Daily Archives: July 24th, 2011

Whistling in the dark

The dominant purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit the widespread practice of government suppression of embarrassing information. ~ William O. Douglas, Supreme Court Justice

It must have been embarrassing for our government to learn that they had been given a considerable amount of warning one month in advance of the 911 attacks. They were warned “in FBI Headquarters in over 60 emails and frantic telephone calls that “this is a guy who could fly into the World Trade Center.” Afterwards, we shouldn’t have needed a whistleblower to tell us that a national security breach like that had been covered up – but we did. That’s a good example of how the national security concerns over whistleblowing run in both directions.

When we have adequate protections in place to guard against their abuse, whistleblowers come forward to help us, though it always seems like a bitter win. That a corporation in America would manipulate the chemicals in cigarettes to addict more people while knowing the dire health risks is quite disturbing. Whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand put a stop to that practice at great personal risk and loss.

It became our duty in 1777 when the Continental Congress went to bat for whistleblowers and wrote the first legislation to protect them. “That it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”

Thomas Drake was recently set free, but in May, Jane Mayer wrote The Secret Sharer, a great article about his frightening experience as a whistleblower under our two recent administrations. Who knows how much money we spent trying to put him in jail, but according to the New York Times, “The visibly angry judge [Richard D. Bennett] said that Mr. Drake had been through “four years of hell” and that the dragging out of the investigation — and then the dropping of the major charges on the eve of trial — was “unconscionable.”

How readily whistleblowers come forward is probably commensurate with the amount of risk they have to face. Even with recent bolstering in Section 922 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, overall protection for them has been backsliding and it’s often called window dressing. At one time, president Obama admitted that “Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism should be encouraged rather than stifled.”

Congressional acts to stifle their voices are not representative of the people’s interest and should be stopped like S5172. Despicably framed as a national security issue, it was in fact designed to punish animal rights whistleblowers.

It’s hard to imagine where we would be without some of our famous whistleblowers. If we encourage and honor them with impunity, they won’t be whistling in the dark.

Whistleblower Jan Karski's memorial, New York East 37th Street at Madison, outside the Polish Consulate