In praise of whistleblowers

Back in 1981, the US Justice Department did an inquiry into possible criminal activities of the National Security Agency, which in those long-before-Snowden days was a little known agency. Veteran investigative reporter James Bamford, now writing for The Intercept, got from a whistleblower one of the only two copies of the report and describes how he had to fend off all attempts by them to prevent him from publishing it. They failed, partly because at that time the Justice Department was not as subservient to the national security state as it has since become.

Bamford concludes:

Without adequate oversight, or penalties for abuse, the only protection that citizens have comes not from Congress or the courts, but from whistleblowers. As one myself, albeit in the most minor capacity, I understand what motivates someone to expose wrongdoing masquerading as patriotism. There is no graduate school for whistleblowing and no handbook for whistleblowers. It’s an imperfect science, and whistleblowers learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Tom Drake, Bill Binney and Kirk Wiebe all came from different backgrounds and worked in different fields. None joined the intelligence community to become a whistleblower, but each was driven by unchecked government abuse to tell the public what they knew to be true.

The solution is not to jail the whistleblowers, or to question the patriotism of those who tell their stories, but to do what Attorney General Edward Levi courageously attempted to do more than a third of a century ago – to have the criminal division of the Justice Department conduct a thorough investigation, and then to prosecute any member of the intelligence community who has broken the law, whether by illegally spying on Americans or by lying to Congress.

I would be happy to lend my copy of the NSA’s criminal file to Attorney General Eric Holder, if he would like to see how to begin. Or he can read it here.

It is a fascinating story from history showing how much worse things have become. People like Bamford and Daniel Ellsberg did this kind of work at a time when the entire government had not been devoured by the voracious national security state and there was at least a semblance of due process and openness.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Attorney General Edward Levi courageously attempted …

    Yabbut he worked for Jimmy Carter, and nobody in politics now will ever do anything Carteresque again.

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