VT | 26 March 2015
Whatever Happened to the First Amendment?
Robert Greenwald’s 2015 documentary War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State details the cases of four US whistleblowers who experienced brutal government retaliation after exposing systematic wrongdoing to journalists.
The men profiled are marine Franz Gaye, who broke the story about the Pentagon refusal to replace Humvees with much safer MRAPs in the US occupation of Iraq; NSA senior executive Thomas Drake, who first blew the whistle on illegal NSA mass surveillance; Lockheed-Martin engineer Michael DeKort, who broke the story that Lockheed was supplying the Coast Guard with substandard boats and radios that weren’t waterproof; and Department of Justice lawyer Jim Risen, who first exposed the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretaps.
Their stories are interspersed with commentary by iconic whistleblowers Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden (via Internet linkup), as well as the handful of journalists who have been brave enough to publish evidence of government corruption and criminality and members of the Project on Government Oversight and the Project for Government Accountability.
Each of the four whistleblowers went up his workplace chain of command in his agency and exhausted every option for addressing the problem internally. Each was fully aware of the potential consequences of their actions of going to the press. Yet after much soul searching, they saw whistle blowing as a preferable alternative than to colluding in their superiors’ criminality.
Paying the Price
Only Gaye was allowed to resume his career as an active duty marine. DeKort had his Lockheed position cancelled and was blackballed from further work in the defense industry. In addition to losing their jobs, both Drake and Risen experienced financial ruin, spending tens of thousands of dollars fighting felony charges the Obama Justice Department brought against them. Drake was charged under the Espionage Act, even though the information he shared with the Baltimore Sun was unclassified.
After seven years of persecution by the Justice Department, Drake eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor: excessive use of a computer without authorization. The charges against Risen were dropped after four years of legal battles.
The Distinction Between Leaking and Whistle Blowing
The film makes the clear distinction between leaking and whistleblowing. High level Obama administration officials constantly leak classified information to the press with no legal consequences.
Despite his campaign promises to make government more transparent and accountable, Obama has significantly increased government secrecy, as well as prosecuting more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined.
According to Snowden, the President’s purpose isn’t to make Americans more secure. It’s to protect government agencies and politicians from embarrassment a criminal prosecution.
His crackdown on whistleblowers is also a fundamental violation of the First Amendment. The whole intent of freedom of speech and the press is to ensure citizens’ right to criticize their government without being punished.
Dr. Bramhall is a retired American child and adolescent psychiatrist, activist and political refugee in New Zealand.
Her first book The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee describes the circumstances that led her to leave the US in 2002. She has also published two young adult novels about political activism: The Battle for Tomorrow: A Fable
She is involved in the national leadership of the New Zealand Green Party and has a political blog at StuartJeanneBramhall.com