FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Reality Winner is a Whistleblower

Reality Winner, the 25-year-old Air Force veteran and NSA contractor charged with mailing classified material to a news outlet, is a classic whistleblower. She hasn’t claimed that mantle, which is understandable given America’s love-hate relationship with whistleblowers. They are alternately celebrated and denounced, depending on who has the microphone and who has the power.

A whistleblower is a current or former employee who reveals what she reasonably believes evidences fraud, waste, abuse, illegality, or a danger to public health and safety. The individual can disclose their concerns to their superiors, Congress, an interest group representative, or the media. Unfortunately, often nothing gets fixed when employees report internally; in fact, they often become the target of any investigation that ensues. This is especially true in the Intelligence Community, where whistleblowers lack strong protection from retaliation. It is easier to shoot the messenger than listen to the message. And the message here is one that has been contested by the President of the United States: that Russia tried – strenuously – to hack our presidential election.

When you can’t shoot the messenger—many whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Thomas Drake had unassailable personal and professional records—those in power will then go after a subsidiary issue: how the leak occurred. In the case of Reality Winner, she has been criticized for mailing the information from her hometown post office in Augusta, Georgia. She has been criticized for using snail-mail, instead of a whistleblower submission system like SecureDrop. (Here it is worth noting that whistleblowers who have blown the whistle over encrypted channels have sometimes faced added charges for obstruction of justice.) She has been criticized for her choice of the media outlet to which to leak.

Her undoing, however, was not because of her choices. Whistleblowers face a panoply of hard choices—whether to complain internally or go public, whether to report anonymously or identify themselves, whether to protect their colleagues from their life-altering decision or put them in the position of being witnesses. There is no right answer. As a general matter, whistleblowers try to call out wrongdoing while sustaining the least damage to themselves, their families, and their colleagues.

The most successful whistleblowers—from Daniel Ellsberg to Edward Snowden—have gone to the media, which brings the benefits of speed, objectivity and investigative resources. When Reality Winner picked this and true path that I and so many other whistleblowers have taken, I doubt she was thinking about how it could land her in jail. I am quite confident she was more concerned about correcting the public and historical record, and giving the truth a fighting chance in a political landscape increasingly overrun with lies.

Many whistleblowers pay a very high price. Chelsea Manning was tortured and imprisoned. Thomas Drake faced life in prison and was left bankrupt and blacklisted. What the government has never managed to take away, however, is their integrity or their voices. And despite their ordeals, the whistleblowers who have suffered the most have often amplified their voices once it was safe to do so. They have continued to advocate for the causes they believe and against the injustices they faced: surveillance reform, ending torture, accountability for war crimes. The least we can do is protect them.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail