The new president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III (pictured), has granted security guarantees to a group of whistleblowers under the Witness Protection Program. Now those whistleblowers are disclosing more information about corruption under the prior administration. GMA News TV is reporting that the whistleblowers will disclose information about election rigging involving the prior president and certain military leaders. "We are more than willing (to expose more anomalies) because before, we were being suppressed. Now, we are free to talk," former Army technical sergeant Vidal Doble told GMA. Doble previously released a wiretapped conversation in June 2005 called "Hello, Garci." The recording portrays former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo discussing rigging election results with former Elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. Doble plans to name more names. Doble also reports that military officials told him to implicate only Samuel Ong, a former National Bureau of Investigation official who exposed the election scandal. He produced tape recordings implicating Macapagal-Arroyo in cheating to win her 2004 reelection. Ong died of lung cancer in May 2009. Corrupt military officials apparently wanted the deceased whistleblower to take the fall for the scandal. Jose Barredo Jr., another member of the whistleblower’s group, told GMA that he plans to disclose how funds for a seedling and fertilizer fund were diverted to Macapagal-Arroyo's campaign. Jueteng whistleblower Sandra Cam told GMA that her group applied for the Witness Protection Program because it trusts in the leadership of its present head, Secretary Leila de Lima. I reported here last March about the murder of jueteng whistleblower Wilfredo "Boy" Mayor. Jueteng is an illegal numbers game, and Mayor's testimony helped convict a political ally of Macapagal-Arroyo. These developments demonstrate the power of having whistleblower protections strong enough to convince whistleblowers that they will be safe in making their disclosures. The closer the issues are to national security, the stronger the protections need to be.
In yesterday's Washington Post, an editorial called "Charging WikiLeaks" urges the Obama administration to refrain from pressing criminal charges against WikiLeaks leaders for releasing classified State Department cables. "Media outlets do not have a legal duty to abide by the government's secrecy demands," the editorial declares. What should the government do? At the end of the editorial, the Post editors suggest, "[s]horing up the independence and tools of the inspectors general . . . might persuade the next would-be whistleblower to tern to a responsive . . . government entity . . ..." Does the Post really think that would-be whistleblowers don't have the address of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees? My experience is that inspectors generals are good at taking action against corruption that the leadership does not want. If it is the leadership that is corrupt, then the inspector general they pick is unlikely to take action against them. My hunch is that most would-be whistleblowers would figure that out. How about meaningful legal protections against retaliation? The current version of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) in the Senate (S. 372) would leave national security whistleblowers stuck with the decisions of the leaders of the intelligence agencies. That is likely to be worse that the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) which rules against whistleblowers over 98% of the time. The House version (HR 1507) would allow all federal employees to have access to jury trials. Even the employees of national security agencies have access to jury trials for Title VII claims of discrimination. The legal system has figured out how to permit these claims to be tried without damaging national security. It is time we use this process to enhance national security by making sure that whistleblowers have the gold standard of justice when they pursue the lawful means of raising concerns about abuses.
Howard Lafranchi, of the Christian Science Monitor, has written an article about the considerations faced by national security whistleblowers. The article is called, "WikiLeaks: When is it 'right' to leak national security secrets?" Lafranchi lays out how the government is likely to face a rising number of national security whistleblowers. The Washington Post series, Top Secret America last month revealed that the government has issued security clearances to 854,000 people. The national security regime is so large and diverse, and the technology for making disclosures is so prevalent, that it is hard to imagine that there will not be more leaks. FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley told Lafranchi that, "The classifying of information has gone way up – it's doubled or tripled since these wars began – and then we have nearly nine years and counting of Afghanistan and Iraq and the controversial practices associated with them." Lafranchi also quotes me, using the introductory comments I made to explain the nature of whistleblowing. "In legal cases, we speak of the 'protected activity' of the whistle-blower, the individual who comes forth with information about something the employer is doing that is damaging to the public good." Those who want to read more about my thoughts on the WikiLeaks disclosures can see my prior blog post. Lafranchi's article goes on to consider the variety of motives that may influence a person to become a whistleblower. I am reminded of a number of my clients who had no intention of become whistleblowers, but were surprised to learn that just by doing what they thought was right, they had engaged in "protected activity."