How America fails its whistleblowers


In the United States, around 3 million people work with classified information as part of their job. That includes people who work in the military, for government agencies like the CIA, or for private companies hired by those agencies. Let’s say you are one of those people. And you learn something that bothers you. Because this is your job, you know that the laws around classified information are serious. But let’s say the thing you learn is really bad. Maybe a government program is wasting billions of taxpayer dollars. Or a federal agency is spying on millions of ordinary Americans. Or, the head of your government is making shadowy deals with foreign leaders for personal gain. You have a decision to make. A sort of “choose your own adventure.” But behind each door is a different set of risks. If you decide to expose what you’ve learned, that’s called whistleblowing. And in the US, it’s often regarded as a brave, patriotic thing to do. There are laws to protect it. But the reality, for the 3 million people who work with classified information, is much more complicated. What would you do? This is Daniel Ellsberg, an American military analyst in the 1960s. Ellsberg learned that the US government had lied to the public about why the US was at war in Vietnam, and about how deadly the war was. In 1971, he gave 7,000 classified documents that exposed those lies to the New York Times, and then to 20 other newspapers. Ellsberg took door #1: leaking your evidence of government wrongdoing, directly to the media. His leak became known as the “Pentagon Papers.” Three years later, the US pulled out of the war. But leaking classified information to the media is illegal. And in Ellsberg’s case, the government made him a target. “We’ve got to keep our eye on the main ball, the main ball is Ellsberg. We got to get this son of a bitch.” The federal government charged Ellsberg under the Espionage Act, a law from 1917, originally written to go after spies working with foreign governments. But Ellsberg got lucky. It turned out that the government had broken the law by spying on him, and a judge threw out the charges. He was free to go. But other leakers haven’t been so lucky. Chelsea Manning, an American soldier, leaked classified documents to Wikileaks in 2010, including evidence that the US had committed war crimes in Iraq. She went to prison for 7 years. In 2013, the cybersecurity expert Edward Snowden leaked evidence of a massive government surveillance program to international newspapers. He fled the United States to avoid being prosecuted for espionage. Leaking classified information to the media is one common kind of whistleblowing. But it’s also illegal, so it’s treacherous for those that risk it. Fortunately, in the US there’s another option: to go through official, internal channels for coming forward with a complaint. This is door #2: legal whistleblowing. In 1998, the US created a process for people who work with classified information to file complaints: First to an inspector general, and then to
the director of national intelligence, and then on to Congress. This is someone who worked in national security at the time. His name is Thomas Drake. Shortly after September 11th, Drake learned that the National Security Agency was part of an unprecedented program inside the federal government, called “Stellar Wind.” The program collected emails, phone conversations, financial transactions, and the web activity of millions of American citizens, without a warrant. What are we doing violating the Constitution? I knew that if I remained silent that I would be complicit in a crime. Drake considered taking what he knew to the press, but knew it would put him at risk. I knew that that was fraught with enormous peril. I was extremely familiar what happened to Daniel Ellsberg. Luckily, he had a legal route he could follow. He brought his concerns to his supervisor,
to his own agency’s inspector general’s office, and eventually to Congress. But his agency told him that no matter what the Constitution said, the White House said the program was legal, and that that was good enough for them. “I could feel the hair standing up on the back of my neck, because I was thrown back to the 70s, and Nixon.” Drake’s next problem was that the 1998 law he had been following didn’t do anything to protect him against retaliation. Drake’s identity became public within his agency, and he was gradually pushed out of his job. I was increasingly isolated. They finally removed me from all positions, all responsibilities, all programs. There’s no recourse, and no penalty if the
agency decides to retaliate against you. Finally, after Drake’s complaints went nowhere, he chose a different path. He went to the media. And because he remembered what happened to Ellsberg,  he chose to share unclassified information, which meant it was legal. But then, in 2010, the Obama administration accused him of violating the Espionage Act, the same as Ellsberg, who had leaked classified information. “Thomas Drake is charged with violating espionage laws.” “Prosecutors claimed that Drake had betrayed his country.” Drake’s case was only the fourth time in history that the Espionage Act had been used to prosecute a whistleblower. But since the Obama administration, it’s become a lot more common. Eventually the case collapsed because Drake did nothing illegal. But his career in the government was over. Today, he works at an Apple Store. The price is enormous. I have no retirement. That’s gone. You lose your entire social network, in terms of work. There’s people who lost their jobs because of their association with me. Those are burdens that I will carry with me the rest of my life. In August 2019, an officer in the CIA filed
a whistleblower complaint saying that President Trump was trying to pressure Ukraine to investigate one of his political rivals. Just like Drake, the officer followed the process laid out in the law. He took the complaint to the inspector general. The inspector general took it to the director of national intelligence. Then it stopped. The director of national intelligence never brought it to Congress. So the inspector general went over his head. “Deeply disturbing, what we read this morning.” “I’m announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.” Testimony from witnesses in the impeachment investigation has backed up almost everything laid out in the whistleblower complaint. And whistleblower protections were updated in 2012 with more explicit language, saying the government can’t retaliate against a whistleblower the way they did against Thomas Drake. So the whistleblower should be protected. But where the laws still fall short is whether it’s a crime to reveal a whistleblower’s identity to the public. That’s what the president and his allies are hoping to do next. “There’s no law that prevents me from mentioning the name of who’s been said to be the whistleblower.” “The whistleblower… …should be revealed.” The parts of the government that deal in secrecy are also the least accountable to the public. And whistleblowers in those agencies are some of the only ways wrongdoing there might ever come to light. But the system fails them. And every retaliation sends a clear message. If both leaking, and legal whistleblowing, leave government whistleblowers vulnerable, this system will push more and more people who know something’s wrong, into door number three: doing nothing at all.




