Becoming a Whistleblower (with Patrick Eddington)

Patrick G. Eddington comes back to the show to talk about his time in the CIA from 1988 to 1996. 

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Patrick G. Eddington’s tenure at the CIA spanned the transition from the Cold War to the new era of American interventionism in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans. In his book, Long Strange Journey: An Intelligence Memoir, he tackles a whole slew of questions; Why was President George H.W. Bush so surprised that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait? Did America’s intelligence community fail to warn him of the threat, or did he ignore their predictions of an invasion? Why did the CIA and the Pentagon deny so vehemently for so long that sick Desert Storm veterans were exposed to Iraq’s chemical agents?

Should we be weary of surveillance technology that our foreign intelligence uses overseas? What if that technology was used domestically? What is it like to work with America’s intelligence community? What was Gulf War syndrome? How do you become a whistleblower?

Further Reading:

Long Strange Journey: An Intelligence Memoir, written by Patrick Eddington

The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception

Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud, written by Tom Muller

Related Content:

The CIA Listens to Free Thoughts, Free Thoughts Episode

The Inhumanity of Torture, Free Thoughts Episode

Deconstructing the Surveillance State, Free Thoughts Episode


0:00:07 Aaron Powell: Welcome to Free Thoughts. I’m Aaron Powell.

0:00:09 Trevor Burrus: And I’m Trevor Burris.

0:00:10 Aaron Powell: Joining us today is Patrick Eddington, he’s a research fellow in Homeland Security and Civil Liberties of the Cato Institute. From 1988 to 1996, he was a Military Imagery Analyst at the CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center. He’s also the author of Long Strange Journey: An Intelligence Memoir. Welcome back to the show, Pat.

0:00:28 Pat Eddington: Thank you, gentlemen.

0:00:30 Aaron Powell: How did you end up at the CIA?

0:00:32 Pat Eddington: Well, for one thing, the Army decided that it wanted to make me a tanker rather than an intelligence officer, so that kind of motivated me to seek another pathway.

0:00:43 Trevor Burrus: Did you… Was there a test? Did you ace the tank test? Is that the… Or they just had… That’s what they needed, they needed tanks?

0:00:49 Pat Eddington: And the really ironic thing about it is when they sent me to Fort Knox, which is where the armor school was back then, they had me go through the M60A3 course, the M60A3 was one of the Army’s main battle tanks during a big chunk of the Cold War. The problem was the M60A3 was literally being phased out in favor of the M1 Abrams, which of course figured very prominently in the 1991 Desert Storm war. So they sent me to armor school to train me on an obsolete tank, the Army in its infinite wisdom.

0:01:21 Pat Eddington: So I was still thinking about grad school and all these other things, and then one of my closest childhood friends, Tim Miller, he was getting ready to actually head to his basic course for artillery at Fort Sill, but he got a telephone call from the Missouri State University campus placement office, that’s where we both went to undergrad, in which they said the CIA recruiter was gonna be on campus. And he was gonna be leaving, but he said, “I know somebody who probably would be.” So I went over there, I met the guy, he was in his mid-to-late 50s, and asked me a set of questions, and kinda looked me up and down and said, “Well, we’ll be in touch if we want you to come for follow-on testing.”

0:02:03 Pat Eddington: And they did, they had me go up to the University of Missouri at Columbia a few months later and kinda take an initial… I guess, what I would call is a world knowledge test, if you will; so a little bit of history, a little bit of geography, a little bit of politics. And I’m pretty sure I got every single question right on that test, which either tells you that I’m awesome, or the CIA is in a big, big way, needing to raise the bar, one of the two. But in any event, there was more silence, and then a few months later, they said, “We want you to come out for a physical, and initial polygraph,” and all the rest of that stuff. And ultimately, when the process started in the summer of 1986 to the time I actually got the offer in December of 1987, it’s about 18 months, and from there, I went on.

0:02:52 Aaron Powell: How did they slot you into imagery analyst? Was that something… Did you express interest in this, or did this… Just kind of where you ended up?

0:03:00 Pat Eddington: I expressed strong interest in military analysis, but the Agency had particular needs. And what they tried to do, essentially, in the HR process was kind of matrix that with what you were interested in. So when I went out for one of my last interviews, it was at the place that I would ultimately wind up working for the first several years, which is the now dearly-departed National Photographic Interpretation Center, which used to be located in the now-demolished building 213 in the Washington Navy Yard here in DC. And I interviewed with the branch chief, Ron Beavers, and a year later, he was my actual branch chief, that was the branch that I actually went to. So this is in what was known as the Soviet… The Tactical Forces Division, which is looking at Soviet military structure and…

[overlapping conversation]

0:03:52 Trevor Burrus: Satellite or aerial photography?

0:03:57 Pat Eddington: Both.

0:03:57 Trevor Burrus: Both.

0:03:58 Pat Eddington: ‘Cause we were still in the era of having access to U-2 but also SR-71. I never worked SR-71-related imagery, but U-2 was still definitely available. But most of what we worked with was satellite imagery. And it was current-generation stuff. Now, it’s… Looking back, we’re talking 25-plus years, it’s not exactly state-of-the-art any more, but…

0:04:23 Aaron Powell: Maybe to give a sense of that state-of-the-art-ness, how does the stuff that you were looking at compare to, say, what we can see on Google Maps right now?

0:04:31 Pat Eddington: So in the modern world here of 2019, you have a couple of companies that are kind of in the business here. Digital Globe, really, is kind of the biggest one. And the imagery that they put out would definitely be equivalent to kind of the mid-level or maybe slightly better imagery that I was looking at when I was there. The exact resolution capability of that era of satellite is still technically classified, although a lot of the details were made available to the Russians due to the trader William Kampiles, who actually gave them the manual for the KH11 satellite.

0:05:11 Pat Eddington: But I think the simplest way to put it is that the systems that we had then were really good. The systems that we have now, which I got a chance to actually see when I worked for Mr. Holt on the Hill, are kind of out of this world in a lot of respects, I think I’ll probably have to leave it at that. But it was a lot of fun. But at the same time, back in the day, when I was doing it, satellite or air breather is what we have. And of course, now, in this post-9/11 world, it is literally the era of the drone. And of course, earlier this year at Cato, I hosted a book forum with Andrew Holland Michel, who has written a book about the Gorgon Stare program, which involves, essentially, wide area motion imagery.

