warne. Shedd’s objection was not to anything he said, but what I said — a third-party censorship demand which has been granted and upheld by three successive Oxford Union presidents: Laali Vadlamani, Gui Cavalcanti and Stephen Horvath. Those names will no doubt be found in UK parliament and media in five or ten years, drafting even more draconian laws to protect the powerful against speech.
Shedd, who would not come to the phone when we called his home, supposedly wants the video to stay down—away from journalist and public scrutiny—on copyright grounds. When in April Marsh traveled to the Union to collect a reimbursement for part of her appearance expenses, the famous debating society’s bursar Lindsey Warne claimed to her that such was Shedd’s reasoning. Warne also told Marsh that the Union has “had many meetings about this” and “a great many people are asking, but that video is not ever going up.”
The Public was the (we believe initial) news organization that, starting March 22, was asking the Union about their event repeatedly and always politely, aiming to obtain a quotation from the moderator Laali Vadlamani and a preview link to the Union’s video of the public event, which the debating society obviously holds copyright over and is free to share if they’re not in the CIA’s pocket or the UK authorities’ puppy mill.
Marsh and the Union’s dispute seems poised to escalate, since on April 25 she sent the debating society a letter before action—revealed first by us—in which she tells the Oxford Union that they’re “under contractual obligation to release” the footage because media duties are part of their contractual obligation to panelists (and she suggests that a certain other panelist might be a “petulant loser”). In the letter, Marsh writes:
The offer to speak is a contractual obligation. The benefit to the Union is self-evident; the speakers are the reason the Union exists. I fulfilled my obligation to perfection, as was agreed by all members of the committee who were present and the audience. No speaker would go to the time, expense and annoyance of speaking at Oxford Union with no benefit in return; the speaker benefits are clearly outlined in both the offer and the subsequent email correspondence and are clearly the reason for my acceptance of the offer. From the invitation offer:
“The Union offers a unique combination of tradition and prestige, with our student members constituting an engaged and enthusiastic audience; our events can be tailored to fit almost any format — a speech followed by questions, a prepared Q&A or simply an informal conversation — and last year attracted coverage from the BBC, CNN, New Delhi TV, Russia Today (RT), and most major British national newspapers and international publications including the New York Times and the Economist. Furthermore, all our events can be professionally filmed for our YouTube channel, which has received over 40 million views since it was relaunched last year. It goes without saying, though, that the level of media coverage would be entirely at your discretion.”
Obviously, even the dubious intangible benefits listed are dependent on the publicity so clearly offered as the sole benefit to speakers. That publicity is dependent on the Oxford Union committee communicating honestly, in good faith, and in reasonable time, with the journalists who wish to cover the event. It is dependent on the Oxford Union providing the materials the journalists need to cover the event, and it is especially dependent on the committee and staff of the Oxford Union not treating journalists with utter disrespect and leading them on for two months with a bureaucratic run-around of contradictory falsehoods. Ms. Warne may feel that they are “under no obligation” to journalists and “do not owe them anything”, but if you are offering the fruit of journalists’ labour as your part of a contractual obligation with your speakers (as you clearly are), then yes, you do have an obligation to them. I made it very clear that this media coverage was the only reason I was giving my time, effort and expense to your organization. Your obligation to me is an obligation to them.
Not ideas about the thing but the thing itself
So what, anyway, was Marsh saying on the panel, to which Shedd took such exception? In matters of these sorts, it is very common for the message to slip away and less important spectacles to develop. We will try to contextualize her remarks for you and let you judge for yourself.
In short our take is this. Insider-whistleblowers, perpetrator-whistleblowers are great and all, but what about victim-whistleblowers, whose volume is not yet sufficiently turned up? For example, it is wonderful that former CIA operative John Kiriakou exposed torture at Guantánamo Bay, a brave deed he went to prison for—but what about Gitmo ex-prisoners Omar Khadr, Mohammed el Gorani, and the rest who have been telling us the same thing while so few amplified them? What, after all, is the definition of a whistleblower? To participate in governance, the public needs trustworthy information to take informed action. Sometimes whistleblowers provide this information. But whistleblowing is not just for professionals in the so-called national security apparatus, such that CIA employees report on CIA doings to the CIA (the corporate media). All voices matter. We can only have that when all of us have fair, participatory access to information not through begging Amazon founder Jeff Bezos or Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, not gazing upward at the rivalrous factions of sociopaths to pick one to pin hopes on, but by putting in the effort ourselves to establish a global data commons.
Better to listen to the 22-minute audio yourself, below, or read the transcript.