As we get closer to November 2018, many people are thinking about voting out the corrupt representatives who have plagued our government. Candidates and incumbents alike are pushing campaign ads and sending postcards; some are even knocking on doors. If the committed voter numbers in November are anything like the hype we’re hearing, this will be a voter turnout for the history books. And with the political environment being what it is, we can see why.
News that Russia had hacked into our election systems rocked many Americans, and the belief that we, the people, have a patriotic duty to vote, and take our country back, is strong. The feeling of needing to rid our government of the money-hungry representatives who are only in office to line their pockets is overwhelming among any group that talks politics these days. Of course, voting corruption out should be Priority One, but then shouldn’t Priority Two be finding candidates who fit what we want and need as Americans? Are we asking our candidates, who want our votes, everything that we should be asking them? Probably not.
There’s so much going on week to week, and even day to day, that it’s hard to keep up with all the political agendas arising, that we once thought were safe. Because of how busy we are, and how much things change day to day, just because an issue deserves our attention, doesn’t always mean it will receive our attention, and that could be a big mistake in one case. If there’s one issue that deserves our attention and has been overlooked, it would have to be the one that is pertinent to identifying and alerting the proper authorities, including the general public, of illegal, immoral and corrupt activities in order to keep corruption out.
This one issue, that many don’t think about, and has gone largely unspoken, is whistleblower protections. Fraud and corruption run through our government like a snake slithering through high grass. It can be hard for the decent high-level government officials to spot, because it succeeds as it’s concealed right under their noses. Lower-level officials and private citizens, by contrast, sometimes have an advantage of seeing it from the outside, or a bird’s-eye view.
America does have a few different whistleblower protections in place, but they definitely need to be looked at and amended in order to fill the gaps for those who should be protected, as well as to address the broken chain of commands that happen when an official decides to sweep something under the rug and be complacent. One must simply look at the case of Reality Winner, among other whistleblowers, for a prime example of why these laws need to be changed.
Winner is the NSA contractor and Air Force veteran with six years’ service who allegedly leaked information (information that’s now public knowledge and should no longer be classified) in order to warn her fellow American citizens that Russia was indeed hacking our elections. She was arrested after she allegedly released a single document to the online media outlet, The Intercept, during the time period Donald Trump was still denying Russia’s involvement. This was back in late May, early June, 2017, and she was charged under the Espionage Act.
The Espionage Act is over 100 years old, passed in 1917, and was originally designed to prevent support of foreign spies as well as interference with military operations and recruitment. The act has been back and forth in court, with lawyers arguing over its constitutionality. However, since the act states that it’s illegal to obtain information relating to national defense or deliver it to a person who is not entitled to it, the government has been able to use the Espionage Act against Winner. This serves a few purposes.
First, the word espionage is in the charge and most people know that espionage means spying. This gives the (corrupt) government the upper hand to start off with. When you don’t release any information to the media except for a charge and what a person is alleged to have done, many people already make up their minds, before fact finding or even a trial. To them, Winner is a spy.
Next, charging Winner with the Espionage Act makes it easier for the government prosecution to request that things not be included in the trial. For example: Winner’s defense team, and Winner herself, are not allowed to refer to the document she’s alleged to have released, and they’re also not allowed to reference any news coverage of Russian hacking attempts. This means that neither the judge nor the jury will be able to hear Winner say, for example, that she was trying to help her fellow Americans by warning them of the hacking, and that she was not trying to harm anyone.
Additionally, the act allows the government to keep everything around the document, including Winner herself, silenced and secret, while simultaneously making any argument against Winner they please. Winner has remained jailed and cannot make any public statements, and reporters are not allowed to visit her. During one of the four detention hearings, which Winner was denied pre trial bond each time, the government argued, and was affirmed by the Judge, that there was no telling what information Winner maintains in her head because she is highly intelligent, served in the Air Force and worked at the NSA. Therefore, it was argued, and affirmed, she could be a danger to the United States if released on pre trial bond. Winner has been in jail for over 10 months, and will remain in jail, pre trial, for over a year, until her court date that is set for October 15. (This information being contingent on the court and/or prosecution not requesting the trial date being postponed any further.)
So, why is the government able to get away with this if we have whistleblower protections in place? That has a lot to do with the holes and gaps in the protections we do have. The following is what the United States currently has in place for whistleblowers:
*The Sarbanes-Oxley Act & Dodd-Frank Law (SOX & Dodd-Frank) for corporate whistleblowers.
*The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) for government whistleblowers (other than national security and intelligence ones.)
*The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) which may cover some employees who are not covered by WPEA.
*The Presidential Policy Directive (PPD-19) which covers intelligence community employees.
