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Government Whistleblowers

Date Sunday - October 18, 2015
Host George Knapp
Guests James SpioneThomas DrakeJohn Kiriakou

George Knapp was joined, in the first hour, by Academy Award nominated director James Spione, who discussed his film Silenced, which deals with Washington's increasingly draconian response to whistleblowers, and the devastating personal toll on those who've questioned official national security policy. Two of the three whistleblowers highlighted in the film, John Kiriakou and Thomas Drake, later joined the program to share their experiences and reflect on how their lives were affected once they found themselves in the crosshairs of a vindictive federal government.

Spione observed that the climate of fear and security that has enveloped the United States since 9/11 has given way to a situation where whistleblowers are "not just persecuted, they're prosecuted to an unprecedented degree." Compounding this troubling issue, he said, is that the whistleblowers who seem to draw the most vociferous response of the government do so because they reveal information which challenges official policy or exposes criminality. He also noted that prosecution of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act has increased significantly under the Obama administration, which has invoked the law "more times that all other administrations combined in the last 100 years." Ironically, Spione mused, this tenacious approach has led to new whistleblowers taking extreme measures to release information, such as in the case of Edward Snowden, who fled the country in order to be heard.

During the next 90 minutes, former CIA counterterrorism officer John Kiriakou detailed his harrowing experience being prosecuted as a whistleblower. He explained that the ordeal began after he appeared on ABC News and revealed that the CIA not only had a torture program but that it was sanctioned by the president. This, he said, led to intense scrutiny by the government that culminated with him being charged with multiple felonies which would have sent him to prison for decades. Despite a deep desire to fight these charges in court, Kiriakou lamented that the government strategy in these instances is to overwhelm defendants with a massive amount of charges in the hopes of obtaining a plea deal. As such, he ultimately opted to accept such a deal for lesser charges in order to spare his family from the crippling debt which would arise from a lengthy court battle.

In the final 90 minutes of the program, former NSA official Thomas Drake reflected on his battle with the government after he spoke out about the agency's illegal spying program. Drake lambasted critics who say that whistleblowers should simply use official channels to report wrongdoing, stressing that he attempted this tactic numerous times only to receive no response. Eventually, after speaking with the media about his concerns, he was charged with ten felonies under the Espionage Act, saw himself portrayed as a traitor by the press, and left with no means of employment. He speculated, since his case occurred in 2010 and predated high profile whistleblowers like Kiriakou, Snowden and Chelsea Manning, that the immense government response to his actions was aimed at making an example of him and creating a chilling effect to dissuade others from speaking out about institutionalized wrongdoing that they had witnessed.

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