0:06:04 Pat Eddington: And so this really does get you very close to the Tom Cruise Minority Report kind of world, in terms of the ability to kind of rewind the imagery in real time and figure out, “Well, the IED went off here, we can trace it back to this house, that’s where we need to send the team.” So in a foreign intelligence context, WAMI, or Wide Area Motion Imagery could potentially be a war-winning or a war-changing, an outcome-changing kinda technology. The last thing in the world I wanna see is that technology imported here domestically, because then, you get that kinda stuff put into the hands of police, and we all know where that goes.

0:06:48 Aaron Powell: Out of curiosity, how do they come up with these fantastic names for things like Gorgon Stare?


0:06:54 Aaron Powell: Is it like, is it just someone comes up with it, or is there a process for this?

0:06:58 Trevor Burrus: I mean, that one is particularly like demonic or…


0:07:02 Pat Eddington: So operational names like Operation Desert Storm or whatever, if I recall correctly, that kind of stuff oftentimes winds up getting generated by computers. But in the case of Gorgon Stare, I think some of the folks that were involved in the program actually kind of came up with it. Yeah, I mean, that kind of technology is really very scary. And when you begin to kinda layer that together with everything else that we know, right, biometrics now is just red hot in terms of public concern about that, and then you take the whole issue of electronic surveillance, the ability to use anything from NSA’s capabilities, all the way down to these bloody IMSI Catchers, the cell site simulators, the Harris boxes and so on and so forth, you can create a panopticon.

0:07:52 Pat Eddington: And then, oftentimes, I think we don’t even step back and think about technology that, on the one hand, is super convenient, right? You take something like E-ZPass, right? That is major league tracking technology, at the end of the day. So you were literally… Not exactly voluntarily, but you are putting what amounts to a tracking device on your car when you do that because you wanna be able to get into a faster lane, and so you’re gonna pay for that… Both you’re gonna pay for that cash-wise, but you’re also paying for it privacy-wise.

0:08:24 Trevor Burrus: It seems that there’s… When those technologies are rolled out by domestic law enforcement that we always end up losing… Civil libertarians always end up losing this fight. When we say, well, this could be abused. And then they say, so we have a could be question and then they say, there are bad guys right now that we can catch and there seems a sort of a disproportional weight on this and we always end up losing where you should not be allowed to deploy this domestically.

0:08:53 Pat Eddington: I think that happens far more than any of us would like, but I will say that what I have seen with respect to these local revolts over facial recognition is very encouraging. Our colleague, Matthew Feeney, I think has some very well thought-out concerns about outright bans and things of that nature. I feel okay about bans right now because I think what we need is a hard stop to really let people kinda catch up with this and have a real robust public discussion about is this really a technology that we really absolutely positively need to have deployed.

0:09:31 Pat Eddington: I would even make the same argument ultimately, about this whole encryption debate, right. ‘Cause we have had now basically a 25-year crusade on the part of the Department of Justice to try to breach encryption. It started with the Clipper chip back in the Clinton era, and we managed to beat that back, but we’ve now had two consecutive FBI directors basically banging away on this, first Comey, now Wray. If you guys don’t give us this, people are gonna die. Well, people are dying, anyway, right? And if you allow encryption to be breached, and I think this is where the cops are not thinking this through, if they can breach encryption, so can the drug cartels at the end of the day. And who are the drug cartels going to go after? They’re gonna go after the cops and their families.

0:10:15 Pat Eddington: And that’s why I think they’re not really taking the step back that’s necessary to kind of think through what it is they’re asking for. And as a society, kind of writ large, libertarians don’t fall into this category, I don’t think. But society at large, what is the message that they convey to the cops? Get the bad guy. Get the bad guy. Get the bad guy, get the bad guy. And so that kind of fear-based mentality is what the cops and the the cops’ unions especially use to fuel all this stuff, and it’s a tough battle. But at the end of the day, we are having more victories recently, and I think it’s incumbent upon us who are in this community to keep hammering away on all these issues. Because if we were to step back from it then it would just be a steam roll, right?

0:11:05 Pat Eddington: And I’m not trying to say that Cato has some kind of outsize influence in this respect, ‘cause we’re hardly alone in our opposition to this stuff, whether it’s ACLU or Electronic Frontier Foundation or some of our other friends who work in the space. But I do think that those of us who work in this space, as long as we keep after it, we do make it much more difficult for vastly worse things to happen.

0:11:27 Trevor Burrus: Well, it is a time where it seems in a good way, that people are aware of… The speed of technology has changed so much and they’re aware of what… Everyone’s afraid of whether or not Alexa’s listening to them. All of these things. Whereas in the past, maybe technology didn’t move quite as quickly and some things just rolled out, like the militarization of police just sort of rolled out without anyone noticing it. And I think we’re having conversations before or almost contemporaneous. But nevertheless, I continually, like whenever I go to the airport, and I would say every time I go to the airport, for example, I see a new piece of shiny security. So that the last one was literally a facial recognition system to get on the plane at Dulles. And I was like, “Well, this is a little bit terrifying, and who knows what will come next?”

0:12:15 Pat Eddington: That’s why when my book research project is over, and I don’t have to do any more field research trips, there is no way I’m getting a real compliant ID, I will not be flying again for the foreseeable future. That’s just a fact, I’m not gonna do it.

0:12:28 Aaron Powell: The fact that the CIA stuff, to eventually get into your experiences leaving the CIA. So you’re doing… You’re getting imagery of Soviet stuff, vehicles, tanks, troops, things like that, what are you doing with them?

0:12:47 Pat Eddington: Yeah.

0:12:47 Aaron Powell: Like you get this picture, you sit down, what happens?

0:12:49 Pat Eddington: Right. So you have an entire system, essentially, that is designed from start to finish, to give the American intelligence community the ability to track every major military formation, every military base, every port, every airfield, so that you get as complete a picture of as possible, not just of what we call their table of organization or equipment, but also, essentially what they do from an exercise standpoint. And you’re working with colleagues at the National Security Agency and elsewhere to collect imagery, signals intelligence, all these things, and human intelligence of course, to build essentially a picture of, in that case, back then, Soviet military capabilities, which of course was a major Pentagon publication of the same title.

