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What happens to the likes of Dr. Kelsey at the F.D.A. today? Sadly, modern-day whistleblowers -- whether in government, industry or even the press -- more often than not face severe career reprisals, legal action and sometimes imprisonment, like Pvt. Bradley Manning jailed for allegedly leaking classified government documents to WikiLeaks. Rarely do truth-tellers get presidential awards.
Which reminds me of an open letter that I and eight other veterans of government service signed nearly eight years ago, on Sept. 9, 2004. Our "Truth-Telling Coalition" directed an appeal to "Current Government Officials." We wrote:
It is time for unauthorized truth telling.
Citizens cannot make informed choices if they do not have the facts -- for example, the facts that have been wrongly concealed about the ongoing war in Iraq: the real reasons behind it, the prospective costs in blood and treasure, and the setback it has dealt to efforts to stem terrorism. Administration deception and cover-up on these vital matters has so far been all too successful in misleading the public.
Many Americans are too young to remember Vietnam. Then, as now, senior government officials did not tell the American people the truth. Now, as then, insiders who know better have kept their silence, as the country was misled into the most serious foreign policy disaster since Vietnam.- Advertisement -
Some of you have documentation of wrongly concealed facts and analyses that -- if brought to light -- would impact heavily on public debate regarding crucial matters of national security, both foreign and domestic. We urge you to provide that information now, both to Congress and, through the media, to the public.
Thanks to our First Amendment, there is in America no broad Officials Secrets Act, nor even a statutory basis for the classification system. Only very rarely would it be appropriate to reveal information of the three types whose disclosure has been expressly criminalized by Congress: communications intelligence, nuclear data, and the identity of U.S. intelligence operatives. However, this administration has stretched existing criminal laws to cover other disclosures in ways never contemplated by Congress.
There is a growing network of support for whistleblowers. In particular, for anyone who wishes to know the legal implications of disclosures they may be contemplating, the ACLU stands ready to provide pro bono legal counsel, with lawyer-client privilege. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) will offer advice on whistle blowing, dissemination and relations with the media.- Advertisement -
Needless to say, any unauthorized disclosure that exposes your superiors to embarrassment entails personal risk. Should you be identified as the source, the price could be considerable, including loss of career and possibly even prosecution. Some of us know from experience how difficult it is to countenance such costs. But continued silence brings an even more terrible cost, as our leaders persist in a disastrous course and young Americans come home in coffins or with missing limbs.
This is precisely what happened at this comparable stage in the Vietnam War. Some of us live with profound regret that we did not at that point expose the administration's dishonesty and perhaps prevent the needless slaughter of 50,000 more American troops and some 2 to 3 million Vietnamese over the next ten years.
We know how misplaced loyalty to bosses, agencies, and careers can obscure the higher allegiance all government officials owe the Constitution, the sovereign public, and the young men and women put in harm's way. We urge you to act on those higher loyalties.
A hundred forty thousand young Americans are risking their lives every day in Iraq for dubious purpose. Our country has urgent need of comparable moral courage from its public officials. Truth telling is a patriotic and effective way to serve the nation. The time for speaking out is now.
Appeal from the Truth-Telling Coalition- Advertisement -
Edward Costello, Former Special Agent (Counterintelligence), Federal Bureau of Investigation
Sibel Edmonds, Former Language Specialist, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Daniel Ellsberg, Former official, U.S. Departments of Defense and State