Without whistleblowers - employees within government and big business, at all levels, who risk their livelihoods and sometimes lives - the American public (and world) would have no knowledge about many of the most outrageous, dangerous, and covert activities perpetrated upon society. This includes everything from fabricating false pretenses for going to war to war crimes (including torture) against prisoners and innocent civilians to lethal environmental abuses to fraudulent financial schemes that have devastated millions of families' life savings. In the past, the exposure of these egregious acts has often (but not always) brought reform, exposed criminality resulting in prosecutions, and perhaps most importantly saved countless lives. Sadly, in today's political environment, it is the whistleblowers who are being penalized for telling Americans the truth.

But for the threat of whistleblowers, ill-intended politicians and bureaucrats and their crony-capitalist private-sector brethren would operate in an oversight vacuum - free to abuse their power and engage in criminal activity at will. The contributions that whistleblowers make to an open and free society cannot be overstated.

How many more thousands of lives would have been lost if it were not for Daniel Ellsberg's infamous Pentagon Papers that exposed the Department of Defense's lies and manipulation that propped up the Vietnam War (MostDangerousMan.org)? How much more abuse would citizens suffer at the hands of corrupt police departments if it were not for Frank Serpico testifying about the rampant corruption inside the New York police department? These are, or should be, just two of the household names in the whistleblower pantheon.

Financial malfeasance that led to the bankruptcy of some of the largest corporations in America - including Enron and WorldCom - was exposed by whistleblowers. Because Enron was among the first to fall, its executive officers were prosecuted and incarcerated for their crimes. Others, such as General Electric and Pfizer, have paid huge fines for fraud exposed by whistleblowers. The list of individuals who have risked it all to do the right thing by exposing gross misconduct, criminal activity, and unfettered abuse is getting longer and longer.

In response, government - specifically the federal executive branch, the military, and the courts - is increasingly closing ranks on such purveyors of sunshine with unprecedented prosecutorial aggression that vilifies and oftentimes impoverishes the very ones whose motives for standing up were common sense and decency.

The Obama administration, via provisions of the Espionage Act, has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. Salon.com wrote in early 2012: "The number of cases in play suggests an organized strategy to deprive Americans of knowledge of the more disreputable things that their government does" (RCReader.com/y/whistleblowers1).

This response by government is a dark contrast to investigating the whistleblowers' allegations, and addressing corruption when it is exposed. The growing war on whistleblowers defies the professed spirit of the laws Congress has enacted to protect whistleblowers who act in the public's interest, beginning with the Whistleblowers Act of 1989 and most recently with the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, passed in late 2012 (RCReader.com/y/whistleblowers2).

Which Enemy Is Being Aided?

The strategy of the intelligence regime is to claim that these whistleblowers have aided the enemy by divulging classified information. To date, no proof has been established, for instance, that Army Private First Class Bradley Manning's calculated release of more than 700,000 documents to Julian Assange's WikiLeaks has aided any enemy of the American people or caused any government or military personnel injury or harm.

Daniel Ellsberg pointed out in his article "Hearing Bradley Manning for the First Time" (RCReader.com/y/whistleblowers3) that Manning was discriminating and did not, as many have alleged, just do a data dump and recklessly put Americans in harm's way.

Ellsberg writes: "It's important to point out [that] most of the material he put out was unclassified. The rest was classified 'secret,' which is relatively low level. All of the Pentagon Papers were classified top-secret." Ellsberg, who was labeled "the most dangerous man in America" by Henry Kissinger, was exonerated of any wrongdoing and points out that he had the advantage of the court of public opinion. On the other hand, Manning - who blew the whistle inside the military - was subjected to solitary confinement and forced to stand at attention naked for hours on end, and has been denied his due process for nearly three years. Manning leaked, among other things, video of the infamous "double tap" whereby U.S. military personnel in an Apache helicopter fired upon and killed a dozen people in an Iraqi suburb, including two Reuters news staffers and those who attempted to attend to the dead and wounded (CollateralMurder.com).

Perhaps it is a more engaged American public that government leaders consider the enemy. In this sense, whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake, Sibel Edmonds, Jesselyn Radack, and Bunny Greenhouse are enemies to the immoral leadership and bad actors within such a predominately unaccountable system. The current policy of criminalizing whistleblowers' factual exposure of government misconduct is the hallmark of an abysmally corrupted and broken system - one that can only stand with the people's silent consent.

