Recently, the American public learned that the National Security Agency (NSA) has conducted, and continues to conduct, wholesale surveillance of U.S. citizens through a secretive data-mining program. The program collects the phone records, email exchanges, and internet histories of tens of millions of Americans who would otherwise have no knowledge of the secret program were it not for the disclosures of recent whistleblowers. The latest of these whistleblowers to come forward is former Booz Allen Hamilton federal contractor employee, Edward Snowden.
As the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) would like to be clear about its position on each of the following points that relate to these significant revelations:
I. SNOWDEN IS A WHISTLEBLOWER.
Snowden disclosed information about a secret program that he reasonably believed to be illegal. Consequently, he meets the legal definition of a whistleblower, despite statements to the contrary made by numerous government officials and security pundits. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky), Sen. Mark Udall (D-Co), Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Ca), Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) have also expressed concern about the potential illegality of the secret program. Moreover, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wi) who is one of the original authors of the Patriot Act – the oft-cited justification for this pervasive surveillance – has expressed similar misgiving.
II. SNOWDEN IS THE SUBJECT OF CLASSIC WHISTLEBLOWER RETALIATION.
Derogatory characterizations of Snowden‘s personal character by government officials do not negate his whistleblower status. On the contrary, such attacks are classic acts of predatory reprisal used against whistleblowers in the wake of their revelations.Snowden’s personal life, his motives and his whereabouts have all been called into question by government officials and pundits engaged in the reflexive response of institutional apologists. The guilty habitually seek to discredit the whistleblower by shifting the spotlight from the dissent to the dissenter. Historically, this pattern of abuse is clear from behavior towards whistleblowers Daniel Ellsberg, Mark Felt, Frank Serpico, Jeffrey Wigand, Jesselyn Radack, and recent NSA whistleblower Tom Drake.
III. THE ISSUE IS THE MESSAGE AND NOT THE MESSENGER.
As a matter of course, whistleblowers are discredited, but what truly matters is the disclosure itself. Snowden’s revelations have sparked a public debate about the balance between privacy and security – a debate that President Obama now claims to welcome. Until Snowden’s disclosures, however, the government had suppressed the facts that would make any serious debate possible.
IV. PERVASIVE SURVEILLANCE DOES NOT MEET THE STANDARD FOR CLASSIFIED INFORMATION.
Many have condemned Snowden for disclosing classified information, but documents are classified if they reveal sources or methods of intelligence-gathering used to protect the United States from its enemies. Domestic surveillance that is pervasive and secret is only a valid method of intelligence gathering if the country’s enemies include most of its own population. Moreover, under the governing Executive Order it is not legal to classify documents in order to cover up possible misconduct.
V. THE PUBLIC HAS A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO KNOW.
In a democracy, it is simply not acceptable to discover widespread government surveillance only after a whistleblower’s revelations. Because of Snowden’s disclosures we now know that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper deliberately misled the Senate Intelligence Committee when he stated on March 12, 2013 that the NSA did not purposefully collect any type of data from millions of Americans. Regardless of the justification for this policy, the public has a Constitutional right to know about these actions.
Unfortunately, the responsibility has fallen on whistleblowers to inform the public about critical policy issues – from warrantless wiretapping to torture. Whistleblowers remain the regulator of last resort.
VI. THERE IS A CLEAR HISTORY OF REPRISAL AGAINST NSA WHISTLEBLOWERS.
By communicating with the press, Snowden used the safest channel available to him to inform the public of wrongdoing. Nonetheless, government officials have been critical of him for not using internal agency channels – the same channels that have repeatedly failed to protect whistleblowers from reprisal in the past. In many cases, the critics are the exact officials who acted to exclude national security employees and contractors from the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012.
Prior to Snowden’s disclosures, NSA whistleblowers Tom Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe, all clients of GAP, used internal mechanisms – including the NSA chain of command, Congressional committees, and the Department of Defense Inspector General – to report the massive waste and privacy violations of earlier incarnations of the NSA’s data collection program. Ultimately, the use of these internal channels served only to expose Binney, Drake and Wiebe to years-long criminal investigations and even FBI raids on their homes. As one example, consider that Tom Drake was subjected to a professionally and financially devastating prosecution under the Espionage Act. Despite a case against him that ultimately collapsed, Drake was labeled an “enemy of the state” and his career ruined.
