Open Letter Explains How Responsible Whistleblowers Make America Safer

An open letter to the American people released on Sunday warns that the Intelligence Community whistleblower whose complaint set off the impeachment inquiry now underway in the House “deserves our protection.” An updated list of signatories released this evening includes over 100 former national security officials from Republican and Democratic administrations, including several former cabinet secretaries. The group notes that “all Americans should be united in demanding that all branches of our government and all outlets of our media protect this whistleblower and his or her identity.” The full text of the letter and the updated list of signatories is available here. 

In addition to highlighting the need to ensure the whistleblower is protected against retaliation, the letter also addresses two significant issues raised by the whistleblower’s complaint and the attacks in retaliation by the President and others. 

First, the letter explains that “a responsible whistleblower makes all Americans safer by ensuring that serious wrongdoing can be investigated and addressed, thus advancing the cause of national security to which we have devoted our careers.” Whistleblower laws are designed to ensure that abuses of power and misuse of taxpayer funds can be looked into and remedied — this is particularly important in the national security arena where, by necessity, much of the government’s conduct is shielded from public scrutiny. Indeed, one component of the whistleblower’s complaint involves the use of “an electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature” in what appears to have been an effort to hide indications of serious wrongdoing where only those with access to the most sensitive classified information could access it.

Second, in an era of frequent leaks to the media, and even to foreign adversaries, of sensitive national security information, the letter highlights that this whistleblower not only lived up to his or her responsibility to sound the alarm on “indications of serious wrongdoing,” but did so through “precisely the channels made available by federal law for raising such concerns.” This is, in short, the system working precisely as intended. Or, as the letter explains: “simply put, he or she has done what our law demands; now he or she deserves our protection.”

Protection in this context means more than just physical safety measures that may be necessary for the whistleblower now or in the future (although that’s vitally important given threats that have unfortunately already been levied). It also means holding politicians, media outlets, and government officials in positions of power accountable for their statements and actions, whether in the form of revealing information that might lead to the whistleblower’s identity being made public, or professional retaliation, such as the firing or sidelining in the workplace of those who sound alarms through lawful channels to protect our national interests. And it means drawing a line in the sand that harassment of any kind, which is often designed to intimidate others from coming forward, has no place in our democracy.  

IMAGE: Redacted pages of the whistleblower complaint referring to US President Donald Trump’s call with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky. (Photo by EVA HAMBACH/AFP/Getty Images)

 

About the Author(s)

Tess Bridgeman

Senior Editor at Just Security. Former Special Assistant to the President, former Associate Counsel to the President, former Deputy Legal Adviser to the National Security Council (NSC), formerly Served at the Department of State in the Office of the Legal Adviser, in the Office of Political-Military Affairs and as Special Assistant to the Legal Adviser. Currently Senior Fellow and Visiting Scholar, Reiss Center on Law and Security at NYU School of Law. You can follow her on Twitter (@bridgewriter).