SOX & Dodd-Frank are important because they help protect corporate whistleblowers of financial crimes that cost our government, and by extension the American people, a lot of money. Both laws were implemented to ensure that corporations don’t retaliate against whistleblowing employees. Unfortunately, government whistleblowers, especially in the national security & intelligence fields, are not afforded these same protections, and we need them to.
Government whistleblowers do have some protection under WPEA, in that the government cannot take negative personnel actions against those employees who make protected disclosures. However, those prohibited negative actions do not include the most severe form of retaliation against a whistleblowing employee, which is criminal prosecution. So, yes, these whistleblowers have protection from losing their jobs, but they can still be arrested. How does one keep one’s employment while fighting a criminal charge from that employer, which happens to be the US government?
In researching these protections, I spoke with attorney Jesselyn Radack, who specializes in whistleblower cases and is the current director of Whistleblower & Source Protection (WHISPeR) at @xposefacts. Radack added:
“Moreover, the WPEA does NOT apply to employees in positions of a ‘confidential’ or ‘policymaking’ nature — a wide swath of national security whistleblowers. Nor does it apply to anyone in the FBI, CIA, NSA, or any other executive body engaged in primarily foreign intelligence or counter-intel activity. (The FBI has its own regulatory system, which suffers from a number of fatal flaws.) These agencies often have a broad, complex, and murky overlap with national security. It seems counter-intuitive, but the bedrock whistleblower protection law does not cover some of the better-known national security whistleblowers: Edward Snowden and Thomas Drake (NSA), John Kiriakou (CIA), Sibel Edmonds (FBI), and Chelsea Manning (Army intelligence).”
This is alarming when you think about the information that these whistleblowers have shared with the American people:
*Snowden told us that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on American citizens.
*Drake tried to warn his superiors in NSA of illegal activities, waste and mismanagement, but when those warnings went nowhere, he went to the press to let the American people know.
*Kiriakou let us know about the torture that the Central Intelligence Agency was authorizing.
*Edmonds was the FBI translator who blew the whistle on the incompetence and sloppy work in the FBI translation departments, and who was told by superiors to work slower so that the bureau might justify demands for a bigger budget.
*Manning released information to Wikileaks about the Afghan and Iraqi wars, such as video footage of an Apache helicopter killing 12 civilians in Baghdad in 2007, causing growing embarrassment to the US government.
It’s all information that we, as Americans, should know that’s going on in our government. This information is important, especially, if we want to understand world politics and hopefully seek a more peaceful coexistence with other countries. Or at the least, be the shining example of justice and equality for those other countries.
Then there is the ICWPA, which may cover some employees who are not covered by the WPEA, and it allows them to report concerns to the agencies’ Inspector Generals, then up the chain to the congressional intelligence committees. Two issues arise with this though: Inspector General (IG) offices, because they are independent within the federal agencies, sit vacant for long periods of time (which means there isn’t anyone to report to) or an IG has his or her own political ideology and retaliates against the employee he or she is there to protect.
Lastly, we have the PPD-19, which requires Intelligence Community agencies to provide employees with protection from retaliation if they disclose classified information to a supervisor, their agency head, the relevant Inspector General, or the Director of National Intelligence. It has plenty of gaps. PPD-19 does not apply to employees in positions of policymaking, or to members of the military. There is also no alternative offered if an agency is the subject of the whistleblowing and the approved channels of reporting shut it down. Also, an agency head may simply state that the agency needs to fire the whistleblower for national security purposes in order to end any further inquiry into the matter.
These whistleblower protections were designed to help end corruption, but with the gaps abundant in most of them, it becomes more clear as to why corruption continues. We must vote in candidates that plan on looking into these gaps and are committed to helping protect our whistleblowers. If not, more people will be swayed away from telling the truth when they see something illegal going on. We push, “See something, say something,” to our kids, but then punish our adults. Is that what we want for our country?
We also need to ask candidates and sitting legislatures to reform the laws relating to charging US citizens under the Espionage Act and to seek revisions to this antiquated law. Is it fair to call Americans traitors and spies if none of the characteristics fit? Is it fair to threaten Americans with 10 years of imprisonment for acts meant to save our democracy?
Talk to your candidates today. Ask them to help fill the gaps in our whistleblower protections. Tell them if they want help in ending the corruption by handing over our votes to them, they need to help us, by pledging to protect us from our own government. And lastly, tell them that we are all paying attention and that we support Reality Winner, along with the other brave whistleblowers that put their freedom at risk to tell their fellow American citizens the truth.
** Helpful Websites**
Whistleblower and Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts:
Stand With Reality & Friends of Reality Winner:
Write to Your Reps Here: