Despite the Main-Stream-Media's angst over enigmatic Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, he was featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine and interviewed on 60 Minutes on Sunday. My friend David Swanson has already diaried Julian Assange's 60 Minutes interview in detail.
Regardless of how you see Assange, one quote from his 60 Minutes interview stands out:
If [employees] who say that there is some abuse going on and there's not a proper mechanism for internal accountability and external accountability, they must have a conduit to get that out to the public. And we are the conduit.
Assange presents the solution to Wikileaks. In a world where whistleblowers are protected through a "proper mechanism for accountability," Wikileaks would not have to be a conduit to get information out to the public.
Whatever your opinion of Assange or Wikileaks, on this particular point, Assange is not wrong. If employees who see wrongdoing do not have meaningful protections, they will turn to institutions like Wikileaks that will try to allow them to safely blow the whistle. To make Wikileaks a pointless institution, the U.S. need only protect and support its whistleblowers. This would negate any perception that to safely blow the whistle one must go outside established channels.
We are not there yet. Take a look at the current situation of a whistleblower who went through all of the proper channels: Thomas Drake. Drake took his concerns about the National Security Agency's (NSA) wasteful behavior to his supervisors within NSA, to the Inspectors General, and to the Congressional Intelligence Committees. Drake's reward for disclosures authorized under the Intelligence Whistleblower Protection Act was a criminal indictment and possible 35 years in prison. Though he is often portrayed as being charged with "leaking," the Washingtonian recently revealed that any "leak" charges were part of an un-filed indictment. Drake never gave classified information to a reporter, and the actual indictment brought against Drake does not charge him with giving classified information to the media.
When the reward for going through proper channels is retaliation, sometimes as severe as a criminal indictment, as Drake's case sadly demonstrates, the only viable option for intelligence community whistleblowers is to leak anonymously. The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act would go a long way toward curbing disclosures to outside channels, such as disclosures to Wikileaks.
To join in supporting meaningful protections for whistleblowers, help identify the Senator who placed a secret hold on the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.
Jesselyn Radack is Homeland Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization. This post originally appeared in her Daily Kos column.