By: Elijah Wilks
Is federal whistleblowing an act of patriotism or an act of betrayal of your country? Whistleblowing is the act of exposing a person or an organization of moral, ethical, or legal misconduct. This can vary from health and safety violations, to breaking a rule, law, or regulation, to corruption. Whistleblowing is generally illegal in the United States, on the grounds that the government needs to keep secrets in order to preserve national security and keep our nation safe.
A very current and problematic topic with regards to whistleblowing is the NSA’s mass surveillance program. The National Security Agency (NSA) is a U.S. security agency that collects and analyzes information that would be of interest to our nation’s security and stability. They are responsible for protecting the U.S. government and intercepting foreign adversaries communications and analyzing them.
For more than ten years, The NSA has been conducting mass surveillance operations within America. These have in some cases violated laws and ignored the civil liberties of individual citizens, such as buying or hacking personal information from companies, collecting emails, texts, and other forms of communication, and warrant less wiretapping. For example, MAINWAY is a NSA database that contains over one trillion phone calls along with information about the caller and receiver of the call. These types of operations are believed to break the First and Fourth Amendment. The NSA’s mass surveillance program was revealed to the public by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.
This brings us to the question: are the kinds of activities described above acceptable if they relate to national security and the safety of American citizens? Or are they never acceptable? Is whistleblowing ever the right things to do?
Whistleblowing is not the answer. The consequences of whistleblowing are severe and long lasting. When a government employee gets their hands on files pertaining to something illegal within the government, there are legal actions they can take to handle this information: an individual can go to a supervisor or Inspector General. The NSA’s inspector General works to make sure the NSA is respecting the rights of American citizens and laws of America. The Inspector General has fourteen days to decide if the information is credible. If it’s credible the Inspector General will present the information to the Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, (head of the NSA, the agency conducting these mass surveillance programs) and if that person thinks the information in unconstitutional they will send it to congress. If the original informant doesn’t trust the Inspector General they can take it to Congress themselves. This would mean presenting the information to either of the Congressional Intelligence Committees. Congress will then decide whether or not to take action.
The American government has a process in place that allow for classified information to come to light with due time. Executive Order 13526 details a system for declassifying classified national security information. The White House released an official statement saying, “our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their government.” However, “protecting information critical to our Nation’s security and demonstrating our commitment to open government through accurate and accountable application of classification standard and routine, secure, and effective declassification are equally important priorities.” Publicly revealing government information or strategies can potentially jeopardize our nation’s security and stability if the wrong person or community gets their hands on it.
Documents can be classified on one of three different levels: top secret, secret, or confidential. At the time of classification, a government official will establish an appropriate date for automatic declassification.
Whistleblowing isn’t always necessary; with the right timing and situation, information will always be released. For example, in 1997, the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board declassified and publicly released records of “Operation Northwoods.” Operation Northwoods was a mission approved by the Joint Chief of Staff to execute fake terrorist attacks on U.S. citizens and blame Cuba’s Fidel Castro and his communist government. The idea was to give the U.S. government justification to intervene Cuba’s government. The plans were deathly and the opposite of what you would expect from your government, they “called for innocent people to be shot on American streets; for boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba to be sunk on the high seas…People would be framed for bombings they did not commit; planes would be hijacked. Using phony evidence, all of it would be blamed on Castro.”
Whistleblowing harms our country internally and externally. When another country hears about the controversy America’s having, they will seek to take advantage of this. Whistleblowing is not only an act of betrayal, but almost makes a country look unorganized and dysfunctional. When there are internal problems it makes a country look vulnerable; a perfect time for a foreign enemy to take action.
A selection of Republicans and individuals who consider themselves patriots are against whistleblowing. American patriot’s believe America should do whatever it needs to do to stay the most powerful and secure country. John Kerry, an American politician and patriot who served in the senate, believes Edward Snowden is a “coward” and “traitor.” He said, Snowden “has betrayed his country. And if he wants to come home tomorrow to face the music, he can do so…But instead, he’s just sitting there taking pot shots at his country, violating his oath that he took.” The Director of the NSA, James R. Clapper, released a statement calling “on him (Snowden) and his accomplices (journalist) to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed to prevent even more damage to U.S. security.” The ideology behind this is that Clapper claims the leaked classified documents endangered American lives and lowered the intelligence communities chance of catching terrorist. These arguments are based in fear, they’re made to manipulate American citizens into believing them due to fear.
At the end of the day whistleblowing is causes internal controversy and puts our nation’s security at risk more than anything. If you have worrisome information there are more legal and secure ways to handle it than whistleblowing. When one fully understands the processes and ways of the U.S. government regarding declassification, they can understand the detriment and lack of justification for whistleblowing. Information will always be released to the public by the government eventually. With todays technology privacy is more important than transparency. You can always release classified files, but you can’t take them back once they’re released.