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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

In WikiLeaks Wake, Whistleblower Witch-Hunt Report Released and Bill Set to Pass!

Jesselyn Radack, December 01, 2010

This post originally appeared in a Daily Kos column.

 

If folks feel conflicted about WikiLeaks, the answer is to pass meaningful whistleblower reform. Otherwise, whistleblowers have no alternative, as detailed in this Whistleblower Witch Hunt report released today.

I've been saying that quite often here at Kos. Now, following the latest WikiLeaks spill, Congress is poised to pass legislation giving employees in the most sensitive government jobs--national security and intelligence employees--a way to report corruption, waste, mismanagement and illegality without resorting to WikiLeaks, which for better or for worse, has been the only viable avenue available to whistleblowers.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, and it is viewed by supporters as a way to discourage leaks of classified information. It would give intelligence agency whistleblowers a way to raise concerns internally instead of giving classified materials to WikiLeaks or other outlets.

As highlighted by the Associated Press and NPR this morning, in order to draw attention to the risks whistleblowers now face, my organization, the Government Accountability Project, prepared a report detailing the ordeals of 12 government officials whose employers sought "to enforce secrecy though repression."

Among them is Thomas Drake, a former National Security Agency official who reported "massive fraud, waste and abuse" in agency surveillance programs to the Department of Defense Inspector General's office. Drake's reward was an indictment in April under the Espionage Act for allegedly making unauthorized contact with a newspaper reporter after he had exhausted all other means for disclosing the problems he witnessed. (He is actually only charged with "willful retention for purposes of disclosure," which is not a real crime, but rather the bizarre parsing of the Espionage Act and other federal statutes in order to manufacture a crime that fits the facts of Drake's case.

Without protections spelled out in law, whistleblowers risk being demoted, fired, or in Drake's case, put in jail.

Until the law is passed, WikiLeaks will continue to be the safest option for whistleblowers unwilling to engage in professional suicide. Blowing the whistle leaves people broken, bankrupted and blacklisted.

More than 60 public interest and advocacy groups support this bill. The Senate is expected to approve the bill this week and send it to the House, where Democrats are planning to pass it quickly. White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the bill

landmark legislation

that the Obama administration

hopes will be passed promptly.

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act bars workplace reprisals against employees at the CIA and other intelligence organizations for telling their superiors about illegal activities, abuses of authority and dangers to public health or safety.

It also requires the director of national intelligence to set up a special review board to resolve cases involving whistleblowers who believe their security clearances were suspended or revoked as punishment for speaking out, and gives expanded whistle-blower protections to civil service employees outside the intelligence agencies.

Whistleblowers outside the intelligence agencies would also be able to seek a jury trial in federal court to appeal dismissals or demotions.

Whistleblower should not have to choose their conscience over their career, or in Tom Drake's case, over their very liberty.

Jesselyn Radack is Homeland Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.