In March, Manning pleaded guilty to a series of offenses related to providing classified information to WikiLeaks. These pleas, at his initial appearance, carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. But Manning's odyssey is not over yet, and his sentencing trial began in early June. Manning, who opted out of a jury trial, could face life in prison for his whistle-blowing actions that have yet to be adjudicated or pleaded to. The prosecution has to prove he intended to aid the enemy and is expected to call more than 140 witnesses over three months. Manning has stated that he wanted to "spark a debate on the military and our foreign policy in general," and that Americans had the right to know "the true costs of war" (RCReader.com/y/whistleblowers4).

Manning's historic trial, and the ramifications of the war crimes his whistle-blowing exposed, should be front-page news and the lead story every day on broadcast and radio outlets. And so the military-industrial complex must have breathed a sigh of relief last week when hearings were conducted by the the House Oversight & Government Reform committee as part of its investigation on abuses by the Internal Revenue Service. Such a scandal, also initially exposed by whistleblowers, effectively shifted the news cycle's focus away from Manning to the hearings on the IRS's targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, its divulging of private donor information to competing organizations, and its excessive spending of $50 million between 2010 and 2012 on lavish conferences for IRS upper-management personnel. It remains to be seen what will be done, if anything, to punish the leadership that directed the rank-and-file to act as they did.

The New Normal: Of Course Your Phone and E-mail Are Tapped

Then, in seemingly rapid-fire fashion, more alarming information came to light last week, thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden. The Washington Post and The Guardian, based on Snowden's leaks, reported on the National Security Agency's massive surveillance program, PRISM, that collects and stores all Americans' cell-phone and Internet activity (RCReader.com/y/whistleblowers5) with the full cooperation of nine major providers, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Apple. But instead of investigating the NSA's unconstitutional activities, the Obama administration has indicated it will investigate the sources of the leaks - including the reporters who confirmed what many of us already feared was the case - in order to prosecute them for revealing classified information to the public.

The real dangers, however, are the secret laws that purportedly authorize intelligence agencies to spy on Americans. The public is not allowed to see these laws, or even know that they exist. Yet, in violation of all core American principles, these secret laws are being enforced against us without our knowledge or remedy. Amazingly, the Washington Post reported that "late last year, when critics in Congress sought changes in the FISA Amendments Act, the only lawmakers who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues" (RCReader.com/y/whistleblowers6).

These secret laws are nothing more than secret interpretations of broad legislation that are conveniently designated as classified so that the public can't have access. This practice represents a toxic collusion between legislators and top-level bureaucrats (government agencies and departments) that allows administrative law to trump the U.S. Constitution and common law. Congress enacts broad legislation that provides the requisite authority for administrative procedure, which in turn often violates our rights with impunity. The great hypocrisy is that if any one of us engaged in such procedures, we would go to jail.

Make no mistake: Indiscriminately collecting communications of Americans has nothing whatsoever to do with the American people's security and everything to do a larger agenda of control. The justification of "national security" has become a catchall to provide cover for what would otherwise be unacceptable policies of overreach and intrusion, blatantly violating the Bill of Rights, while convincing the public that doing so keeps us safe. The systematic erosion of privacy rights is fast becoming the new normal.

For those Americans who buy into the false choice that some relinquishment of privacy is acceptable to be safer, it is important to know that the collection and storage of domestic communications are not necessary as part of such a misguided policy choice. According to NSA insiders, on-the-shelf surveillance technology, such as Thin Thread, is fully capable of protecting Americans' privacy while mining encrypted metadata for predetermined correlations that can identify potential terrorist relationships that give rise to legitimate probable cause, justifying a warrant to then decrypt those communications for further discovery. Meanwhile all metadata that falls outside meaningful correlations is discarded forever, thereby protecting privacy rights, first and foremost.

This would be the responsible, constitutional, and honorable policy, but the leadership in the intelligence agencies has rejected this path. Given the opportunity, it would seem the majority of employees within these agencies would opt for the higher road of protecting privacy rights, as defined in their oaths of office. But why should lower-level employees risk their livelihoods by exposing breaches if we do not have their backs?

