An Appeal for More Whistleblowers

As more and more secrecy envelopes the U.S. government – with millions of hidden records concealing both past and present – there is no practical alternative for democracy but to fight back with “unauthorized” disclosures, as Norman Solomon explains in an appeal for more whistleblowers.

By Norman Solomon

Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing creates a moral frequency that vast numbers of people are eager to hear. We don’t want our lives, communities, country and world continually damaged by the deadening silences of fear and conformity.

I’ve met many whistleblowers over the years, and they’ve been extraordinarily ordinary. None were applying for halos or sainthood. All experienced anguish before deciding that continuous inaction had a price that was too high. All suffered negative consequences as well as relief after they spoke up and took action. All made the world better with their courage.

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, standing up for Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning.

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, standing up for Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning.

Whistleblowers don’t sign up to be whistleblowers. Almost always, they begin their work as true believers in the system that conscience later compels them to challenge.

“It took years of involvement with a mendacious war policy, evidence of which was apparent to me as early as 2003, before I found the courage to follow my conscience,” Matthew Hoh recalled this week. “It is not an easy or light decision for anyone to make, but we need members of our military, development, diplomatic and intelligence community to speak out if we are ever to have a just and sound foreign policy.”

Hoh describes his record this way: “After over 11 continuous years of service with the U.S. military and U.S. government, nearly six of those years overseas, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as positions within the Secretary of the Navy’s Office as a White House Liaison, and as a consultant for the State Department’s Iraq Desk, I resigned from my position with the State Department in Afghanistan in protest of the escalation of war in 2009.”

Another former Department of State official, the ex-diplomat and retired Army colonel Ann Wright, who resigned in protest of the Iraq invasion in March 2003, joined with Hoh in a ribbon-cutting — half a block from the State Department headquarters in Washington — for a billboard with a picture of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Big-lettered words begin by referring to the years he waited before releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

“Don’t do what I did,” Ellsberg says on the billboard. “Don’t wait until a new war has started, don’t wait until thousands more have died, before you tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers. You might save a war’s worth of lives.”

The billboard – sponsored by the ExposeFacts organization, which launched this week — will spread to other prominent locations in Washington and beyond. As an organizer for ExposeFacts, I’m glad to report that outreach to potential whistleblowers is just getting started. (For details, visit ExposeFacts.org.)

We’re propelled by the kind of hopeful determination that Hoh expressed the day before the billboard ribbon-cutting when he said: “I trust ExposeFacts and its efforts will encourage others to follow their conscience and do what is right.”

The journalist Kevin Gosztola, who has astutely covered a range of whistleblower issues for years, pointed this week to the imperative of opening up news media.

“There is an important role for ExposeFacts to play in not only forcing more transparency, but also inspiring more media organizations to engage in adversarial journalism,” he wrote. “Such journalism is called for in the face of wars, environmental destruction, escalating poverty, egregious abuses in the justice system, corporate control of government, and national security state secrecy. Perhaps a truly successful organization could inspire U.S. media organizations to play much more of a watchdog role than a lapdog role when covering powerful institutions in government.”

Overall, we desperately need to nurture and propagate a steadfast culture of outspoken whistleblowing. A central motto of the AIDS activist movement dating back to the 1980s – Silence = Death – remains urgently relevant in a vast array of realms. Whether the problems involve perpetual war, corporate malfeasance, climate change, institutionalized racism, patterns of sexual assault, toxic pollution or countless other ills, none can be alleviated without bringing grim realities into the light.

“All governments lie,” Ellsberg says in a video statement released for the launch of ExposeFacts, “and they all like to work in the dark as far as the public is concerned, in terms of their own decision-making, their planning — and to be able to allege, falsely, unanimity in addressing their problems, as if no one who had knowledge of the full facts inside could disagree with the policy the president or the leader of the state is announcing.”

Ellsberg adds: “A country that wants to be a democracy has to be able to penetrate that secrecy, with the help of conscientious individuals who understand in this country that their duty to the Constitution and to the civil liberties and to the welfare of this country definitely surmount their obligation to their bosses, to a given administration, or in some cases to their promise of secrecy.”

Right now, our potential for democracy owes a lot to people like NSA whistleblowers William Binney and Kirk Wiebe, and EPA whistleblower Marsha Coleman-Adebayo. When they spoke at the June 4 news conference in Washington that launched ExposeFacts, their brave clarity was inspiring.

