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'War on Whistleblowers' Shows Heroes Pay Heavy Price

Capitol Fence

In Robert Greenwald’s new documentary, War on Whistleblowers, Marine Corps senior science advisor Franz Gayl says his decision to speak out in 2007 came down to a simple question:

“I had to do something. If not me, then who?”

Thanks to Gayl’s decision to expose the Pentagon’s delays in getting armored vehicles to troops in Iraq, the Pentagon sped up the production and delivery of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) and the lives of thousands of troops were saved.

But Gayl and three other whistleblowers featured in Greenwald’s film paid a stiff price for their decision to speak out about the abuses they saw. All four men faced retaliation from supervisors.

  • Gayl lost his security clearance, which effectively kept him from working.  A federal board later found in favor of Gayl and blocked the Marine Corps’ attempt to put him on an “indefinite suspension.”
  • Thomas Drake, a National Security Agency official who exposed waste and abuse within the agency, was prosecuted under the Espionage Act. He was later vindicated when the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor.
  • Michael DeKort, a project manager for Lockheed Martin, lost his job (he’s now facing foreclosure of his home) for exposing flaws in the ships the contractor was building for the U.S. Coast Guard.  
  • Thomas Tamm, a Department of Justice lawyer who blew the whistle on warrantless wiretapping under the Bush administration, also lost his job. Tamm was investigated for violating the Espionage Act, though he was never charged.

Unfortunately, what happened to these whistleblowers underscores the growing secrecy in America’s national security state.  Nowhere is that more evident than the Obama administration’s unprecedented prosecution of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act.

It’s a paradox of sorts. Because on one hand, President Obama last year signed an executive order that strengthened protections for national security and intelligence whistleblowers but on the other hand has prosecuted more media "leakers" under the Espionage Act than all other administrations combined.

This week, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and other whistleblower advocates launched petitions asking President Obama to do more to protect whistleblowers. The petitions, which were timed with the documentary’s premiere, tell President Obama:

“Your administration is at odds with itself on whistleblowers. You must shrink the growing secrecy in the national security state, end the prosecutions of so- called leakers, and end the pursuit of a national security loophole to whistleblower rights and the rule of law in the federal civil service.  Without these steps, your promises to have an open and accountable government will not have credibility. “

POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian, who appears in the movie, says whistleblowers are heroes.

“And we need to be doing everything we can to protect them, to make sure they have what it takes to protect our safety and our freedom,” Brian says in the film.” We can’t let them fight this fight alone.”

Hopefully, the War on Whistleblowers will draw attention to what’s at stake.

WOW Panel

From left to right, moderator Abbe Lowell, former DOJ attorney and whistleblower Thomas Tamm, former acting general counsel for the CIA John Rizzo, USA Today reporter Tom Vanden Brook and Project On Government Oversight Executive Director Danielle Brian.

After the Washington, D.C. screening at the Newseum, a panel discussed some of the issues raised by the movie. One of the panelists, John Rizzo, the former acting general counsel for the CIA, said the documentary even made him question why some of the whistleblowers were treated the way the were.

But while all four men featured in the documentary suffered personally and professionally, they say the price for staying silent would have been far worse.

“It’s not like I didn’t think about that, it’s not like I didn’t understand it. I just decided that I didn’t want a guilty conscience,” DeKort says in the film.

The documentary premiered this week in Washington and New York and will be shown in Los Angeles next week. And while it’s only scheduled for brief theatrical releases in New York and Los Angeles, a free DVD of the film is available to people who commit to hosting a home screening for friends and families.

Images courtesy of Brave New Films and Joe Newman.

By: Joe Newman
Director of Communications, POGO

joe newman Joe Newman is the Director of Communications for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Whistleblower Protections

Related Content: Defense, Government Secrecy, Mine Resistant Armored Protection (MRAP), Videos

Authors: Joe Newman

Submitted by NuncNunc at: April 28, 2013
I received an email from the White House asking for a nominee of someone who has performed exemplary deed of service for their country or their fellow citizens. The nominee must have performed service “outside their regular jobs and 1. Demonstrated commitment to service to their community or to a community further from home; 2. Helped their country or their fellow citizens through one or more extraordinary acts; 3. Whose service relates to a long term or persistent problem; 4. Whose service has had a sustained impact on others’ lives and provided inspiration for others to serve. I nominated Bradley Manning and referred to the video of American soldiers killing innocent Iraq citizens.
Submitted by Jamesmmm at: April 22, 2013
all people who have worked for 5 or more years in a particular sector or government area (that's city, state or federal) knows where some of the bodies are buried...unless they keep steadfastly looking the other way...
Submitted by Jack at: April 21, 2013
Whistle blowers are heroes not criminals.
Submitted by Anonymous at: April 20, 2013
For all you do.
Submitted by PROUD NAVY DAD at: April 20, 2013
Darius I too have come the end of my OSHA 11c whistleblower case and have made the same conclusion that honesty does not pay. With the evidence I have provided with time lines of warning my employer, coworkers testimoney,documentation,e mails,even a top OSHA official provided me inside OSHA documentation in of all place OSHA's office in Philadelphia like a scene out of a movie that helped me expose the crimes commited there still is no justice.GOD HELP US West Texas good luck with an honest investigation by OSHA.
Submitted by L at: April 20, 2013
Support whistleblowers --- they are our road to honesty.
Submitted by Porfiria at: April 20, 2013
I am not so sure it's the national security that they are protecting, its more the profits of the military industrial complex which has expanded its reach into every area in which dollars are available. It's not just at the federal level. The profiteers are trying to hijack Medicaid dollars in Florida. The legislature will try to privatize Medicaid under a loophole in federal regulation that is being closed under a "proposed" federal reg. If nothing else, the State will spend more time in court defending their position at the expense of the taxpayer.
Submitted by CityguyUSA at: April 20, 2013
We ought to offer a fund that pays for their defense.
Submitted by Anonymous at: April 20, 2013
I am shocked and horrified at the way Pres Obama, a president I have always strongly supported, has been treating whislteblowers. These brave and indespensible people have kept our democracy safe, going back at least to the Pentagon Papers. As a nation, we cannot afford to have them persecuted the way they are now.
Submitted by alecto bell at: April 20, 2013
The older I get, the more it appears that too often doing the Right thing leads to negative consequences, especially for those taking the most risk. Until this changes at the highest levels, we will never have improvement in our society. Are we a culture that punishes those who do the right thing? The answer is too often, 'yes.'
Submitted by Darius at: April 18, 2013
I am also facing foreclosure from my termination for being a whistleblower concerning a large defense contractor and their alledged (presently) violations in dealing with a government entity. It is a hard row to hoe and quite honestly, with the current situation, I have to ask myself whether I would (in retrospect) make the same decission. There is no protection for us. Only the waiting for the case to come about and the potential for vindication (possibly) but it comes AFTER the damage to our personal lives has been done. God Bless brothers and sisters. May we all stay strong and build (through our efforts) a better and more efficient Nation where people deal honestly with their Government and do not see it as an open piggy bank.

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