Meanwhile, the opportunity for abuse such as blackmail and coercion by the ever-expanding intelligence regime is becoming more apparent with each new whistleblower revelation. Edward Snowden, an NSA contractor directly involved with the surveillance programs, explained in a recent interview with Guardian reporter Glen Greenwald just how easily such abuse can occur (RCReader.com/y/whistleblowers7). Depending on the range of the surveillance and the authorities granted, any one of the 1.4 million government employees with top-secret clearance can gain access to records and target whomever they choose for whatever motive. From disgruntled partners to industrial spies to unscrupulous investors to sexual predators to political opposition, the list of ways to abuse this unconstitutional access is virtually endless. Information is power, and power corrupts.

Consider that the such comprehensive eavesdropping can provide compromising information on congressmen, state legislators, bureaucrats, judges, law-enforcement officers, attorneys, corporate executives and managers, regulators, clergy, and anyone who is in a position of authority and/or influence, as well as their family and friends. These circumstances stand to undermine a free and open society's existence.

What Can You Do?

You can engage your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews by exploring their understanding of the Bill of Right's First Amendment protection of freedom of the press. Your discussion should include : (1) Why is or isn't a free press essential in an open society such as America's? (2) Why should or shouldn't government be prevented from interfering with the press? (3) Why should or shouldn't ownership of a nation's press be concentrated in a few owners? (4) Why should or shouldn't whistleblowers be protected from retaliation and/or prosecution, even if the information divulged was designated as classified? (5) Do the American people have the right to know what their government is doing, including activities where corruption and/or criminality exist? (6) Why should or shouldn't government secrecy be tolerated, and what are potential consequences of such secrecy?

It is important to note that most government employees, whether politicians or bureaucrats, are well-meaning. However, turning a blind eye, participating unwittingly, or deliberately cooperating out of fear does not mitigate the damage. And it certainly fosters social decay. So when whistleblowers from the public or private sector act, in nearly every case, some tremendous social good occurs even though the whistleblowers' lives are often destroyed.

Because the corporate media does its best to minimize, marginalize, and ignore whistleblowers as part of its collusion with government and corporate special interests, most Americans have no idea the stunning contributions made by whistleblowers over the past half-century. Nor can most of us fathom the courage and depth of honor these brave individuals possess. Many whistleblowers risk everything to inform us, and we should treat them as the extraordinary heroes that they are.

To that end, read, discuss, and research one or more of the following whistleblowers, whose willingness to come forward at enormous cost to themselves and their families sets them apart as the best of humanity. As Americans, if we cannot support these exceptional individuals, then we are unworthy of their sacrifice and should retreat in shame as the worst of humanity. At a minimum, we must not allow prosecution of any kind, including of any of the journalists who also risk much to publish whistleblower-provided information.

Daniel Ellsberg. Famous for his release in 1971 of the Pentagon Papers, a compilation of 7,000 top-secret documents regarding the Vietnam War that exposed pervasive practices of deception by current and previous administrations. His whistle-blowing was from within the Rand Corporation, a major military contractor. The federal government attempted to shut down the New York Times over Ellsberg's leak but failed at the Supreme Court. MostDangerousMan.org states Ellsberg's daring act of conscience led directly to Watergate, President Nixon's resignation, and the end of the Vietnam War. More information at Ellsberg.net.

W. Mark Felt. Commonly referred to as Deep Throat, he leaked information on President Richard Nixon's participation in Watergate, over which Nixon eventually resigned.

John Paul Vann. A colonel in the U.S. Army serving in Vietnam who reported serious problems with American policies and tactics to his superiors, and later shared his concerns with the media. He was forced to resign his commission.

Gregory Minor, Richard Hubbard, and Dale Bridenbaugh. General Electric engineers known as the GE Three, who testified in congressional hearings on the safety problems at GE's nuclear-power plants, also disclosing dangers related to nuclear power.

Bradley Manning. After more than 1,000 days in prison, this private first class in the Army is currently defending himself in court-martial trial for releasing hundreds of thousands of classified - but not top-secret - government documents to WikiLeaks that expose devastating war crimes and distasteful and embarrassing diplomatic misconduct by our government. Manning was offered money for the information but refused any compensation, stating that his only purpose in releasing the documents was to inform the American people. More information at BradleyManning.org and PressFreedomFoundation.org.

