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The Perfect Storm of Whistleblowing -- Our Duty, Our Dilemma

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2011 Washington Whistleblower Assembly

- A Conference for Accountability -

19 September 2011

Thomas Drake - Keynote




"No tyranny is more cruel than that which is practiced in the shadow of the law and with the trappings of justice: that is, one would drown the unfortunate by the very plank by which he would hope to be saved."  - Montesquieu

Today we assemble together at the center of a perfect storm for whistleblowing - defined by our conscience of duty to speak out while challenged by the real dilemma of making our world and our welfare a better place -- by placing at great risk our own personal and professional well-being. 

I also stand here in front of you and speak before you to sound the alarm and ring the warning bell regarding what power and politics will attempt to do in this country against a whistleblower and a government simply willing to grant itself a license to violate the central liberties and civil rights I took an oath to defend as a public servant four times in my government career -- twice in the military, at the CIA and then the NSA.


We face both enormous challenges to prevail as individual whistleblowers, as well as real opportunities as a whistleblowing community through enhanced law, ethics, public outreach, advocacy and reform because whistleblowers are now needed more than ever.

The paradox is that we truly inhabit a whistleblowing rich environment while facing truly great and persistent perils when exposing and disclosing malfeasance, corruption, and wrongdoing in the workplace.

Our perfect storm is created by the nexus of power and politics in the halls and shadows of government, within our private and public institutions, the corporate executive suites, and the company boardrooms -- where secrecy and withholding are often the order of the day in doing business, while openness and transparency are considered anathema and increasingly a threat to the status quo.

And yet by the very inherent nature of whistleblowing our protection and our security are most often violated by the very institutions we serve. Our daily dilemma is quite palpable. The conflict we face and its consequences are all too real. What takes priority? Blowing the whistle on corruption, cronyism, and the ills and wrongs of the status quo, or just remaining silent - letting loyalty and obeisance to the company and institution preserve one's job, one's career and one's security?
Let me just say it - whistleblower protection is all too shallow and mostly a house of cards.

There is no alternative to silence.

Yet let there also be no misunderstanding. The current challenges we face as a whistleblower community are unprecedented in a climate increasingly characterized by fear, intimidation, retribution, reprisal and retaliation.
Back in 2002, whistleblowers in the persons of Worldcom's Cynthia Copper, Enron's Sherron Watkins and FBI's Coleen Rowley were lauded and made the People of the Year for Time magazine. Almost a decade later whistleblowers are now pasted on the wanted posters by the federal government.
Our circumstances raise a most troubling question - Are we as whistleblowers individually and collectively becoming an increasingly endangered species?

We hear of the egregious public cases, but there are many more cases that never make the press or see the light of day. How many other whistleblowers suffer in silence, have no voice, and pay their own very tragic personal and professional price -- sacrificing career over conscience with little or no support?

We need to ask of ourselves the hard question - Is past the prologue - in the present campaign of pursuing, punishing, persecuting and prosecuting whistleblowers - becoming the most troubling future norm?

One most disturbing trend is the federal government's truly unprecedented war on whistleblowers.

For example, whistleblowers in the government increasingly face prosecution (or worse), with little or no protection -- even under existing laws - laws that clearly come up way short - hollow means that often expose whistleblowers to the very things they disclose!

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From 2001 through 2008, Mr. Drake was a senior executive at the National Security Agency (NSA) and served in various technical management and leadership capacities. While there he became a material witness and whistleblower for two 9/11 congressional investigations and a Department of Defense Inspector General audit of a failed multi-billion dollar flagship program called TRAILBLAZER as well as an operationally ready, highly innovative, revolutionary and breakthrough multi-million dollar intelligence data collection, processing and analysis system called THINTHREAD -- that was specifically designed to handle the massive data volumes and information flows of the Digital Age, with built-in 4th Amendment and privacy protection safeguards for U.S. Persons, but rejected by NSA.  His recently concluded legal ordeal involving a targeted, multi-year, many millions of dollars federal government investigation and prosecution of him, ended when the Department of Justice dropped all of the felony charges in the indictment against him (including the Espionage Act) in a plea agreement to a minor misdemeanor. His case lies at the nexus of overreaching national security, the 1st and 4th Amendments, wrongdoing and illegalties cloaked in secrecy, overclassification, a unitary executive branch state secrets privilege hiding 'off the books' domestic warrantless wiretapping, electronic surveillance, eavesdropping and data mining, freedom of thought and association, as well as the alarming erosion of our civil liberties and the enshrined rights in the Constitution. Mr. Drake was the recipient of the 2011 Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize and currently works as an Expert at an Apple Retail Store in the greater D.C. area.

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The Perfect Storm of Whistleblowing -- Our Duty, Our Dilemma

UPDATE: I was First Whistleblower Prosecuted Under the Espionage Act in Recent Government Rampage

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Policy makers are not all angels and saints. Pass ... by . . on Thursday, Sep 22, 2011 at 9:41:53 AM
Thank you for your service to the People of this n... by steve windisch on Thursday, Sep 22, 2011 at 12:11:01 PM
"The truth is usually not welcomed by the authorit... by E. J. N. on Thursday, Sep 22, 2011 at 1:15:45 PM
Just Imagine. If humanity had listened to the word... by E. J. N. on Thursday, Sep 22, 2011 at 1:26:19 PM
When enough things are exposed all of the bs going... by Michael Dewey on Thursday, Sep 22, 2011 at 3:40:48 PM
Whistleblower Extraordinaire Bradley Manning. What... by Kathleen O'Grady on Thursday, Sep 22, 2011 at 11:28:53 PM
We the people have to go to the King's courts to c... by Steven G. Erickson on Saturday, Sep 24, 2011 at 8:13:07 AM