By Victor Thorn
As a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), in November 2005, Thomas Drake revealed to Siobhan Gorman of the Baltimore Sun that his employer wasted $1.2B on an Internet surveillance system named Trailblazer. Rather than pursue this boondoggle that benefited a host of contractors within the military-industrial complex, the NSA could have financed it in-house for a mere $3M. Moreover, Drake claimed that NSA officials were using Trailblazer to conduct unconstitutional cyber-searches on American citizens without their knowledge.
As a result, a dozen gun-toting Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents stormed into Drake’s home before ruthlessly interrogating him. Later, after being terminated from the NSA, the Deptartment of Justice charged him with five counts of violating the 1917 Espionage Act. If convicted, Drake would have spent the remainder of his life in prison. His crime: exposing rampant corruption and billions of dollars of waste within the Puzzle Palace. Fortunately, Drake was cleared of all charges following his April 2010 indictment.
Afterward, Drake fretted, “It’s extremely dangerous in America right now as a whistleblower when the government is so wrong . . . [they] convinced themselves I was a bad guy, an enemy of the state, and went after me with everything they had seeking to destroy my life, my livelihood, and my person.”
During a March 15 speech at the National Press Club, Drake commented, “I knew too much truth and exposed government illegalities, fraud and abuse and was turned into a criminal for doing so . . . it was five years of living under the boot of the surveillance state.”
Drake also criticized the government’s innate sense of secrecy. “In an open and transparent society, the citizenry are supposed to know the truth of its own government. So, if the First Amendment is the sunshine of our liberty, how else are we to remain free if the government casts its shadow over you and me?”
Obama vs. Whistleblowers
During his first term in office, Barack Obama promised to lead the most transparent administration in history. Yet, if actions are any indicator, his cabinet exhibits an obsessive preoccupation with Nixonian-style secrecy. According to Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, “In 2011, there were 92 million classification decisions [under Obama], four times the number of decisions [made during] the last year of George W. Bush.”
Who precisely is Obama protecting? Ellsberg again provided an answer. In a recent documentary he stated, “[Obama] pretends to be interested in national security, but in fact they’re interested in the security of corporate interests, agency interests, and politicians keeping their jobs.”
Obama’s war—some may even call it a vendetta—directed against truth-tellers has been chilling. In a June 12, 2012 article, Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department Foreign Service officer, noted, “The Obama administration has charged more people under the Espionage Act for the alleged mishandling of classified information than all past presidents combined.”
Other tactics utilized by Obama’s cronies include firings, career threats and harassment within the workplace. Tom Devine, the Government Accountability Project’s legal director, has gone so far as to claim that Obama’s people could potentially dismiss thousands of government employees, without appeal, if they revealed any type of embarrassing state secrets.
Another criticism of Obama revolves around his cozying up to the intelligence community, military-industrial complex, and those involved in maintaining our national security apparatus. If anyone attempts to shine a light on their secrecy, the vindictiveness leveled against them far outweighs even that of Bush-Cheney. On the other hand, when it comes to divulging state secrets such as those associated with the alleged 2011 murder of Osama bin Laden, the White House leaks like a sieve.
Stephen C. Webster, senior editor of a progressive website called Raw Story, complained in his April 14 column, “There’s a shortage of investigative news because so many whistleblowers are worried that they could face prosecution for dishing dirt on the ill-dealings of power.”
Or, as Van Buren pondered, under Obama, “1984 starts looking more like a handbook than a novel.”
What You Can Expect if You Decide to Blow the Whistle
On May 2, AFP contacted three separate lawyers to get a better insight into what whistleblowers face once they decide to take actions that will forever alter their lives.
Jordan Thomas, who helped to draft and implement rules for the Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) whistleblower program, told AFP, “Contrary to stereotypes, being a whistleblower isn’t always glamorous, easy or lucrative. Usually, their goal is to right a wrong and protect people that are being taken advantage of. But by doing so, whistleblowers face collateral consequences such as retaliation and blacklisting.”
As a specialist in financial crimes, Thomas described what occurs on Wall Street. “Corporate wrongdoing is like a bank robbery. It’s not a one-man job, and there are always witnesses. People knew about this misconduct, but historically they didn’t come forward because there weren’t enough protections. Many investors realized Bernie Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme, but they failed to report it.”