Antidotes to the poisons of cynicism and passive despair can emerge from organizing to help create a better world. The process requires applying a single standard to the real actions of institutions and individuals, no matter how big their budgets or grand their power. What cannot withstand the light of day should not be suffered in silence.

If you see something, say something.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, which launched ExposeFacts.org in early June. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

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5 comments on “An Appeal for More Whistleblowers

  1. F. G. Sanford on said:

    Ok, ok, you convinced me. I’m gonna go ahead and blow the whistle. Here goes:

    The U. S. Congress is influenced by foreign agents posing as lobbyists.
    Corporations which contribute money to terrorist organizations are successfully blocking the JASTA Act.
    Pat Tillman was killed by “friendly fire”.
    Al Qaida terrorists may benefit from the aid we supply to the opposition in Syria.
    The regime we installed in Ukraine is run by Nazi sympathizers.
    There were no “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.
    Fees paid to Hillary Clinton for “speaking engagements” by Goldman Sachs and others are a way to make illicit campaign contributions.
    Rampant financial crimes by the banking sector are never prosecuted because most of the lawyers at DOJ worked for the law firms that represent them or plan to work for them when they leave DOJ.
    The Bush/Cheney administration tortured people at “black site” prisons.
    Foreign Aid to countries with undeclared nuclear weapons arsenals is a violation of the Symington Amendment.
    Foreign Aid to governments toppled by military coups d’etat is a violation of U.S. Public Law.
    The 28 redacted pages of the 9/11 Commission Report may indicate Saudi Government complicity.
    Israel conducts espionage against the U.S. Government, and many “dual citizenship” Israelis have occupied sensitive posts as non-elected U.S. officials with access to classified information.
    Clay Shaw was a highly paid CIA asset.
    Cliven Bundy successfully defeated the U.S. Government’s attempts to collect his taxes.
    George W. Bush was warned of the impending 9/11 attacks in the August 6th Presidential Daily Brief.
    Ronald Reagan negotiated with terrorists in the “Arms for Hostages” deal.
    The “FED” is a private banking cartel which creates debt in order to profit from tax revenue.

    I know, I know. These revelations may set off a firestorm of outrage and moral indignity, but somebody has to do it. These revelations could change everything. If y’all never hear from me again, it’s because I’ve been “indefinitely detained” in violation of my Constitutional rights.

    • Joe Tedesky on said:

      Now, truth be told, Secretary of War Edwin M Stanton was behind Lincoln’s assassination. John Wilkes Booth died in 1903 under the name of David E George. There ya go FG now we both can be detained in GITMO.

  2. @F.G.

    By what means was Cliven Bundy successful at avoiding tax federal tax collection and were those means legal?

    Cliven Bundy has avoided grazing fees–illegally. The taxes thing is news to me.

  3. HISTORICVS on said:

    There was another Bradley Manning in 1940. His name was Tyler Kent, and he was a young code clerk stationed at the U.S. embassy in London. This was an especially important position because all diplomatic dispatches from American missions across Europe to Washington were routed through the London embassy’s code room.

    When Kent began work, U.S. law and overwhelming public sentiment seemed to insure that America would avoid entanglement in the European war. But from his special vantage point in London, Kent quickly learned that President Roosevelt was doing everything in his power to subvert the law and deceive the people in order to get America into war.

    Kent decided to make copies or summaries of diplomatic dispatches documenting Roosevelt’s secret policies and somehow bring them to the attention of sympathetic congressmen and senators. The most important and incriminating of these was the top secret correspondence between Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, which began with a letter from the President dated 11 September 1939.

    In this secret correspondence, the two leaders conspired to insure that the United States government would secretly tolerate British violations of American territorial sovereignty and restrictions on neutral American shipping. The two men wanted to avoid any embarrassing incidents that would provoke public indignation in America over the illegal British actions. They also worked out procedures for joint British-American naval reporting of the location of German surface raiders and submarines which violated at least the spirit if not the letter of United States neutrality.

    Kent was arrested at his post in May 1940, charged with having violated the British Official Secrets Act. “For a purpose prejudicial to the safety and interests of the state,” the charge stated, Kent had “obtained a document which might be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy.” He was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released and returned to the United States after serving five. The U.S. government implied that he was a spy for Germany, rather than an American hero, and maintains the lie to this day.