0:13:39 Pat Eddington: And you’re keeping track of these facilities. So just to use my experience as an example, when I came on board, I was assigned to work what was then known as the Transcaucasus Military District, which encompasses today Azerbaijan, Armenia, basically that area. It was kind of a backwater military district for the Soviets. Back then, most of their units would have been what we then called category 3, which meant they had to have a massive infusion of reservists in order to even be mobilized and actually usable in a combat sense. Category 3 divisions almost always had hand-me-down equipment, older obsolete equipment, etcetera.

0:14:18 Pat Eddington: So that was kind of a training ground for me in a lot of respects. The more modern Soviet equipment, of course, what we would call the category 1 stuff, where they had, again back in the day, the more modern tanks back then, T-64s, T-72s, T-80s coming down the line not long after that would have been in the more forward Soviet military districts, the Moscow Military District and districts… And of course the group of Soviet forces in Germany. So it was all about keeping track of what they were doing and looking for signs of a potential World War III, a potential move through the Fulda Gap, that was always the concern that the Reds would roll through that particular way.

0:14:58 Pat Eddington: So you’re keeping track of the installations, you’re keeping track of the units, you’re monitoring construction activity that takes place because that can be an indicator, potentially, of a roll over to a new tank or a new infantry fighting vehicle. It could mean that a unit was going from brigade size all the way up to division size or were gonna expand the actual unit presence in the particular area. So it was all about kind of indications and warning, if you will.

0:15:25 Trevor Burrus: But they knew we were watching them and I assume they were watching us. So I know on D-Day, they created a fake army that was inflatable to make believe and Potemkin villages and things like this. Were you trying to spot, did you see them creating fake military drills? Or did we do that stuff too?

0:15:48 Pat Eddington: So this is an area where I have to be a little bit cautious in terms of what I discuss, but looking for evidence of denial and deception is a core skill that you develop as a military imagery analyst. It’s one of these things that… And there are specific examples that you’ll see when you go through a training course on this kind of stuff, and there are also things that you just kind of develop when you’re looking at it on the job. This is also where having access to additional forms of intelligence. I worked in the imagery world, that was my basic tool, but having signals intelligence from NSA, having human intelligence usually from emigres or defectors from the Soviet Union. Giving you a sense of what was in a particular place, and also a sense of how they actually operated, what their operational tempo was like, how many times they exercised.

0:16:44 Pat Eddington: So when you put all that stuff together, that, along with some other very, very sensitive intelligence, can help you to kind of figure out whether or not they might be up to something. There’s pretty good evidence that, for example, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. There’s pretty good evidence, and this is pretty much public, I’m not giving away the game here, that there were a lot of signs that were actually missed. And that often happens because people are just not being properly attuned to what it is they’re looking at, they’re not necessarily conceptualizing that this unit, that’s basically what we would call a dirt bag unit, a category 3 unit, could actually be flushed out quickly and actually sent into combat somewhere, but that was the Soviet way of war. That was their way of approaching the entire question of how you actually ramp up to make a move against a particular country.

0:17:41 Aaron Powell: So the data that you’re generating, I was curious, when I was reading your book is that the way that it gets used… ‘Cause I’m thinking of the way that data was used or misused in the run-up to the Iraq war. Like I say, you generate these reports, are they being used to inform decisions that haven’t yet been made? Or does the data get used more to justify decisions that have already been made? Like you’re just lending weight to people’s pet decisions?

0:18:09 Pat Eddington: Yeah, so I would say that for the vast majority of my career, again because I worked in the imagery world, which is a very no pun intended, black and white world, the tank or the tank battalion is either there or it is not, right? Or they’ve put a bunch of inflatable tanks down there and utilizing certain techniques and capabilities you can figure out those are inflatable tanks not the real thing.

0:18:36 Aaron Powell: Can we buy an inflatable… Can you just get one of those?

0:18:41 Trevor Burrus: A bouncy castle.


0:18:41 Pat Eddington: There are probably manufacturers out there, yeah, they probably will only go through GSA contracting practices. So, unless you’ve got some kind of military…

0:18:49 Trevor Burrus: That would just really freak out the American intelligence. If there’s suddenly a tank in my back yard.

0:18:54 Aaron Powell: I’m just thinking like…

0:18:55 Trevor Burrus: There’s a knock on the door from someone doing domestic surveillance.

0:18:57 Aaron Powell: They want to take to the pool.

0:18:58 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, or that too, yeah.

0:19:00 Pat Eddington: Well, what would get them going is if you, for example, went into, let’s say, rural Virginia somewhere, where somebody’s got a farm and then you started basically building firing ranges. And you started building athletic fields for troop training, and then suddenly a bunch of these tanks show up. Then you get some attention.


0:19:19 Trevor Burrus: You might get some attention? Well, duly noted, if I ever wanna play a prank. But on Aaron’s question. So sometimes, so you say your field was a little bit more black and white, as you said.

0:19:31 Pat Eddington: The biggest problem that I personally encountered was policy-makers not taking us seriously, and of course in the memoir, Long Strange Journey, I talk about this run up to the 1990 Persian Gulf War, right? Where we are clearly seeing Saddam Hussein move his entire Republican Guard, eight divisions, his most elite troops, his equivalent of the Nazi Waffen-SS, if you will, down to the border with Kuwait. And given the criticality of the Republican Guard to Saddam Hussein’s survival, the fact that he would basically take his palace guard and his most elite troops and move them all the way down to Kuwait, when he already had the entire Iraqi Third Army Corps down there, which included several armored and mechanized divisions, that alone should have been a five red star cluster for George Herbert Walker Bush, Brent Scowcroft and the rest of them at the top of the national security pyramid that this was not a bluff, this was not a shake down.

0:20:41 Pat Eddington: But President Bush chose to listen to the late Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and the late King Hussein of Jordan who said, it’s a shake-down, he’s bluffing, referring to Saddam, he’s not gonna do it, yada yada. They were, of course, completely wrong. And when I went back after the war and I spent a lot of time reconstructing how it all went down, it became clear to me that indications of Iraqi preparations for doing exactly what they did had been missed. And I talk about that in some detail in the book. And that’s always a frustration.

0:21:15 Pat Eddington: And of course, in the lead-up to the Iraq war of 2003, what you had was an extraordinary situation where people within the Bush 43 administration, who badly wanted to go to war with Iraq, literally created a parallel intelligence structure within the Pentagon, completely outside of normal channels, cherry-picked the most alarming and in most cases, least verified or totally unverified information. And Secretary Powell wound up using a lot of that garbage in his UN presentation. And we all know what happened after that. So that whole incident with Feith and that completely, Doug Feith, from that era is a radical example, essentially, of the misuse of intelligence.

0:22:03 Pat Eddington: But what you see more often than not, this was the case with Pearl Harbor, it was the case with the Chinese intervention in Korea in 1950, it was the case with the Tet Offensive. It missed. And people not wanting to know the truth. One of my favorite documentaries ever, which you can’t get but I have a bootleg copy of, is the 1982 CBS reports production entitled The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception, and it was all about how General Westmoreland, our commander in Vietnam at the time, basically lied about the number of Viet Cong that we were actually facing in the field and how one of my predecessors at the CIA, Sam Adams, a descendant of the famous Adams family, presidential family, one of the greatest analysts… One of the greatest intelligence officers in American history, no question about it, figured out that there were a lot more a lot more Viet Cong there than what Westmoreland and his folks were basically claiming.

0:23:08 Pat Eddington: And he spent all 1967 basically trying to get the National Intelligence Estimate on South Vietnam to reflect that change in numbers. The problem was the President in April of 1967, President Johnson, had had Westmoreland come back from Saigon and address a joint session of Congress to say we were winning. And that’s exactly why when Westmoreland was presented with the revised figures, he just blew his stack. So, long story short, Adams lost the fight. The NIE-14.3 was published in the fall and it basically soft-pedaled the actual number of Viet Cong we were facing, the Tet Offensive happens and of course the mask was ripped away. And after that, Adams spent the next several years basically trying to find a way to get things corrected internally. Really couldn’t do it. He got drummed out of the Agency basically because of all the hell that he raised.

0:24:02 Trevor Burrus: Is there a hubris there about, maybe even uniquely American or a type of American hubris, ‘cause you also mentioned Korea, and that was an absolute debacle moving that far north, and then having the Chinese show up. But it seems like we do this a lot. More than we should, because we might just think, “Hey, no one can beat us, we can… ” And then political incentives and President saying we’re winning, and officers wanting to keep their jobs and all this stuff. It just seems like that happens to us a lot.

0:24:36 Pat Eddington: I don’t think it’s a uniquely Anglo-American phenomenon. I think the Russians thought that Afghanistan would be easier than it was, and they didn’t pay attention to the British experience, and they certainly didn’t pay attention to the experience of Alexander the Great 2000 years earlier than that. So I don’t think it’s uniquely an American thing. In fact, I think about the Japanese, Imperial Japanese government in the lead-up to Pearl Harbor and after, and the Japanese navy in that period, they got what they later referred to as victory disease, because they took us by surprise at Pearl Harbor and then they wound up taking the Philippines, they took the Dutch East Indies, what was the Dutch East Indies back then. And they were just able to march seemingly invincibly across the Pacific, but our intelligence services, particularly Navy Intelligence, the Navy cryptographic community at Pearl Harbor learned the right lessons from those disasters. And that’s why we wound up basically blunting their attack on Australia in May of 1942. And then of course won the Pivotal Battle of Midway. I haven’t seen the current movie.

0:25:43 Trevor Burrus: I’ve heard it’s not great, it’s…

0:25:45 Pat Eddington: I’ve… Just based on the actual trailers I think it’s horrible. I think the 1976 version starring Charlton Heston is actually, from what I can tell, much better. And the ‘76 version of the movie, though, is very, very historically accurate overall, they did a real good job with it. But that was for me, at least the pivotal battle of World War II, and that’s a battle where intelligence was everything.

0:26:07 Trevor Burrus: Well, maybe it just was the hubris of war.

0:26:10 Pat Eddington: I think great powers just generally suffer from that, right? We have this notion of American exceptionalism, which I think has been kind of a pox and poison in a lot of ways. It’s gotten us into situations that we had no business being in, Vietnam, of course, being the biggest but hardly the only one. And I think we as Americans, and I think this may be an American trait. We’re not terribly self-reflective, right, as a society. And I do think in many respects that that is kind of an American thing, unfortunately.

0:26:44 Trevor Burrus: I think it’s worse now too because no one holds a mirror up to us enough. In terms of comparing, if you’re a mid-level power in Europe, you can look around and see what’s happening in other mid-level powers, but the Soviet Union kind of held a mirror up to us occasionally. Now, it doesn’t seem like there’s anyone around to do that.

0:27:06 Aaron Powell: What was Gulf War syndrome?

0:27:09 Pat Eddington: Yeah, so it was interesting. We go through Desert Shield and Desert Storm and I worked, I pretty much work the war from just about start to finish. The only thing that I really missed was the ground war and I rotated off of our team on February 22nd or 23rd of 1991, just ‘cause I was burned out. I’d looked at, I don’t know, 25,000, 30,000 satellite images during that period. That was my ballpark estimate. And I was just, I was frustrated generally, because I felt like the way essentially that our collection priorities were being handled, it was not intelligent. And I also felt that we were trying to churn out things too quickly and so on.

0:27:51 Pat Eddington: So anyway, rotated off of that, but I wound up going to Georgetown to get my master’s later on that year, and so I was kind of out of circulation for about a year. But during that period, we began to kind of see in the press these reports about sick Desert Storm veterans, and it began to become much more of a thing. And then by 1994, when my wife, who was also CIA at the time, rotated up to the Senate Banking Committee for a rotational assignment on a leadership training program she was part of, that’s when I got clued in about just how many veterans were calling in sick and how many incidents of chemical agent detections they were reporting to the Banking Committee.

0:28:37 Pat Eddington: And for those who are wondering, why is Senate Banking Committee looking into this, Donald Riegle of Michigan was the Senate Chairman at the time, and a lot of veterans in Michigan were calling into his office complaining about the symptoms. And so he started looking at whether or not US dual use chemical-related exports to Iraq during the 1980s might have contributed to Saddam’s chemical and biological ballistic missile capabilities, and that that might ultimately have a linkage to what happened to the veterans. So that’s how the Banking Committee got into it.