Thomas Tamm. Instrumental in exposing the illegal warrant-less wiretapping of Americans during the Bush administration. This former U.S. Department of Justice attorney was an anonymous source in 2005 for the New York Times article "Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts."

Thomas Drake. Twenty-year senior executive at the National Security Agency who exposed the waste, fraud, and abuse of the NSA's Trailblazer program, which engaged in massive illegal wiretapping of unsuspecting Americans. He tried to report the misconduct through official channels to no avail, eventually contacting the press. He was maliciously charged under the Espionage Act. He was completely exonerated, but not before he was ruined both professionally and financially. He currently works in an Apple store at the Genius Bar. Watch/listen to Drake address the National Press Club at RCReader.com/y/drake1 and RCReader.com/y/drake2.

William Binney. Former high-level NSA intelligence officer who was the lead architect in designing technology that correlated metadata to reveal specific relationships that could potentially identify terrorist activities. His software, Thin Thread, specifically protected Americans' privacy by discarding extraneous data not used in meaningful correlations. The NSA rejected Binney's software program because it wanted to retain all the metadata it collected. Binney resigned in 2001, objecting to the NSA's overreach and unwillingness to protect privacy rights.

Mark Klein. The AT&T communications technician disclosed details of the secret monitoring facility built in 2003 in Room 641A of 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco, where AT&T occupies three floors and was allegedly part of Bush's warrant-less wiretapping operation.

Jesselyn Radack. Department of Justice attorney who revealed to Newsweek that the DOJ destroyed documents pertaining to John Walker Lindh's interrogation and his parent's request for a lawyer. She was forced from her job, then retaliated against via DOJ's influence and attempted blacklisting. As the Government Accountability Project's national-security and human-rights director, she now represents whistleblowers who face legal consequences for their actions, including Thomas Drake.

Russ Tice. Ex-intelligence officer for the NSA, the U.S. Air Force, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the Defense Intelligence Agency who contributed to the New York Times coverage of the NSA wiretapping controversy in 2005.

Samy Kamkar. Computer hacker credited with exposing the illegal mobile-phone tracking of all users, regardless of GPS or location-services settings, on Apple iPhones and Google Android and Microsoft Windows Phone mobile devices, including their transmission of GPS and Wi-Fi data to their parent companies in 2010 and 2011.

Sibel Edmonds. Former FBI translator who was fired in 2002 for trying to expose gross incompetence, security breaches, and potential espionage. She founded the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition to assist other whistleblowers, including providing legal aid. She operates the BoilingFrogsPost.com Web site, publishing news, analysis, and podcasts in collaboration with fellow whistleblowers and investigative journalists.

Mark Whitacre. Archer Daniels Midland scientist who covertly worked with the FBI to expose price-fixing.

John Kopchinski. West Point graduate and sales representative for Pfizer whose lawsuit triggered a government investigation into Pfizer's illegal marketing of the prescription painkiller Bextra, resulting in a global settlement of $2.3 billion - the largest health-care-fraud settlement in history.

Robert Rudolph, Joseph Faltaous, Steven Woodward, and Jaydeen Vincente. Four sales reps for Eli Lilly who filed lawsuits against the company for illegally marketing the drug Zyprexa for uses not approved by the FDA. Eli Lily pleaded guilty to off-label uses, including for dementia in the elderly. The $1.4-billion penalty included the largest criminal fine for an individual corporation in history. The four whistleblowers shared nearly $79 million.

Rick S. Piltz. Employed at NASA, Piltz informed on White House official Philip Cooney, who - having no scientific background - edited a climate-change report to reflect the administration's views on the subject.

Frederic Whitehurst. FBI chemist with an expertise in explosives who reported on the lack of scientific standards and problems in the FBI's crime lab, including issues with the first World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings. His disclosures triggered an investigation by the DOJ inspector general that resulted in a complete overhaul of the FBI's crime lab. Whitehurst filed a federal lawsuit claiming retaliation and won a $1.16-million settlement. He know heads the FBI Oversight Project of the National Whistleblower Center. More information at Whistleblowers.org.