This situation looks better, though, thanks in part to Thomas’s leadership role in developing an SEC enforcement division. “Ever since Madoff, the SEC whistleblower program has been a powerful tool in helping law enforcement be more effective. Prior to Madoff, the corporate beat lacked a 911 number. Now we work with the FBI, forensic accountants, investigators and analysts to uncover securities violations, market manipulation and insider trading.”
Attorney Mark Schlein, who has spent 35 years as a lawyer and police officer, spoke with AFP about corporations that do business with the feds. “Anyplace the government spends money,” Schlein began, “people are trying to figure out how to cheat and steal. It’s like Willie Sutton: he robbed banks because that’s where the money was.”
When asked about the scope of this problem, Schlein replied, “The government gets ripped off for mega-billions of dollars each year due to fraud and abuse. The culprits could either be defense contractors, those in the pharmaceutical industry, or Medicare scams.”
Schlein next revealed a most surprising statistic. “Each year the Department of Justice elects not to intervene in 80% or more of all cases presented by external whistleblowers. There are simply too many cases and not enough prosecutors to review, investigate and determine each case. This dilemma puts whistleblowers in a precarious situation.”
AFP inquired about the backlash, to which Schlein responded, “Within the government, whistleblowers become a pariah. They’re isolated and minimized, which makes their job security very fragile. It takes great courage to come forward, but most people are so committed they do it anyway because they know it’s the right thing to do.”
Confirming these difficulties, Robert Nelson—an attorney specializing in False Claims Act cases—told AFP, “The biggest hurdle facing whistleblowers concerns reprisal. By law, companies aren’t allowed to retaliate, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. Plus, after many years devoted to investigating and prosecuting these cases, it’s hard for whistleblowers to get work within their industry. They’re viewed as traitors.”
Although most whistleblowers aren’t specifically motivated by financial gain, Nelson described an interesting premise. “The False Claims Act provides that a whistleblower with inside knowledge of a company defrauding the U.S. Treasury can bring action against that entity. This statute allows whistleblowers to receive a certain percentage of the total amount of money recovered on behalf of our government. So, people are incentivized to come forward, and therefore they can profit financially.”
However, Nelson emphasized the following point. “This process is stressful, and typically most whistleblowers realize that once they put their foot across the line, there’s no turning back. They face real consequences to themselves and in regard to making a living within their profession. Still, they do it for the right reasons because they’re honest and they care.”
Benghazi Cover-up and Intimidation Continues
The most recent assault on whistleblowers revolves around the Obama administration’s attempts to silence individuals whose accounts of the September 11, 2012 Benghazi consulate attack differ from the official version.
Attorney Victoria Toensing, who represents Greg Hicks, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libya, stated to FoxNews.com, “People have been threatened, and not just at the State Department. People have been threatened at the CIA . . . It’s frightening, and they’re taking career people and making them well aware that their careers will be over.”
A Special Ops member, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporter Adam Housley on April 30 that, in direct contradiction to the White House account, military troops had enough time to intervene on September 11 and save those who were eventually slain. Yet, instead of responding, these Special Ops were instructed to stand down and abandon their countrymen.
This whistleblower told Housley, “You’ve got guys in the Special Ops community who are still active and involved, and they would be decapitated if they came forward with information that could affect high-level commanders.”
The explosive details being concealed by Obama and his inner circle extend far beyond lies about the Benghazi slaying as, allegedly, a spontaneous uprising triggered by an anti-Islamic video.
On April 29 columnist and political commentator Katie Kieffer confirmed what AFP reported months ago. “President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-CIA Director David Petraeus were likely behind a mishandled gun-trafficking program that ended up arming radical jihadist rebels who stormed the U.S. consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi.”
Kieffer went on to describe how weaponry seized after the U.S.-NATO-led Libyan invasion was funneled through Turkey to anti-Assad forces fighting in Syria. In addition, other arms such as machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades were sold directly to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Victor Thorn is a hard-hitting researcher, journalist and author of over 40 books.