0:29:11 Pat Eddington: And they did their initial staff level report and published that at the end of September 1993. And when my wife got the rotational assignment early 1994 she brought home a copy of the report and she said to me, “Read this, I think we got gassed,” meaning, we meaning, American troops in the Gulf. And I read it. And it was about a 50-page thing. And it was anecdotal but there were a lot of anecdotes in it. And they were very compelling. And because of my military background, I could understand the significance of what these guys were saying. And some of the equipment they were using for detections was kind of notoriously unreliable, and some of the other stuff was known to be very reliable.

0:29:49 Pat Eddington: And I began to wonder, is there a there there, and that triggered memories from the war about signals intelligence that I had seen, indicating that chemical agents had been detected, or even the chemical attacks, and we’re talking about National Security Agency cuts here. That’s what we’re talking about. And so, I began to wonder, was the official line about all this a lie? Was it BS? Did something really happen here? And I began the process of, clandestinely, of reassembling all the intelligence I could from that particular period and anything else that had come out in that post period. And as I was doing that, my wife was assisting with the Banking Committee investigation, trying to get a handle on how sick the veterans were and the symptoms they were suffering from and kind of at its core, most GWS symptoms kind of center around essentially neurological and neuromuscular-type debilitations, and so if you actually look at the cohort of Desert Storm era veterans, they’re actually twice as likely… And this is from Department of Veterans Affairs, a large study that was published in 2008.

0:31:00 Pat Eddington: They’re actually twice as likely to develop brain cancers than non-deployed cohorts. So that’s kind of significant. And then you also see increased rates of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s syndrome among Desert Storm veterans as well. One of the problems with trying to disentangle everything is that these men and women were exposed to lots of stuff. A lot of pesticides were used at the camps where they were at. Most of these were organophosphate pesticides. And for those of you who are wondering what does that mean, think of it as a diluted form of nerve gas, because organophosphate compounds basically make up kind of the core of certain chemical nerve agents, sarin among them. So they were exposed to that.

0:31:44 Pat Eddington: And then they passed out these things called pyridostigmine bromide tablets, as quote, anti nerve gas pills. The problem is pyridostigmine bromide is normally only given to patients with a specific neurological condition called myasthenia gravis, which is where the brain actually manufactures more of acetylcholinesterase than you actually need to function properly. So people wind up having muscle spasms, their arms and legs do all kinds of crazy things. They cannot literally control their body, their muscles. And what pyridostigmine bromide does in folks with myasthenia gravis is it brings that acetylcholinesterase down to a normal level. Well, if you take a normally functioning human being and you give them pyridostigmine bromide, you’re taking that to…

0:32:32 Trevor Burrus: To a lower than normal.

0:32:33 Pat Eddington: That’s exactly right.

0:32:35 Trevor Burrus: So they were told to take this on the rig like, or only when indicators were…

0:32:39 Pat Eddington: When the balloon went up, so to speak. When the war started, they told people to start taking tablets, so maybe as many as a third of the 750,000 or so, or 700,000 who were deployed wound up taking this stuff. So, you throw in the organophosphate pesticides, you throw in the PB, and then you throw in the fact that the alarms were going off like crazy, once the air war got under way. Which told me that you had a massive downwind hazard because we were bombing all the suspected Iraqi chemical weapons sites. All the depots, not just the manufacturing plants, but actual ammunition depots where we believed chemical weapons had been forward deployed. So these veterans have this constellation of symptoms. There has never been, at that point in the early 1990s, there had not been anything approaching the kind of research needed to understand what kind of effect non-lethal or sub-lethal chemical agent exposure does to the human body.

0:33:40 Pat Eddington: The VA was basically telling people it was all in their head. Well, it was in their head alright, but it was real. You were talking about some measurable effects. So my concern in all of this wasn’t just about an intelligence fraud, right? That weapons had been used or at least weapons had been detected. The agent have been detected, that people had been exposed. I was concerned about the real-world cost for these veterans not being able to get the treatment or the compensation that they were due because their exposures were basically being written off as psychosomatic, right?

0:34:15 Pat Eddington: So in that respect it was kind of an Agent Orange replay from the Vietnam era. And that was a big motivator for me. I was a Desert Storm era veteran, right, that was my cohort. And if I had been in different circumstances, I could very easily have been deployed and I could have been one of those sick men or women. So when you see that, and when you come essentially, from a citizen soldier family like I do, these things are very personal, they mean something to you. So I was highly motivated throughout the entire episode to try to see what I could do basically to help get it out. And I also thought that the agency had an obligation to correct the record if they got it wrong about weapons being in theater and people being exposed.

0:35:01 Aaron Powell: So what were the next steps that you took? You found this information you think you’ve established this story, where do you go from there?

0:35:07 Pat Eddington: Yeah. WI started the investigation in February of ‘94, and by right around July 4th of ‘94, I had hundreds of documents, all the way up to the TS SCI level on my machine at work and I put together about a 55 or so page PowerPoint presentation where I would basically walk you through the genesis of all of this, and how it all happened. Well, of course, my investigation was completely unauthorized, my boss had no idea I was doing this, but I knew nobody else was. Nobody else in government, certainly in the intelligence community, was looking at this. So I finally sprung it on him, totally freaked out. He was like, “How much time did you spend on this,” yada yada yada, the whole nine yards. And I said, “Look, it hasn’t interfered with my day job,” which it hadn’t. And my day job, by the way, my day job was helping figure out, helping the Pentagon figure out who we would bomb in the next war. I worked on this thing called the Central Targeting Support Staff. So I was the guy, I was the imagery guy on the team, and my job was to help them pick targets for the countries we would bomb next if it came down to it.

0:36:22 Trevor Burrus: There are so many, how do you even choose? We have so many weapons.

0:36:27 Pat Eddington: Iran. Iran was at the top of the list, among others. So yeah, I made it clear to him…

0:36:34 Trevor Burrus: So it wasn’t pressing.

0:36:35 Pat Eddington: Yeah.

0:36:36 Trevor Burrus: I guess, you’re saying your day job wasn’t like pressing.

0:36:38 Pat Eddington: Yeah, yeah. There were some things that came up. Haiti came up in 1994 and the idea that we needed a sophisticated special technical operations to deal with Haiti I thought was just absolutely hysterical. A country with the highest poverty rate probably in the entire Western hemisphere. But yeah, I made it clear to my boss, “Look, none of this is interfering with my day job. And I have a case here, and you really need to take this seriously because this is a political thing and if DOD is lying about what happened, and I’m convinced that they are,” of course they were, as we subsequently learned, “I don’t want the Agency to go down with it,” so I was trying to be the good guy, team player, yada yada yada. Well, he blew me off and they didn’t actually turn it over to the Director of intelligence All Source team that they should have.

0:37:29 Trevor Burrus: Were you able to give your presentation?

0:37:31 Pat Eddington: I did, I walked him through it at the initial level and he was sufficiently alarmed by what I had that he took it out initially, but they didn’t really take it seriously, they didn’t put me in front of the people who had actually written the reports that said none of it happened, right? And when we finally got to that phase, which was in early 1995, I had much more data and of course the Banking Committee had already done two reports and a hearing by that point, so there was just a lot more data. But at the end of the day, my wife and I were these two people basically coming in saying, “Sorry, y’all, you got it wrong, you tanked it.” Well, this is how it was politically…

0:38:10 Trevor Burrus: And it was politically hot, even, I remember.

0:38:12 Pat Eddington: Totally, it was absolutely so. And so this is how the whistleblower journey generally begins. You find something terrible going on inside the organization. It’s like, “Gee, people really ought to do something about this,”, try to do the right thing, and then you start going up the management chain and you begin to realize, “Yeah, they do actually kind of know. They just don’t wanna deal with it, they don’t wanna have to go back and address it.” They put their names on reports that said that none of this happened. So in retrospect, I think what happened was inevitable, right, but we had to do it, we had to check the box, we had to go through that, because if we were gonna go public, and I was certain we would have to do that ultimately, I didn’t want anybody to turn around and say, “Well, they didn’t follow the chain. They did go through procedures and protocols,” and yada yada yada, so we checked all those boxes, so we could then say, “The system is useless. Now, can we have a real discussion about the problems?”

0:39:08 Aaron Powell: So what does going public mean? Like who’s the public that you initially talked to?

0:39:18 Pat Eddington: So when it became clear by April of 1995 that the Agency was gonna try to sweep this under the rug, I basically came up with a plan that would allow me to write the first book, and give us the opportunity to get it out there from a media standpoint, and then hopefully, it would trigger some follow-on congressional investigations, because once the Democrats lost control of the Senate, after the 1994 elections, and Riegle was not gonna be returning to Congress anyway, that particular investigation, the Banking Community investigation, was concluded. It wouldn’t be until former Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut took over the House Oversight Committee’s National Security sub-committee that we would actually find a committee willing to listen. But once we made the decision we were gonna have to go public, we went to the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses, Dr. Jonathan Tucker and the staff were there, listened to everything we had to say, looked at our data, and agreed with us, agreed that there was a there there. He was promptly fired. Because again, they…

0:40:30 Trevor Burrus: By the president?

0:40:33 Pat Eddington: By the leadership of the board.

0:40:34 Trevor Burrus: Okay.

0:40:35 Pat Eddington: By the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses. So when we saw that they were gonna do that to Jonathan, and we knew that we were gonna leave the Agency, it was just clear to me that we had to have a vehicle and initially try to get the book out, and also the legal battle we waged over what were known as the Gulf Link Documents. One of the things that Riegle did manage to help spark was a DOD declassification effort on this stuff, which also ultimately roped in the CIA. And they began to post documents on Gulf Link and after a while they began to realize, “Wow, this really does make us look pretty bad. There is actually data here that might need follow-up.” And they turned around and reclassified all that stuff, or they attempted to reclassify it. So my publisher made it known that he was going to repost all of that stuff, no matter what the Agency did. And they even tried to block publication of my first book, the CIA literally tried to prevent the entire book from coming out. So I had to retain counsel, the same counsel, by the way, who was representing the Ukrainegate whistleblower, and we wound up pulling the trigger on it ultimately. The book didn’t come out until a good nine months after we went public.

0:41:48 Trevor Burrus: But that wasn’t about… Was there anything classified in the book?

0:41:53 Pat Eddington: Well, they made claims about it, but what I did is I drew directly off of Gulf Link Documents that they had reclassified. Because my basic point was the Executive Order on Classification 13526 explicitly says you can’t do this. So great, let’s have this out in court, you guys wanna go up against us on this question two weeks out from a presidential election, basically hosing veterans. This is the fight you wanna have? Let’s do this. That’s why they folded in a week, ‘cause they knew it would be a political disaster if they went forward with it.

0:42:29 Aaron Powell: This thought process like of becoming a whistleblower. It seems like to some extent you as a whistleblower, what you’re doing is you’re substituting your judgment for a bunch of other people’s. Like other people have said, this thing that we’re doing, rather than keep doing it or we’re not gonna tell people about it or in our considered judgment, this is what’s going to happen. And you as an individual or in this case, you and your wife are saying, “No, my judgment is better, stronger, more worthy than yours. And I’m gonna do what you’ve told me not to do.”

0:43:00 Trevor Burrus: Kinda like being Batman.


0:43:01 Trevor Burrus: You’re Batman, Pat.

0:43:04 Aaron Powell: And we can think about… We draw the cases where it’s like, it’s very clear that one side is right and one side is wrong, but is there any sense of hesitation where it’s like, look, if all of these people are thinking this is something that we should keep hidden or are making the following decisions, like who am I, as this lone analyst, to say, “No, I know better than the entire leadership structure of the CIA and Department of Defense”?

0:43:37 Pat Eddington: It’s pretty easy to know right versus wrong when you see it, and when you know that people are lying about events that took place, and when you know that they are deliberately concealing information that shows waste, fraud, abuse, criminal conduct, etcetera. Then for me and my wife certainly it was very easy because we took an oath to preserve, protect, to defend the Constitution of the United States. And there’s no question that the affinity that I feel with my fellow veterans was an overwhelming motivator for me, because I know from US history, how many times veterans wind up getting hosed, right? How many times they have been abandoned by their country, used by their country, and thrown away and so on and so forth.

0:44:20 Pat Eddington: So earlier this year, in October this year, I had journalist Tom Muller in, and we did an event on his new book, Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud, where he takes a very good look, essentially, at the very thing that you’re talking about, which is kind of the mindset of a person who decides to make this kind of decision, and he draws upon both government and private sector, and he used some non-profit examples. And I think one of the things that all of us who do this have in common is that we are very inner-directed people. And we have a very clear sense of right and wrong.