Comments
  1. It's amazing for me to see how well Vox is doing. I used to choose Vice for my lunchtime 10 minute vids, now Vice is utter trash with nothing interesting to say for itself. Vox meanwhile is just getting better – this video is a fantastic example

  2. That's why they make you sign ( NDAs).
    You shouldn't work for the Government if your not prepared to safeguard US secrets. You are signing away your life and rights to released classified information. It's not fair, but that's how the Government operates. Best way to fix this is to strengthen whistleblower laws , but it won't happen under a conservative or Neo Liberal regime!!

  3. The person who has my respect is the anonymous man or woman who leaked the China cables, because they love their country but know it's doing wrong. Other whistleblowers risk prison, what do you think they risk in China?

  4. Joe Biden is the guy who revoked Snowden's passport forcing him to become a refugee. Great job Joe! People really want him to lead America? Are you kidding?

  5. Actually there is a 4th door. I believe you need to evaluate the Snowden case again. It has legal nuances. That's the next fight in the whistleblowing system…B1

  6. Please stop calling Edward Snowden a cybersecurity expert. That was not in this quality he was subcontracted by the NSA, and that's not his skillset today.

  7. The problem with anonymous whistle blowers is there could be false allegations fabricated by political opponents. We need a system that protects the whistle blower when they have legitimate cases against the government and we also need to make sure they can back it up with evidence.

  8. I am lucky to work for a company where retaliation is strictly forbidden. I am surprised US is not more advanced than this. Any democracy should shelter and really take care of whistleblowers that reveal problems. Of course, there can be real state-security issues but in that case they MUST be very severe. There must not be a way to retaliate or prosecute any whistleblower that reveals "harmless" information OR who does it through legal and secure channels. There must be laws that punish anybody who tries to retaliate anyone who is using legal means to display errors.

    Now we all know about Snowden and a few others. Personally I believe they did right. They revealed the state doing wrong, severely wrong. Did they do it the wrong way? Perhaps, I don't know. But if they did I strongly believe that is because there were not clear options to chose from. Which blows back to the state once again.

    Retaliation must be punished. Honest whistleblowers must be protected. Have they worked for the state they should of course retain all economical benefits they have and never, ever lose their jobs. In private business it is of course more tense but at least the company I work for is 100% against any form of retaliation. And I love that.

  9. Also the Freedom of Information Act means nothing because there are so many request and little declassified information and most of it is more blacked out then the white of the paper itself.

  10. Final comment (I comment as I view this clip). Doing nothing at all is worse than anonymously leaking to news-papers while covering your back. So, don't use door #3.

  11. Door three isnt to stay silent, It’s to leak the info anonymously…Lots more whistleblowers will do the same thing that is currently being done to Trump. Anonymous info leaks.

  12. Whistleblowers are good but when they have no real evidence and are just wasting our time as a country then they should be revealed

  13. Call me naive but whistle blowers shouldn't have to exist.
    Is it too much to ask government officials to not be scumbags for a couple years?

  14. Those who persecute or disparage whistleblowers I feel would be better suited to working in Stalinist Russia, they are the enemies of freedom and democracy, they undermine the foundation of our societies and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

  15. Obama was honestly terrible with leaking and whistle blowing. People try to act like he was this amazing president because he seemed like a cool person, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

  16. Government: does something illegal
    Someone at the government: “what if we get caught?”
    Gov: I’m gonna do what’s called a ‘pro gamer move’
    Also gov: makes it illegal to say the gov is breaking the law

  17. Now that Trump is mean to a whistle blower, it's bad. You completely ignore the issue when a Democrat not only does it, but does it more than all previous presidents combined.

    Also comparing making a decision to a choose your own adventure novel is among the dumbest, most unnecessary analogies ever. People are generally familiar with the concept of making decisions.