VII. WE ARE WITNESSING THE CRIMINALIZATION OF WHISTLEBLOWING.
During the last decade, the legal rights for whistleblowers have expanded for many federal workers and contractors, with the one exception of employees within the intelligence community. The rights of these employees have significantly contracted. The Obama administration has conducted an unprecedented campaign against national security whistleblowers, bringing more Espionage Act indictments than all previous administrations combined.
Moreover, at the behest of the House Intelligence Committee, strengthened whistleblower protections for national security workers were stripped from major pieces of legislation such as the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (for federal employees) and the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (for federal contractors). If those protections existed today, Snowden’s disclosures would have stood a greater chance of being addressed effectively from within the organization.
The actions already taken against Snowden are a punitive continuation of what has become a “War on Whistleblowers.” Through a series of retaliatory measures, the federal government targets federal employees who speak out against gross waste, illegality, or fraud, rather than prosecuting individuals engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors. So far as we know, not one person from the NSA has yet to suffer any consequences for ordering, justifying or participating in the NSA’s domestic spying operation.
It is the opinion of GAP that recent events suggest the full might of the Department of Justice will be leveled at Snowden, including an indictment under the Espionage Act, while those who stretched their interpretation of the Patriot Act to encompass the private lives of millions of Americans will simply continue working.
VIII. IN THE SURVEILLANCE STATE, THE ENEMY IS THE WHISTLEBLOWER.
If every action has an opposite and equal reaction, the whistleblower is that reaction within the surveillance state. Dragnet electronic surveillance is a high-tech revival of tactics used to attack the civil rights movement and political enemies of the Nixon administration. Whistleblowers famously alerted the public to past government overreach, while helping to defend both national security and civil liberties.
In contrast, secrecy, retaliation and intimidation undermine our Constitutional rights and weaken our democratic processes more swiftly, more surely, and more corrosively than the acts of terror from which they purport to protect us.
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Open-government advocates said a proposed U.S. rule that could lead to more federal jobs being classified as sensitive may also make it easier to fire federal whistle-blowers.
The Government Accountability Project and the Project on Government Oversight said the draft rule, published in the Federal Register today, was premature as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit weighs whether employees in “sensitive” jobs have the same rights to appeal termination as other federal workers.
The proposed rule from the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of Personnel Management “dramatically expands the use of this label of sensitive to apply to a great number of jobs,” said Angela Canterbury, director of public policy for the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-based watchdog group.
Workers who don’t have security clearances can now appeal their termination to the Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent federal agency whose chairman is picked by the president.
The Government Accountability Project said the rule could classify public-safety workers, border patrol agents, foreign service officials and other federal workers as holding sensitive positions.
If the court decides that workers in sensitive jobs don’t have the same ability to appeal termination, then it may make it easier for administrations to fire employees who leak information to the press or attempt to expose corruption and mismanagement, Canterbury said.
“The current regulations are now 20 years old and provide only general guidance,” the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of Personnel Management said in a joint e-mail response to questions today. “The new regulations will clarify the requirements and procedures agencies should follow when designating national security positions, by providing more detail and concrete examples.”
A White House spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for a comment on the rule.
Earlier this month, U.S. lawmakers criticized the administration of President Barack Obama for subpoenaing phone records of Associated Press reporters after the news service published a story about a foiled terrorist plot that originated in Yemen. The Department of Justice also disclosed earlier this month that it subpoenaed the phone records and e-mails of a Fox News reporter in a leak investigation.
First Amendment groups have also condemned the administration’s indictments of five government workers for leaking information under a World War I-era spy law.
“There couldn’t be a more sweeping roll back on the rule of law for the federal labor force,” Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project, said in an interview.
Do you remember the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010? It was all over the news for months and months… and then seemed to simply disappear from the media once BP announced they’d stopped up the gushing oil well.
Whistleblowers are claiming that’s no mistake — and in a recent report from the Government Accountability Project, cleanup crew members have painted a sinister picture. To obscure the true amount of oil spraying into the Gulf on a daily basis, they say, BP immediately began unleashing huge amounts of dispersant. Over 1.84 million gallons of the stuff.
The problem? The dispersant used by BP, a chemical called Corexit, is known to be highly toxic to humans. Exposure can cause a laundry list of symptoms, including kidney and liver damage, seizures, memory loss, and even cancer.
Not only were as many as 47,000 workers potentially exposed to this dangerous chemical, but former oil cleanup crew are reporting that BP intentionally withheld information on how to safely handle Corexit and failed to provide any sort of protective gear to workers.
One maid tasked with cleaning a mixture of seawater, Corexit, and crude oil from the floors of BP’s “floating hotel” for workers was told the dispersant was “as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid.” But within days of exposure, she found herself coughing up blood suffering from nonstop headaches. Her symptoms only continued to get worse with time, transforming into uncontrollable muscle spasms, a severe loss of short-term memory, and even random swelling of her leg that would come and go.
Cleanup workers on the water claim they were literally hosed down with Corexit by planes overhead during the day. When they complained about the caustic fumes and asked for respirators and protective clothing, supervisors threatened to fire them.
Even government-contracted scientists are reporting health problems from Corexit exposure. One diver, Steve Kolian, was part of a team assigned to assess the impact the spill might have on surrounding marine life. He claims that officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assured him that it was perfectly safe to swim in Corexit-treated water — and suggests the agency may have been collaborating with BP to downplay the toxic effects of the dispersant. In the years since the spill, he’s experienced painful skin rashes and peeling, dizziness, nausea, bloody stools, and cognitive issues.
The GAP report is filled with similar stories — and, in the end, concludes that the use of Corexit to clean up the spill has been more harmful to human health and marine life than the crude oil alone would have been. In light of the report, GAP and its partners in the Gulf are demanding that the EPA ban Corexit from use in future cleanup efforts. They’re also trying to establish medical treatment programs to help the thousands of people now suffering from what they’re calling “BP Syndrome.”
Want to know what you can do to seek justice for the workers BP poisoned with Corexit? Read the full GAP report here, and then sign the petition to ban Corexit for good.
WASHINGTON — Cleanup workers, doctors, divers and Gulf Coast residents interviewed by a Washington watchdog group have reported health problems from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including blood in the urine, heart palpitations, kidney and liver damage, migraines, memory loss and reduced IQ.
A dispersant plane was photographed April 27, 2010 passing an oil skimmer working to clean the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. ( Associated Press archive)
An advocacy group for whistleblowers inside and outside government, the Government Accountability Project said that official statements from representatives of BP and the federal government about the potential dangers of chemical dispersants were false and misleading.
“Apparently, BP and the federal government intend to make Corexit’s application the standard operating procedure for oil spill cleanups,” said GAP investigator Shanna Devine, lead author of the report released Wednesday morning. “We’ve found, however, that Corexit’s use led to terrible effects on human health and the environment.”
BP spokesman Scott Dean said, “Use of dispersants during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response was coordinated with and approved by federal agencies including the US Coast Guard and EPA. Based on extensive monitoring conducted by BP and the federal agencies, BP is not aware of any data showing worker or public exposures to dispersants at levels that would pose a health or safety concern.”
Calls to the Environmental Protection Agency for comment were not immediately returned.
Devine said GAP “compiled evidence that suggest a higher than normal frequency of seafood mutations and pockets of dead ocean areas where life was previously abundant.”
GAP said documents and statements from cleanup workers and others suggests that Corexit gave the impression it was causing the oil to disappear, but the oil because “less visible, yet more toxic.”
According to the GAP report:
Federally required worker resource manuals detailing Corexit’s potential health hazards were either not delivered or removed from BP worksites early in the clean-up, as health problems began.
A government agency regulation prohibited diving during the spill due to concerns about potential health risks. Yet, the Government Accountability Project said, divers contracted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were told it was safe to go deep into Gulf waters without protective equipment,.
Nearly half the cleanup workers interviewed reported that they were threatened with termination when they tried to wear respirators or additional safety equipment.
Jorey Danos, a cleanup worker, told GAP that when he told a BP representative he’d like a respirator, he was told: “If you wear a respirator, it is bringing attention to yourself because no one else is wearing respirators. And you can get fired for that.”
In another affidavit, Kindra Arnesen, described as a Louisiana resident, said the national director of the Children’s Health Fund found a medical chest full of nebulizers during a visit to Boothville Elementary School in Plaquemines Parish.
“Where’s the red flag,” Arnesen said in her affidavit. “What is causing that many breathing problems with that number of kids? That is abnormal. At Boothville Elementary, we have sick kids all over the place who are suffering from upper respiratory infections, severe asthma, skin infections, blisters in between their fingers and arms on their legs and their feet…These kids were fine before the spill and the spraying of Corexit began.”
Dr. Michael Robichaux said he found similar symptoms among patients who had been exposed to Corexit. The symptoms, he said, “were different from anything that I had ever observed in my 40 plus years as a physician.”
“However, until people are educated about the symptoms associated with exposure to toxic waste from the spill, we cannot assume they will make the connection,” he said. “I continue to witness this disconnect and these symptoms on a daily basis.”
GAP received research help and other assistance from the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.
The continuing story of Banking fraud that you must pay for
(Washington, DC) – Labaton Sucharow LLP and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) announce their representation of a whistleblower who is alleging multi-billion dollar securities violations at Deutsche Bank, the Germany-based global investment bank. The alleged misconduct was first publicly disclosed in an article published online by the Financial Times. Dr. Eric Ben-Artzi is believed to be the first SEC whistleblower to share his story publicly.
Ben-Artzi, a former Quantitative Risk Analyst at Deutsche Bank responded, “I never wanted or expected to be a whistleblower. I reported internally first and extensively, in accordance with bank policies and procedures. As the problem was not acknowledged or corrected, I felt compelled to inform the proper law enforcement authorities. Unfortunately, my family and I are paying a heavy price for doing the right thing.”
Reported Securities Violations
Dr. Ben-Artzi discovered and internally reported possible securities violations stemming from Deutsche Bank’s failure to accurately report the value of its credit derivatives portfolio. Specifically, between mid-2007 and 2010, the bank failed to properly value the gap option component in its portfolio of Leveraged Super Senior (“LSS”) tranches of credit derivatives. The gap option is the difference between the collateral paid by the LSS note buyer and the mark-to-market expected loss that the LSS note seller agreed to cover. With a $120-$130 billion portfolio in notional value, Deutsche Bank was the largest holder of LSS trades in the marketplace. By not accurately valuing it, the bank was able to maintain its carefully crafted public image that it was weathering the financial crisis better than its peers – many of which required financial assistance from the government and experienced significant deterioration in their stock prices. Even using conservative assumptions, if the LSS portfolio had been properly valued, the bank would have substantially missed its earnings estimates. Due to these material misrepresentations, countless investors may have been harmed.
Deeply troubled by the bank’s unwillingness to acknowledge and appropriately address this significant valuation problem, Dr. Ben-Artzi sought legal representation from Labaton Sucharow and reported the possible securities violations to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission through the SEC Whistleblower Program. The program, established by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in July 2010, has broad international reach and offers eligible whistleblowers significant employment protections, monetary awards and the ability to report anonymously.
Dr. Eric Ben-Artzi has worked in positions of significant responsibility at major financial institutions. He has unique expertise with the models, assumptions and calculations necessary to properly value and assess risk associated with derivatives. Earlier, he earned his Ph.D. from the Courant Institute at New York University where he also taught undergraduate courses in mathematics and financial engineering.
“When Dr. Ben-Artzi first consulted with me, I was shocked by the size and scope of the alleged misconduct,” said Jordan Thomas, a former SEC Assistant Director and Chair of the Whistleblower Representation Practice at Labaton Sucharow. “This is exactly the type of significant and unreported securities violations that the SEC Whistleblower Program was intended to address. It is one of many high-profile matters in the pipeline.”
Dr. Ben-Artzi repeatedly attempted to work through internal reporting channels, at increasingly higher levels, to correct the valuation problem. As alleged in his retaliation complaint filed with the Department of Labor, when he pressed his concerns further, he was subjected to severe hostility, isolated, denied access to records necessary to perform his job, lost his job independence and was stripped of responsibilities. In November 2011, shortly after returning from paternity leave, Deutsche Bank informed Dr. Ben-Artzi that his position had been moved to Europe and laid him off without warning, the chance to move with his job, or a real opportunity to find a new position within the financial institution. At all times prior to this illegal employment action, Dr. Ben-Artzi had received favorable performance reviews, and when laid off, was being recruited to work in other groups within the bank due to his professional expertise and reputation. Accordingly, GAP agreed to represent Dr. Ben-Artzi in his retaliation case, alleging violations of the whistleblower protection provisions contained within the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
Tom Devine, GAP Legal Director and author of the award-winning Corporate Whistleblower’s Survival Guide, commented: “This is a classic illustration of what whistleblowers risk when trying to work within the system at firms acting in bad faith. Dr. Ben-Artzi was a model corporate citizen who discovered SEC violations that could incur serious liability, and stuck his neck out internally to warn bank management. Deutsche Bank’s response was to personally harass him, and fire him as soon as it pinned down what he knew. The retaliation was crude, and not camouflaged. Quite clearly, the point was to scare other would-be whistleblowers into silence. The lesson learned is that working within Deutsche Bank’s corporate compliance and reporting system is an act of professional suicide.”
Bank Employee ‘Know Your Rights’ Campaign
In October, GAP launched a nationwide educational campaign aimed at employees of large banks and financial institutions. This educational Know Your Rights campaign, one of the first major coordinated national efforts of its kind, seeks to inform workers of whistleblower protections and incentives that potentially apply to them, if they have witnessed or are aware of wrongdoing. Among other things, tens of thousands of leaflets were distributed at banks and financial intuitions in 15 major cities across the country, informing workers of their protections.
Dr. Ben-Artzi’s case serves as a great example of the need for this important public awareness campaign. More information can be found at http://www.BankWhistleblower.org.
Labaton Sucharow, one of the nation’s premier law firms, has been a champion of investor and consumer rights for close to 50 years. It was the first law firm in the country to establish a practice exclusively focused on protecting and advocating for whistleblowers who report possible violations of the securities laws. Building on the firm’s top ranked securities litigation platform, the Whistleblower Representation Practice leverages a world-class in-house team of investigators, financial analysts, and forensic accountants with federal and state law enforcement experience to provide unparalleled representation for whistleblowers.
The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.
Dylan Blaylock is Communications Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.
GAP Files Supreme Court Amicus as Detained, Tortured Whistleblowers take on Rumsfeld – Government Accountability Project
On March 11, 2013, GAP filed an amicus brief in support of a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court in the case of Vance v. Rumsfeld. Petitioners Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel are U.S. citizens who worked as private security contractors in Iraq. Beginning in 2005, they witnessed corruption by U.S. and Iraqi officials and, from October 2005 until April 2006, reported these abuses to the FBI. When U.S. officials learned in April 2006 that Vance and Ertel had blown the whistle, the two were arrested and held at a U.S. military prison in Iraq.
Vance was imprisoned for more than three months, and Ertel for six weeks. During that time, the U.S. military detained them incommunicado in solitary confinement and subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques (aka torture), which then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had approved for use against detainees. Specifically, Vance and Ertel were not permitted to sleep, kept in extremely cold cells, forced to listen to loud music, deprived of food and water, denied medical care, hooded, slammed into walls, and threatened. After their torture and detention for months at hands of our government, the military eventually released them without charge. Vance and Ertel brought a lawsuit for damages against the officials responsible for their torture.
In November 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit dismissed the suit holding that U.S. citizens are not entitled to bring constitutional damages claims against military officials. On Feb. 5, 2013, Loevy & Loevy, a Chicago-based civil rights law firm representing Vance and Ertel, submitted a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court. GAP submitted an amicus brief – prepared in conjunction with the Emory Law School Supreme Court Advocacy Project and signed by seven other organizations – urging the high Court to grant the petition.
The brief points out the dangers in refusing to permit individual-capacity actions. Primarily, it argues that the Seventh Circuit decision leaves U.S. citizens – working abroad or at home – with no means of redress if the government tortures them, thereby granting the military absolute immunity. Given other federal statutes in place, the Seventh Circuit’s decision also means that U.S. citizens who are tortured would have less access to judicial review than non-citizens. The brief warns that if civilians are not afforded adequate judicial protections, they may choose not to serve their country abroad as military contractors. It notes that the United States relies heavily upon contractors and cannot afford to create such a disincentive. Finally, GAP’s brief argues that overturning the Seventh’s Circuit decision will reinforce the military’s adherence to the Constitution and ensure military discipline.
New Film Explores Obama’s War on Whistleblowers and the Free Press
Four cases reveal the administration’s extraordinary crackdown on national-security whistleblowers.
