Whistleblowers need to recognize the opportunities that abound these days and convert them into tangible rights and legal protections. Yes, the government is hostile to whistleblowers (especially those from the national security sector), but with sustained, effective, and forward-looking political action, it can happen, even if not right away.
Consider the following:
- Pentagon Papers Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg says that he’s been waiting 40 years for Edward Snowden to come along.
- A Guardian poll found that 40% of respondents believe that Snowden is a hero.
- In an interview with The Huffington Post, Ellsberg noted that the term “whistleblower” is no longer synonymous with “traitor,” as it was 20 years ago.
- Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, recently tweeted the following: “why is media using sympathetic word “whistleblower” 4 Edward #Snowden, who leaked secret #NSA program? He broke the law & made us less safe.” While Haass ultimately disputes whether Snowden meets the definition of “whistleblower,” he concedes that it is a sympathetic one.
- The issue of whether Snowden (or any other national security whistleblower) has effective avenues to blow the whistle “appropriately” is getting airtime. This is good, and hopefully it means progress, because there is much evidence to suggest they don’t. One prominent lawmaker, who is in a position to provide whistleblowers with effective avenues (but did not when given the chance), said that if Snowden had only “raise[d] his hand. Under the whistle-blower law, he is protected. Yet he chose to go to China.” The public needs to know if these channels exist and if they work.
- Legal correspondents are beginning to ask how to make room for national security disclosures.
- There is greater collaboration, interest by broader political and media groups, and cross-spectrum ideological interest, even from unlikely sources, in Snowden, government accountability, and civil liberties, the likes of which I don’t believe we’ve seen for decades. These issues are not confined to a super-minority anymore. It may be fleeting, but for the moment we have support based on an idea whose time has come, rather than a personality.
Finally, I understand that, for whistleblowers and their advocates who have been in the fight for many years and have seen many false hopes shattered, it’s easy to become discouraged or to treat this moment with suspicion. I don’t pretend to know that “this time it will be different.” But I do know that now, more than ever, is the moment to tie public support for Snowden and what he stands for to “the rights of whistle-blowers or the issue of whistle-blowing.” Ultimately, that’s the goal we’re all fighting for, right?
Image by cool revolution under Creative Commons license