  18. Lol nothing is ever gonna change, the only way to fix anything is to line all the government officials against a wall and riddle them with bullets.

  19. Snowden didn’t expose anything illegal in the government. However, he did give thousands of terrorist access to information that crucially aides them in avoiding our nations security measures. Look it up.

  20. This worries me. Its a culture of anti democracy. Trump is just the latter. And it has already affected much of the globe. Unfortunately its in tune whith both Cina and Russia.

  21. Once we enter the seats of public service, we will encourage, reward, and protect whistleblowers.
    See my group on Facebook: "Creating a Wonderful World. (let's get it done already)".

  22. Considering America has many enemies. It is understandable that they have to spy every citizen to prevent any attacks or espionage from foreign agents

  23. Forty seconds without a Trump Derangement Syndrome outburst–that might be a record for Vox. Just don't talk about the Clintons and giving radiation-hardened chips to the Chinese, or receiving funding from the same governments who funded ISIS.

  24. 0:39
    strangely enough, in my drama and debate class we debated about the NSA’s surveillance program after 9/11.
    3:40
    this is exactly what we debated, it was actually a very interesting debate between both pro- and anti- surveillance believers.

  25. Its been almost 6000 years of human existence. There have always been whistleblowers, there will always be whistleblowers. They aren't going anywhere.

  26. "Today [Thomas Drake] works at an Apple store" (5:57). This is how the nation treats honesty, integrity, defending the Constitution.

  27. Where was this when Obama used the espionage act on his whistleblowers? Not to mention when Bush had leakers detailing wrong doing in Iraq? They get a free pass I guess because at least they’re a part of the neocon/neolib agenda.

  28. Asking an other country fore an independent recearch is totally justifiable and the last whistleblower was used as an undemocratic tool from my point of view

    However whistleblowers should be charished whit great care and are essential to keeping a healthy democracy sinds greed is in humanity

  29. Our government operates on the same logic the mafia, gangs and local state law enforcement agencies does. Snitches get snitches gang mentality. It’s all good until it’s serious misconduct.

  30. These people are heroes to the American people, and those in government working to arrest them are the actual criminals

  31. It was so weird to see Bill Maher's interview of Susan Rice when the topic of Snowden came up. Her whole tone suddenly shifted from pleasant to villainous — and only she can know exactly why.

  32. The counter to this is: If we discover the whistleblower’s politically motivated and the politically motivated press blur the lines between what’s inappropriate vs what’s illegal than the general public is no position to know the difference.

  33. Whistleblowers with FIRST HAND KNOWLEDGE is the way it was, until Dems. changed it to 2nd hand to validate a lie. WHISTLE "LIARS" get jail-time!!!

  34. It's seems like Whistle blowers are our heroes…except when they exposesed the crime of your political party…than they are to be jailed then hanged.

  35. "I have to the right to face my accuser" unfortunately your accuser isn't the Whistle blower, it's your transcripts backed by testimonies from many career diplomats. That's like saying we should arrest the person who pull the fire alarm rather then investigate who started the fire.

  36. You want to talk about Pizza Gate Vox??? Of course you go after Trump and not the Clinton’s or the Obama administration

  37. America fails it’s citizens on a daily basis This is how it works because of how most people vote maybe you should make a video on that.

  38. Except the “ whistleblower “ with Trump actually isn’t. He did not follow the law, policy or proper procedures to report. Along with that a whistleblower would need to have first hand knowledge of illegal activity. The Adam Schiff lackey hit his info like 4th hand.

  39. I’m interesting in knowing why VOX fail to mention the Whistleblower actually has ties to people in Adam Shiffs office and may have actually discussed all this first with Congress before actually going to the inspector general. Is it really whistleblowing if strategically planned before hand?

  40. The greatest form of control is where you think you're free, when you're being fundamentally manipulated and dictated to. One form of dictatorship is being in a prison cell and you can see the bars and touch them. The other one is sitting in a prison cell but you can't see the bars but you think you're free

  41. Lets not forget about Julian Asange he never stoke nor leaked anything he simply made the information given to him available and the US is trying to prosecute him. That would be like you going to jail for making this video. Yet everyone treats him like a criminal

  42. The root of the problem when revealing whistleblower identity is actually the public, how is it ever ok for government to commit any crime whatever the reason? But they make it out as if they are patriotic to commit war crimes and the whistleblower is endangering the safety of the country. Politicians that talk like that needs to be shot on the spot. Period!

    And we in the public needs to stand by our whistleblowers.

  43. I remember the movie " the accountant" Affleck friend is a whistle blower then after the government got all the information, they dump him and was killed the night after his release in the protection shelter

  44. Remember when USA used to be honest and have integrity? Ya neither do I

    So why should I be patriotic about a corrupt nation full of lies?

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