Definition: A whistleblower is a person, who could be an employee of a company or a government agency, disclosing information to the public or some higher authority about any wrongdoing, which could be in the form of fraud, corruption, etc.
An employee who alleges wrongdoing by his or her employer of the sort that violates public law or tends to injure a considerable number of people.
A recent article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell, staff writer for the New Yorker and renowned author of several best sellers, including The Outliers, The Tipping Point, Blink and David and Goliath, compared and contrasted two “whistleblowers,” Daniel Ellsberg, of the Pentagon Papers, and Edward Snowden, who leaked N.S.A. documents and is currently in exile in Russia.
Mr. Gladwell has raised some thought provoking and disturbing issues with his compare and contrast that puts whistleblowing, itself an arduous path for those who decide to step out into a maelstrom of chaos and debacle, in question. His premise appears to be that insiders with credentials, those who are the elite and can “rub” shoulders with those in power are the real whistleblowers. All others (read the little guy or gal) need not apply.
Mr. Gladwell builds a case for an elite whistleblower. He brands Daniel Ellsberg as a justified leaker and Edward Snowden as a disgruntled hacker, intent on his petty getting even with government forces as the big guys who have too much power.
He concludes that Snowden does not deserve either the respect or the same legal protection that Ellsberg does/did. His portrayal is one I find dangerous and one that could harm whistleblowing.
Cindy Cohn and Karen Gullo, authors of another article, Whistleblowers Don’t Need Credentials to Help Protect Us from Government Overreach, question Gladwell’s premise. “Mr. Gladwell claims that Snowden isn’t an ‘insider’ leaker who we should trust, but instead is a ‘radicalized hacker.’” The author’s state, ”… what’s clear is that this narrative greatly reduces the number of whistleblowers who deserve respect and protection. It’s already a tremendous act of courage for an insider to stand up and call out illegal or immoral behavior… Mr. Gladwell’s additional credential requirement makes sure that those numbers are even smaller.”
Whistleblowers should be judged on whether or not they bring serious improprieties to light that harm our country, a company or economy. Gladwell’s premise could take back some of the strides that have been made toward more individuals’ willingness to say enough is enough when they see wrongdoing. It certainly raises my hackles.
Mr. Gladwell leans heavily on Mr. Ellsberg’s credentials, education, his advising of Henry Kissinger, his insider information, access to intelligence gathering and policy making and overall prestige.
His portrait of Daniel Ellsberg, a PhD whose dissertation is on game theory and who collaborated with Thomas Schelling, PhD who went on to achieve a Nobel Prize, builds Mr. Ellsberg’s credentials as impeccable, and they certainly are. Ellsberg was a Marine commander in Korea, held a senior post in former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s office, represented the State Department in Vietnam, and worked two stints at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica.
In case you’ve forgotten, Mr. Ellsberg was one of thirty-six scholars who contributed to the 7,000 page, 47 volume secret history of the Vietnam War. The project, 18 months in the making, was kept under wraps, with few copies available and those kept under lock and key, primarily in D.C. Many had long suspected the lying and subterfuge around the Vietnam War by our government, including Mr. Ellsberg.
A copy of all of the volumes was kept at RAND. Ellsberg read the 47 volumes, was aghast at the full scope of deceit he discovered, copied all of the volumes and eventually leaked 43 of them to the New York Times and the Washington Post. The Pentagon Papers, as they were called, won The New York Times a Pulitzer, and Mr. Ellsberg a place in history as a whistleblower.
He contrasts Ellsberg’s elite impeccable credentials with those of Snowden, a community college dropout, who enlisted in the Army Reserves, washed out after 20 weeks; his working at the CIA and leaving under a cloud, and the so called accusation of Snowden’s hacking into N.S.A. records to get the answers to an entrance exam, which allowed him to pass and so work at N.S.A. as a contractor. He paints Mr. Snowden as a discontented, disgruntled outsider and plays into the Government’s judgment of Snowden.
A fairly recent House intelligence report, labels him “a serial exaggerator and fabricator” who does not fit the profile of whistleblower. Yet, my attorneys, the Government Accountability Project, who were also his attorneys, say whistleblower. California congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said that the vast majority of what Snowden took had nothing to do with American privacy. Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi has said “there is no question his actions have inflicted serious harm on our national security.”
Glen Greenwald, journalist, lawyer, Academy Award winner and author of No Place to Hide, who spoke a year ago to a National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) conference, said, “The climate for whistleblowers has never been worse. More whistleblowers have been convicted in this century than ever before. Why do we put whistleblowers in jail?”
He says, “you can debate whether he did the right thing, you can debate whether he is a traitor, but he shines a light on the people with the greatest power so they are not concealing information they have no right to conceal.”
Mr. Greenwald and documentarian Laura Poitras, spent several days holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room with Edward Snowden, who then released his papers and records to Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian. The leak resulted in The Guardian’s exposé of the NSA situation. The resulting documentary, Citizenfour, earned Ms. Poitras an academy award.
The climate for whistleblowers has never been worse. More whistleblowers have been convicted in this century than ever before. Many whistleblowers, me included, report – or attempt to report – on the unprecedented abuses of power we’ve witnessed. Unfortunately, too often, regardless of the U.S. Attorney Generals and others calls to action , the data is ignored, discarded, and maligned – along with the people, the whistleblowers, who bring it to light.
There’s a high cost to being a whistleblower. As my Bank Whistleblowers United colleagues and I can attest to, being a whistleblower means losing your job and most future possibilities of getting another position in your profession are slim to none; not to mention the human cost of the stress and emotion involved and the personal financial debacle that comes along with this decision.
Mr. Gladwell’s article may well prevent more harm, fraud and corruption being exposed. An egregious injustice for those who truly care about democracy.