0:45:00 Pat Eddington: And that’s why people like Chris Pyle, the Army officer who went public about Army surveillance in 1971, he was… 1971 was very much the year of the whistleblower in many respects, ‘cause it starts with Pyle and then you have the Citizens Commission to investigate the FBI, breaking in to the media, Pennsylvania, FBI Resident Agency, liberating all the documents. This is how we ultimately find out about Cointelpro, right? Those people are saints to me. Because here you had eight civilians with no military experience, no intelligence experience, no law enforcement experience who over the course of about a four-month period plan and execute a break-in to liberate documents. They’re committing a felony, okay? They’re breaking into an FBI office, committing a felony, in order to expose this mass felonious unconstitutional behavior that they strongly suspect that the FBI have been engaged in, not just against them, but against everybody else.

0:46:00 Pat Eddington: Marvelous book by Betty Medsger called The Burglary. And of course, it’s also the documentary 1971, if you’ve only got about an hour and 15 minutes to spare. And then, of course, you get Ellsberg, who for folks like me is an icon. But there of course have been others and I’ve written about them, and I’ve gotten to know them. The NSA Five is Tom Muller first and then the folks who are involved in the Trailblazer and ThinThread debacle of the 2000s era that I’ve written about extensively, and that I’m litigating on, in fact, on, if you happen to listen to this podcast before 10:00 AM on November the 25th, 2019, I’m gonna be in federal court with my attorneys in Eddington v. DOD IG, dealing with the whole Trailblazer ThinThread FOIA lawsuit. It’s rare to get a hearing on a FOIA case, so we’ll see if Trevor McFadden just wants to slap us around or whether he’s actually going to slap the NSA around.

0:46:57 Trevor Burrus: Where does Snowden fit into this… Because you listed a bunch of them.

0:47:02 Trevor Burrus: I put him in exactly the same category as Ellsberg. And I think what Congress just did this week with the continuing resolution was, of course, tack on a three-month extension to this USA Freedom Act/Patriot Act authority abomination.

0:47:22 Trevor Burrus: While they’re trying to impeach the president they decided to give him all these powers to spy on more people.

0:47:28 Pat Eddington: Democrats have messaging problems and other problems on this issue, but Snowden exposed crimes against the Constitution, he exposed mass surveillance. This is why I just don’t have patience for people who attack him. I’ll freely admit, I don’t have patience for people who go after him, because he looked at how Tom Drake and others, who have gone through channels to try to do whistleblowing, have been treated. Remember that Drake was part of this team at NSA that developed this ThinThread system that had it been deployed prior to 9/11, almost certainly would have stopped the attacks, and Drake was accused of essentially leaking to the Baltimore Sun about this internal meltdown at NSA over the Trailblazer program, which is a ThinThread rival that never produced a single piece of intelligence. And they went after him, and that was the one of the most outrageous examples of prosecutorial misconduct I have seen in my life.

0:48:28 Pat Eddington: Five espionage counts against this man. Evidence was actually fabricated, literally fabricated in the case. And I was disappointed, the judges at the end called the prosecution out for it. They should have been sanctioned in my judgment, but… But Snowden saw what happened to Drake and the NSA Five, and then he saw what happened to Chelsea Manning, of course, and he drew the correct conclusion that he could not trust the internal system. Now, somebody’s gonna say, “But wait a minute, in the Ukrainegate episode, it worked.” The only reason it has worked in the Ukrainegate, in my opinion, is because what that whistleblower, largely with second-hand information, reported to the ICIG happened to coincide perfectly with the Democratic House majority’s agenda to get rid of Donald Trump.

0:49:17 Pat Eddington: Because if you go on to and you search the words “Adam Schiff” and “whistleblower,” and you go back through the entire course of Schiff’s career, he has offered exactly one piece of legislation having to do with a whistleblower, and that is a Ukrainegate whistleblower. So when we talk about all these individuals that I’ve described, they do share this commonality of a sense of inner direction. And so it’s clear that… And I haven’t had a chance to go through Snowden’s memoir yet, but Snowden clearly understood that he was seeing unconstitutional surveillance, he clearly understood that he could not trust existing channels to take care of it. So he essentially did what Ellsberg did. And in my judgment, the country is the better for it. And I look forward to the day when Ed can come back here. All charges against him should be dismissed with prejudice, and I hope, I hope to live to see that happen.

0:50:14 Aaron Powell: So you just went through and listed the names of a lot of whistleblowers. And so now as we’re sitting here, and they like, as we speak, impeachment hearings are going on on the Hill, I need to ask, does the identity of the whistleblower matter?

0:50:31 Pat Eddington: Republicans want it to matter because they wanna talk about anything but the actual… Yeah, the actual evidence. And I thought, quite frankly, the testimony we got last night from Laura Cooper at the Pentagon was by far more damaging than anything that Gordon Sondland had to say, because she walked us through the fact that it was much more widely known and much earlier known by the Ukrainians, that the aid was being held up, but more important, what came out of that hearing is that in holding that aid up, the President was clearly in violation of the Budget and Impoundment Control Act. And under that statute it’s very clear from my understanding that if you’re gonna try to hold up funds, you’ve got to notify Congress.

0:51:14 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, 45 days, then they have 45 days to prove it or not.

0:51:18 Aaron Powell: But, I guess let me, let me ask my question slightly differently, like should a whistleblower make their identity known?

0:51:25 Pat Eddington: No.

0:51:26 Aaron Powell: And should we be… Is there any reason for being slightly more skeptical of an anonymous whistleblower than one who’s…

0:51:33 Pat Eddington: No. Because just to use the DOD IG as an example, their whistleblower complaint system is designed to handle anonymous stuff. Every IG is supposed to be able to do that. And when you look at it, I’ll just go back to the Trailblazer and ThinThread example, when the DOD IG did their investigation of those two programs, and this is one of the reports that’s at the heart of the litigation that I’ve discussed, they explicitly talk about the fact that people are given anonymity because of fear of retaliation, and several people that provided information to the DOD IG in that case explicitly stated they were afraid of retaliation. And so you see this all through the document.

