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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