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BK Blog Post
Posted by Tom Devine.
Tom Devine is legal director of the Government Accountability Project, where he has worked to assist thousands of whistleblowers to come forward and has been involved in the all of the campaigns to pass or defend major whistleblower laws over the last two decades.
A few weeks ago, Daily Beast reporter Kenneth Lipp uncovered a power point presentation from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s (ODNI) National Insider Threat Task Force that attacked former Government Accountability Project (GAP) clients Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden as “insider threats” who “have done us harm.” ODNI used information from GAP’s website both to mischaracterize our position on whistleblowing and slander two whistleblowers who risked everything to defend America’s freedom from attacks by its own government.
The presentation quoted our definition of legal rights for whistleblowers in the civil service system as:
An employee who discloses information that s/he reasonably believes is evidence of illegality, gross waste or fraud, mismanagement, abuse of power, general wrongdoing, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. When information is classified or otherwise restricted by Congress or Executive Order, disclosures only are protected as whistleblowing if made through designated, secure channels.
Unfortunately, whistleblower law too often limits rather than shields those who speak out. Our definition of the concept is: individuals who use freedom of speech to challenge abuses of power that betray the public trust. Individuals like Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden are civil disobedience whistleblowers. Ironically, they have been far more successful in making a difference than those who trusted the “proper channels.”
The ODNI’s deception hardly ends with trying to rebrand GAP. It cited the wrong law. Even the referenced, limited rights do not apply to intelligence community whistleblowers who have only token legal protection, or to intelligence community contractors who lack even the most infinitesimal due process enforcement.
Strike three for the ODNI on flunking the integrity test is asserting that Mr. Drake acted inconsistently with any whistleblower law. Actually he followed all the rules on the posters in government offices. He did not leak any classified documents to the media. Rather, he spent hundreds of hours working with intelligence community inspectors general, and refused to leak any classified documents. His only public interview before suffering a daybreak FBI raid didn’t even challenge surveillance. He spoke out to protest that the National Security Agency bureaucracy had threatened national security by suppressing a system that had proven effective at finding needles in the intelligence haystack, in favor of a four billion dollar pork barrel program that didn’t work. He blew the whistle on bureaucrats who put bloated buddy system contracts ahead of America’s safety, such as then NSA chief Michael Hayden. These are the same bureaucrats who betrayed the public and are now blaming whistleblowers for exposing their bureaucratic agenda for so-called homeland security.
GAP has long worked to increase the legal protections of those who courageously tell the truth and expose waste, fraud, abuse, and illegality in the government and corporations. Recently, GAP partnered with 45 other organizations calling upon Congress to restore the whistleblowing rights of intelligence community contractors, whose whistleblower rights and access to courts were stripped from the law just months before Mr. Snowden gave up on “proper channels.”
Whistleblowers repeatedly exercised the freedom to warn before 9/11 and could have prevented the tragedy had they not been silenced and their message suppressed. Will we repeat the same mistakes again?
The national security solution to terrorism isn’t secrecy. If there is any lesson to be learned from 9/11 and recent attacks, it is that corruption and abuses of power sustained by secrecy and enforced through repression are a clear and present danger to America’s safety. America’s defense has been betrayed by so-called leaders whose hidden agendas and loyalty to pork for the military industrial complex trump their mission to protect America and its values. Yet those who have betrayed us keep insisting that the way to defend freedom is to limit or cancel it. Enough is enough. Let’s start with setting the record straight on whistleblowers. NSA, you have our number.