0:52:19 Pat Eddington: So if you were to go to the DOJ IG website or any other website around there and you look at the audit reports that they do that are based on whistleblower complaints, you will never see the name of the person. And that’s not just because of Privacy Act considerations, that’s an obvious easy legal one, but the identity of whistleblowers ultimately has to be protected in order to guarantee that people feel comfortable coming forward.

0:52:44 Pat Eddington: I’m of the opinion, frankly based on what I’ve seen of the IG system, particularly the intelligence community IG system, that we would be better off abolishing those IGs and letting whistleblowers come directly to GAO, Congress’ arm, because you’re talking about a power asymmetry. And with most of these IGs, most of them, the people who serve on those investigative staffs are rotationals. They come from elsewhere within the given agency or department, so it creates an inherent conflict of interest. I’d have less concerns, my concerns wouldn’t be eliminated, but I would have less in the way of concern if I knew that every IG around there was nothing but dedicated professionals who did nothing but that, who didn’t rotate back into somewhere else in the agency.

0:53:32 Pat Eddington: But even in this case of the Ukrainegate whistleblower, we see the pressure that was applied on the ICIG to basically not go forward with this to the committees, as he was required to do. And it wasn’t until Schiff found out about this complaint being out there, and the committee basically pulling the ICIG’s chain saying, “Uh, we don’t think so,” that the ball finally got rolling. But Republicans are desperate to go after this particular individual to change the conversation essentially away from the underlying facts that Trevor indicated, and it’s completely contrary to how whistleblower complaints are supposed to be handled in the federal government.

0:54:13 Trevor Burrus: We left the story at Gulf War Syndrome. So what happened? You left the CIA, you published your book.

0:54:20 Pat Eddington: Yeah.

0:54:21 Trevor Burrus: Where do we sit now in terms of the government’s… How do we get there? What is the VA say about Gulf War Syndrome now?

0:54:29 Pat Eddington: The VA, really even to this day, continues to essentially deny any kind of real connection there, but because of action by Congress to assist Desert Storm veterans, it’s a little bit easier for them to get compensation. The research has come some distance in the intervening years. I rattled off earlier some of the etiologies and some of the actual disease process that we know about, but we still have a long way to go, I think. And that was America’s shortest war in Lord knows how long. Maybe the Mexican War would be close in terms of relatively short duration, and you only had 700,000 people deployed. So, they never developed the kind of constituency that World War II veterans had or even Vietnam veterans still maintain, to a certain degree, or now our Iraq and and Afghanistan veterans. They have built through IAVA and some other organizations, they have built up their own political capacity, if you will, to lobby. Desert Storm veterans are a very, very niche group, a very small group, and they are definitely in danger of essentially becoming America’s forgotten veterans, and I certainly don’t wanna see that happen.

0:55:52 Trevor Burrus: So, the most important final question, though, is what is in Area 51?


0:55:57 Trevor Burrus: This has been a hot topic recently and I know you know, Pat, so…

0:56:03 Pat Eddington: Well, if I did know, I would probably have to kill you and see to it that…

0:56:06 Trevor Burrus: I feel like they evacuated. They had to have emptied it out. If there was anything there, they just use it for storing the American cheese supply and then laugh at all the people who go and try to raid it. That would be true, right?

0:56:16 Pat Eddington: Maybe where the aliens from Independence Day really are, though, but… Yeah, I mean, I know that certainly in Nevada, the Air Force has had facilities where a lot of advanced aircraft, a lot of advanced technology were tested. And of course, it was in Nevada where you had the F-117s, the Nighthawks, and all of the rest of that. But sadly, I don’t think that there’s like a hidden warp drive at Area 51, which is very sad, but…

0:56:44 Aaron Powell: Okay, then let me ask an actual final question. Someone listening to this right now who is in a situation like you found yourself in, what advice do you have to a potential whistleblower?

0:56:58 Pat Eddington: So if you don’t wanna contact me at sanitizer [at] or you don’t wanna reach me at Signal, my advice, first and foremost, is to get a ProtonMail account. And secondly, if you’re gonna do a reach out, there are three organizations that I recommend. First and foremost is the Government Accountability Project, the second is Project on Government Oversight, and the third is ExposeFacts and the WHISPeR project that they run. You want to get in a place where you can have… And if you’re in the intelligence community or you’re dealing with a classified matter, you wanna be able to have an unclassified conversation about what it is that’s going on. In terms of being inside your organization, if you’ve already started to raise a ruckus about this, you’re probably already a target. If you haven’t really raised a ruckus about this yet, reach out to one of those three organizations that I just discussed to begin with, because you wanna get really good, solid advice about documenting what it is that you’re seeing. You wanna make sure that what you’re seeing is in fact an illegal act if you believe that you’re witnessing waste, fraud, abuse, criminal conduct, etcetera. So getting that kind of advice right up front is extremely important.

0:58:18 Pat Eddington: If you are married, if your spouse is not on board, you have to really think about this. And if you have children, especially young children, you’re gonna have to take that into account, too. My wife and I were very lucky in that we were young, relatively speaking. We didn’t have any kids. And so that made the calculus for what we were gonna do much easier. I just look at the Ukrainegate situation, where we clearly had dozens of people who knew that US-Ukraine policy was at best on a dual track and, to use Ambassador Taylor’s characterization, one of those was an irregular track. And those folks essentially… The most that we know right now is that some of them on the NSC went to the NSC lawyers and that’s really where it ended. It took somebody else in the intelligence community who had knowledge of these events, even if it was second-hand. It was detailed second-hand. It took that particular person to decide “This is off the rails. Somebody needs to be notified about this.”

0:59:25 Pat Eddington: You have to think about these decisions very carefully and very soberly. I knew what I was getting into, because I’d studied what had happened to previous whistleblowers, particularly Sam Adams, Ellsberg, some of the others. So I knew what I was getting into. Think about it. But that’s an open offer I make. It’s sanitizer [at] If you wanna talk about it, if you want some personal advice, I’m happy to give it.


0:59:57 Aaron Powell: Thank you for listening. If you enjoy Free Thoughts, you can find our Free Thoughts discussion group on Facebook or on Reddit at r/FreeThoughtsPodcast. You can follow us on Twitter @FreeThoughtsPod. As always, please rate and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Free Thoughts is produced by Tess Terrible and Landry Ayres. To learn more visit us on the web at