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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

Jane Mayer Receives Polk Award for Exposing Truth

Jesselyn Radack, February 21, 2012

Journalist Jane Mayer received much-deserved recognition on Monday. Mayer won the prestigious George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting for her New Yorker story on National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake.

The Polk judges called Ms. Mayer’s article “a study in prosecutorial excess that helped lead to all major charges against Drake being dropped.”

Glenn Greenwald was right when he called Mayer's article the "must-read magazine article of the month," and the award confirms that the article is a must-read of 2011. Mayer's brilliant reporting went beyond Drake's personal story.

The author ends her masterful tale with the conclusion that America’s bloated "national-surveillance state" poses a greater threat to civil liberties than ever before.

The recognition for Mayer is particularly meaningful to me personally because Mayer wrote an article nearly a decade ago exonerating me when I blew the whistle in the case of American "Taliban" John Walker Lindh. I felt the whole world was against me until she left a note on my doorstep. Her reporting (and subsequent book The Dark Side) validated my story in the court of public opinion, as she did for Drake. In fact, I have a whole chapter in my new book called "Amazing Jane."

Not long after Mayer's award-winning damning dissection of the Drake prosecution, the Justice Department's case against Drake collapsed in spectacular fashion. In the days before trial was set to begin, the government dropped all charges against Drake - ten felony counts including Espionage Act charges for alleged mishandling of supposedly classified information. Drake pleaded to a minor misdemeanor having nothing to do with classified information. At sentencing, the judge rejected the prosecutor's request for an increased fine and lambasted the Justice Department for its treatment of Drake, calling it "unconscionable" to put Drake through "four years of hell."

Drake is still happily working at the Apple store and pursuing his Ph.D. Meanwhile the whistleblowers featured in Mayer's story have been forced to sue NSA to reclaim property seized in the retaliatory raids over four years ago, and NSA is engaging in the same kind of classification chicanery as in the completely failed case against Drake.

The bad actors in Mayer's article have continued on unpunished and unaccountable and still hold high-level positions in government and industry.

Meanwhile the Obama administration has continued its ill-advised war on whistleblowers, which yields disheartening scorecard for Bush-era crimes:

Criminal prosecutions for officials who authorized or conducted torture and warrantless surveillance: 0

Criminal prosecutions for so-called "leakers," who are more often than not whistleblowers: 6

Worse, the whistleblowers charged are those who exposed the Bush-era crimes of secret government surveillance (Drake) and torture (former Central Intelligence Agency employee John Kiriakou).

GAP represents many of the whistleblowers featured in Mayer's story, including Bill Binney, J. Kirk Wiebe, and Thomas Drake. Mayer exposed the truth about the Drake case, a case that I told her was:

. . . the most severe form of whistle-blower retaliation I have ever seen.

More than ever in light of the threat of criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act, whistleblowers need hard-hitting, truthtelling journalists like Jane Mayer.


Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organizaiton.