More than two dozen national security whistleblowers, lawyers and public
interest advocates gathered Monday night in a pristine fishing village on Virginia's
eastern shore to discuss strategies for strengthening legal protections against
reprisal and to exchange stories.
Participants in the three-day National Security Whistleblowers Conference include
former and current employees of some of the government's most secretive agencies,
including the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, CIA and
FBI. The event was funded by five advocacy groups: the National Security Whistleblowers
Coalition, the Project on Government Oversight, the Fund for Constitutional
Government, the Cavallo Foundation and the Fertel Foundation.
As night settled over Chincoteague Bay, NSA whistleblower Russ Tice chatted
with noted national security lawyer Roy Krieger. Members of the National Security
Whistleblowers Coalition, a group founded by FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds,
plotted legislative and publicity strategies. And Daniel Ellsberg, the former
Marine who leaked the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War to the media in
1971, met the latest military whistleblower on the block: intelligence specialist
Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, who has stirred up a frenzy in Washington by reporting
that a classified Army program identified one of the main ringleaders of the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks more than a year before they occurred.
Most of the whistleblowers at the conference said they were ardent conservatives
or lifelong Republicans. But their experiences have brought them into a world
where they mingle with representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union
and Democratic lawmakers.
Conference participants said they'd spent the better part of their careers in
government or military service, and had never thought about going public with
their allegations, which ranged from suspected espionage inside national security
agencies to criminal misconduct by superiors. But efforts to report allegations
and complaints through their formal chains of command failed, they said, leaving
them no alternative but to become public whistleblowers.
Through panel discussions and keynote speeches, participants told their stories,
heard from organizations that support whistleblowers, and discussed legal, legislative
and media strategies. They talked of building a sustained movement that will
help career civil servants, military service members and government contractors
"We are here to stay," Edmonds said. "We have different ideologies,
we have different personalities, we have different agencies, but we have a common
That goal, they say, is government accountability, which includes strong congressional
oversight and protections for employees who disclose suspected wrongdoing at
national security agencies.
Perhaps more than anything, though, the conference was a way for whistleblowers
to lend each other moral support. Reporting wrongdoing can be a lonely and intimidating
experience, participants said. Most felt they were penalized and their careers
ruined for reporting their allegations. Some said they have gone deeply in debt
as a result of litigating complaints. Most whistleblowers don't win their complaints
or lawsuits, participants said.
"The key thing is being able to stay with it, and that it is a long-term
struggle," said former CIA analyst Patrick Eddington, whose 1997 book,
Gassed in the Gulf, was one of the first to comprehensively examine Gulf War
"At the end of the day, if you're going to make a decision to move forward,
you either have to do it relatively clandestine and try to shield your involvement,
or you have to make a decision to go completely all the way outside the organization
and go public in order to try to shine the spotlight on the problem," Eddington
added. "Trying to do something in between is the worst of both worlds,
because nobody's in a position to protect you and you wind up being in a position
of maximum exposure."
Meetings like this one, however, give whistleblowers and advocacy organizations
hope, said Danielle Brian, POGO's executive director.
"If nothing else, it's tremendously important for these isolated individuals
to get together and realize they're not alone and they are suffering some very
similar situations," Brian said.
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