A new whistleblower protection effort debuted this week, claiming that safeguards to shield employees who expose government activities from retaliation are not strong enough.
ExposeFacts.org, a branch of the nonpartisan Institute for Public Accuracy, will accept online submissions and intends to work with the news media to publish its findings, the group's advisory board members said at a press conference Wednesday at the National Press Club.
The group claims that several constitutional freedoms to protect whistleblowers, including speech and protections against illegal searches and seizures, are currently in jeopardy for government employees and others who expose certain activities.
"All governments lie," legendary government whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, a board member of the new group, said in a recorded video shown at the press conference. "They all like to work in the dark as far as the public is concerned, in terms of their own decision-making."
Ellsberg in 1971 exposed the Pentagon Papers, a trove of Defense Department documents outlining two decades of secret U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
The launch of the new whistleblower organization comes a little more than a year after The Guardian and The Washington Post published stories on the secret surveillance program run by the National Security Agency. It was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who fled the country and has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.
"How do we get people to say, 'I'm not going to look the other way?'" J. Kirk Wiebe, a former NSA whistleblower, told the press conference. "We need to inculcate those values back into society."
Wiebe and former NSA whistleblower Willam Binney disclosed spying programs the agency used in the United States and abroad following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks. They retired from the NSA that same year.
Both are members of ExposeFacts' advisory board. They said the government's punishment of whistleblowers is an intimidation tactic that discourages future whistleblowers to make disclosures. They cited the case of former Army Pfc. Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning, who leaked thousands of government documents to WikiLeaks and was sentenced last August to 35 years in prison.
Dan Meyer, executive director of whistleblowing and source protection for the U.S. intelligence community, said agencies have avenues, and an appeals system for government whistleblowers to file complaints without fear of retribution.
"Somebody can safely disclose inside the intelligence community," Meyer said. "We have an ability to make findings and if there is a finding, the remedy can be provided by the agency head."
The government does not publish data about its whistleblowing program, but Meyer said he is trying to change that.
"I am pushing quietly for metrics to show the effectiveness of the intelligence community's whistleblowing program," Meyer said.
NSA spokesperson Vanee M. Vines said in a statement that whistleblowers have several options to submit complaints within the government and the agency "encourages employees" to report their concerns.
NSA employees who submit a complaint to its inspector general can remain anonymous unless the IG decides disclosing their identity is "unavoidable," during the investigation of the complaint, according to the NSA's Inspector General website.
Meyer declined to comment specifically on ExposeFacts.
Beyond national security topics, ExposeFacts intends to handle disclosures from a variety of government and non-governmental agencies, ranging from corporate finance to environmental groups.
Board member Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is an Environmental Protection Agency whistleblower. The EPA relieved her of her position in 1996 when she reported that South African miners working for a U.S. company were exposed to a deadly chemical used in steal. Coleman-Adebayo later won a discrimination lawsuit against the EPA in 2000.
"The EPA is a hostile environment for truth tellers," Coleman-Adebayo in a prepared statement at the press conference.
The Institute for Public Accuracy's founder and executive director, Norman Solomon, said ExposeFacts is consulting with independent journalists and news outlets on how it will publish the submissions it receives. He declined to specify which journalists or media organizations he spoke with.
ExposeFacts is a branch of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a nonprofit groups that tries to encourage the media to expand it sources of news
By Patrick Gillespie
McClatchy Washington Bureau
Alaska Dispatch Publishing