—By Dana Liebelson
Americans love the idea of the whistleblower: one brave person willing to stick their neck out for the greater good, even in the face of severe blowback. Many American high school students read On Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau‘s classic treatise that urges Americans to take a stand against government’s ills. But more than 160 years later, legal protections for whistleblowers haven’t caught up with Thoreau’s ideals. Americans who disclose government misconduct risk losing their jobs and their homes—and some are prosecuted under the Espionage Act, a 1917 law originally intended for dealing with foreign spies. That’s life for national-security whistleblowers under the Obama Administration, according to a new documentary premiering next week titled War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State.
The film, a project of the Brave New Foundation, focuses on four whistleblowers: Michael DeKort, a former project manager for Lockheed Martin; Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the National Security Agency; Franz Gayl, an adviser for the Marine Corps; and Thomas Tamm, a former attorney to the Department of Justice. Each exposed grave misconduct, and each faced severe reprisals from their employers and the government. The film also includes commentary from one of the most famous whistleblowers of all time: Daniel Ellsberg, a Vietnam War analyist for the military who released the “Pentagon Papers,” which detailed US mistakes in Vietnam.
“It’s extremely dangerous in America right now to be right as a whistleblower when the government is so wrong,” says Drake, who was charged under the Espionage Act for disclosing secret warrantless surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency (the major felony charges were eventually dropped after an outpouring of public support for Drake.) “Speaking truth to power is now a criminal act.” Jane Mayer, a staff writer for The New Yorker who won the George Polk Award for her coverage of the Drake case, explains the unusual measures she had to take during the course of reporting the story. She and Drake couldn’t talk on the phone because he was being charged with leaking and there was concern of eavesdropping, so she had to meet sources in unmarked hotel rooms. “It does not feel like America, land of the free press,” she says in the film.
Michael DeKort was a lead systems engineer at Lockheed Martin, in charge of the Deepwater program for the Coast Guard. He became aware of serious problems with Lockheed’s execution of the contract. “The waterproof radios weren’t waterproof, the communications equipment could compromise national security, the electronics equipment installed outside of the boats wouldn’t survive harsh weather, and the camera surveillance system had major blind spots,” he tells Mother Jones. After his supervisors refused to listen to his complaints, he made a YouTube video exposing the problems and was dismissed by Lockheed, a move that led to a congressional hearing, the boats being taken out of service, and quite possibly, a life-saving deterrent against disaster. DeKort says he is still assisting the Department of Justice with its case against the subcontractor that performed the hull design services, but the US government “has no apparent intention to compensate me for bringing the problem to attention.”
The filmmakers take great care to emphasize the difference between leakers and whistleblowers, framing their subjects as the latter. As Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights director at the Government Accountability Project, explains, whistleblowers are employees that disclose information they “reasonably believe evidences fraud, waste, abuse or a danger to public health or safety” while leakers simply make secret information public (in many cases, whistleblowers take extreme care not to divulge classified information).
It’s a distinction the Obama Administration hasn’t always made, mounting an aggressive campaign against Drake and spearheading a multiyear investigation against Thomas Tamm, who went to the New York Times with information about George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program.
In November 2012, Obama signed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA), a law that improves protections for federal employees and makes it easier for the government to discipline employees who retaliate against whistleblowers—a crucial provision, given that many whistleblowers lose their jobs. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 also includes a section that strengthens protections for government contractors—a law that would have greatly helped DeKort’s case.
“We’ve never had a president more supportive of federal workers who blow the whistle—except when it comes to national security,” Angela Canterbury, director of public policy at the Project On Government Oversight, where I used to work, tells Mother Jones. National security and intelligence employees were left out of the WPEA, and even though the president issued a policy directive extending protections to these employees, Canterbury says that the directive has inherent problems. For one thing, it protects only whistleblowers who report wrongdoing internally—which can be self-defeating when your employer is behind the wrongdoing. Tom Devine, legal director at the Government Accountability Project, also notes that Obama is seeking new rules that would allow the government to fire thousands of employees without appeal if they work in the national-security arena. “We’ve warned the White House many times, if you put whistleblowers in jail your legacy will be defined for prosecuting them for exercising free speech rights,” says Devine.
DeKort, who blew the whistle on Lockheed, adds that the government needs to understand that “if people did the right thing, whistleblowers wouldn’t exist. When was the last time a whistleblower raised an issue that wasn’t correct? Do you know how insane you’d have to be to go through all this crap if you were wrong?”