Karen Hudes. Twenty-year senior counsel for the World Bank who exposed massive corruption at the central bank. In a 2011 Swiss study published in the PLOS ONE journal, Hudes accused the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank and the other primary central banks around the world, citing the expansive control these private banks wield over the planet's myriad economies, including vast systemic influence over the globe's governments, large and small. More information at KAHudes.net.

Johnathan Landay. Veteran national-security reporter for McClatchy News who reported that the Obama administration has targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan and Pakistani militants in drone strikes. This contradicts Obama's claim that only senior-level operatives who pose an "imminent threat" to the U.S. are targeted.

Franz Gayl. Former Marine Corp officer turned private-sector consultant for the Marines on Iraq "needs assessments" in the field. He was adamant about replacing Humvees, which were never designed for use in combat zones, with the more-appropriate, superiorly protective vehicle known as the MRAPs because soldiers were being killed and horribly maimed. When the Department of Defense delayed the request for the replacement MRAPs for 19 months, Gayl went directly to the press with his concerns. His whistleblowing resulted in the immediate deployment of MRAPs to Iraq's combat zones, saving countless lives and limbs.

John Kiriakou. The former CIA officer was charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly disclosing to the media classified evidence of torture during prisoner interrogations under the Bush administration. He is one of the few whistleblowers sentenced to prison time for leaking classified information relative to war crimes.

Babak Pasdar. Computer-security consultant who, while doing contract work for a telecom carrier in Quantico, Virginia, in 2003, authored a seven-page affidavit that he submitted to the Government Accountability Project on the U.S. government's capability for high-speed access to the carrier's wireless systems, exposing customers' phone calls, Internet activity, and locations to blanket surveillance.

Sherron Watkins. Enron senior employee who exposed the financial fraud and deception occurring inside Enron, resulting in the prosecution and incarceration of top-level executives. She was named one of Time's 2002 People of the Year.

Jeffrey Wigand. After being fired as vice president of research and development for the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, he told 60 Minutes in a report broadcast on February 4, 1996, that the company deliberately manipulated the nicotine level in cigarettes to addict smokers.

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo. A former EPA senior policy analyst in South Africa charged with helping the South African government with public-health issues, she exposed the EPA for racial and gender discrimination after being fired for reporting on the dangerous conditions workers were exposed to while mining the dangerous substance vanadium for an American company. Her case led to the No-Fear Act of 2002, making federal agencies more accountable to employee complaints.

Joe Darby and Samuel Provance. Both, independent of one another, exposed the prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Gary J. Aguirre. As an employee for the SEC in 2006, Aguirre was responsible for exposing the SEC's failure to investigate John Mack for insider trading involving Pequot Capital Management. He was fired over his complaint of special treatment for Mack but was later given a wrongful-termination settlement of $755,000. His whistle-blowing caused congressional investigations that forced the SEC to reopen the investigation, resulting in a fine of $28 million.

Frank Serpico. The first to testify on police corruption inside the New York police department, he was made famous by the 1973 film Serpico, starring Al Pacino.

Justin Hopson. A state trooper for the New Jersey State Police, Hopson refused to testify in support of an illegal arrest made by a fellow trooper. He also revealed a secret society within the State Police known as the Lords of Discipline. He experienced retaliation in the form of hazing and harassment, eventually receiving a $400,000 settlement. His autobiographical book Breaking the Blue Wall was released in 2012. More information at BreakingTheBlueWall.com.

Robert J. McCarthy. He was forced from his government service even though he received the Fern Holland Courageous Lawyer Award in 2008 as field solicitor for the U.S. Department of the Interior and as general counsel for the U.S. Section of the International Boundary & Water Commission. He helped expose the Interior Department's massive mismanagement, including fraud, of $3.5 billion in Native American trust resources that endangered the health and safety of millions on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, badly damaging the area's ecosystem. McCarthy continues to advocate on behalf of fellow whistleblowers, and for reforms in certain federal agencies.

Bunnantine Greenhouse. Former chief civilian contracting officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responsible for reporting the illegality of no-bid contracts for reconstruction in Iraq by a Haliburton subsidiary. In 2011, "Bunny" reached a $970,000 settlement, six years after blowing the whistle on what she called the worst case of government abuse she had witnessed in her 20-year career.

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