Whistleblowers Need Protection

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Last week I did a long post arguing that current whistleblower protections for those who want to complain about wrongdoing by the government are hardly sufficient to ensure that everything that needs reporting gets reported. Today the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have a new editorial out that puts this issue in historical perspective and comes to a similar conclusion. The relevant parts below are well worth reading in full:

In the 1980s, CIA employee Richard Barlow discovered that Pakistan, with the blessing of the Reagan and Bush I administrations, was able to buy restricted nuclear technology-related items in the United States. Barlow also unmasked a coordinated attempt by the U.S. intelligence community to lie to Congress about Pakistan’s activities. The result? His security clearance was suspended, and he lost his job. The Reagan and Bush I administrations covered up Barlow’s discoveries because, at the time, they needed Pakistan’s help to fund and supply the Afghans in their bloody fight with the Soviets.

This was not merely a problem restricted to the presidencies of that era. The then-Democratically controlled Congress steadfastly refused to address the dangerous issues that Barlow raised and was only too happy to try to move them out of the public eye. We are now paying the price for this shortsightedness–what Barlow had discovered was an early incarnation of physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan’s illegal, international nuclear proliferation network. Khan, known as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, has been under house arrest since February 2004. In October 2005, President George W. Bush declared that “The United States . . . has exposed and disrupted a major blackmarket operation in nuclear technology led by A. Q. Khan.” But that disruption should have come nearly 20 years ago, when Barlow first raised the alarm. Khan’s underground network could have been halted before he leaked nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

In light of what happened to Barlow, is it likely that anyone would come forward in similar circumstances now? His case is hardly unique, a fact attested to by the very existence of our organization, the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition. Our members include Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who reported that Operation Able Danger had information on 9/11 terrorist Mohammed Atta’s cell well before the attacks. (Shaffer was subsequently labeled untrustworthy, in part because he admitted to taking government dime pens out of an embassy when he was a high school intern, and his security clearance was revoked.) And then there’s Sandalio Gonzalez, a 32-year law enforcement agent, who was forced into retirement for questioning–in an internal memorandum–the federal government’s complicity in up to 15 murders in Mexico.

Bureaucrats are playing ducks and drakes with our lives. It is crucial to take measures to prevent retaliation against whistleblowers and to encourage accountability within national security agencies. Retaliation against whistleblowers should be criminalized. The precedent for such legislation already exists, in that the judicial system prosecutes people for obstruction of justice and for witness tampering. To further safeguard the rights of conscientious federal employees, agencies and administrators who retaliate against whistleblowers should be made liable for civil damages, much as they are presently liable for damages in the event of racial or sexual discrimination. And, in order to obviate the painful choice between career and conscience, employees terminated or punitively reassigned for reporting wrongdoing should be awarded their full retirement as if they had continued on in employment. When national security employees charged with securing the well-being of the nation feel confident in reporting malfeasance, the nation as a whole will be much safer.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate