Last night, a packed auditorium of nearly 300 people listened to the stories of three courageous human beings whose heartfelt belief in speaking the truth led each to become something they never expected: whistleblowers.
And not just any whistleblowers, but whistleblowers who exposed problems in one of the government's most sensitive areas – national security. Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, NSA whistleblower/GAP client Thomas Drake, and DOJ whistleblower/GAP National Security & Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack were the featured speakers at GAP's American Whistleblower Tour stop at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Their panel highlighted the importance of exposing national secrets about abuse and corruption in government. These high-profile whistleblowers garnered extensive media coverage, with angles ranging from event coverage to personalized profiles and interviews of the whistleblowers themselves.
All three of these whistleblowers have important stories to tell. Ellsberg, commonly referred to as the patriarch of modern day whistleblowing, saw one of the articles focus primarily on his experience changing the course of American history. It has been about 40 years since Ellsberg disclosed the Pentagon Papers – the secret documents on the Vietnam War that are largely credited with turning public opinion against it. Drake acknowledged Ellsberg's role as "the patriarch" for those who have since stepped forward to confront wrongdoing.
Likewise, a different article focused on the stories of Radack and Drake. Radack raised ethics issues with the Department of Justice's handling of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, and was subsequently retaliated against (eventually fired) for her efforts. Her experience has made her a staunch advocate and one of the leading pundits for whistleblower rights, which can be seen in her work for GAP. Radack recently released the memoir Traitor: The Whistleblower and the "American Taliban". You can find the longer interview with her from The Republic here.
Drake was a senior official for the NSA when he learned of massive waste and violations of American citizens' privacy. After attempting to blow the whistle internally and later in Congress, he was fired and indicted under the Espionage Act. Drake faced 35 years in prison, but the case against him crumbled just before trial. Radack was counsel to Drake on whistleblower issues. The Republic's interview with him is here.
Goals of the Tour include raising awareness about the vital role whistleblowing has in our democracy, preparing America's youth for ethical decision-making, countering negative connotations associated with whistleblowing, connecting prospective whistleblowers to available resources, and encouraging academic studies of whistleblowing. To that end, the Tour has been a fantastic success and this stop was no exception.The Mount Holyoke stop also featured the whistleblowers making a number of classroom visits to surrounding colleges, including Smith College and Hampshire College. Satellite events in both of those colleges were set up for the panel presentation at Mount Holyoke.
Mount Holyoke was the Tour's penultimate stop. It was also the first time Ellsberg has spoken on the Tour. GAP looks forward to him joining us on a number of Tour events in future years. The last stop this year will take place at John Jay College on April 24. More information can be found at www.whistleblowertour.org.
Hannah Johnson is Communications Associate for the Government Accounatability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.