All potential whistleblowers face a choice. Report through official channels — their agency’s whistleblower program or a company’s compliance office. Or, go to Congress or the press. In yesterday’s post, an accounting professor made the case for using inside channels. In a Q.&A. in today’s Boston Globe, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg advises otherwise.
If you had one message to America about whistle-blowing and its value, what would it be?
We need more whistle-blowing, not less, and that has never been more evident than right now. . . . Don’t go through channels. Go to the press and Congress directly. . . . The risks are very real, but the risks can be worth taking.
The NWC advises whistleblowers to talk to a lawyer before they go anywhere. The whistleblower protection laws are complex and vary from case to case, agency to agency. In a recent interview with WGBH in Boston, Ellsberg noted that he didn’t have many options.
It was clear to me that Congress should have that information. And there was at that time no legal route, as there is now with the Intelligence Whistleblower Protection Act for the current whistleblower, that provides her or him with an authorized way to get that information to Congress.There was nothing but for me to copy that information and hand it to Senator Fulbright of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, later to Senator Mathias or Rep. Pete McCloskey, each of whom promised to put it out, but then in the end decided to let me do it. And when it finally came out, I was faced with 115 years of a possible prison sentence.
One reason Ellsberg has been popping up in Boston is the announcement that the University of Massachusetts has acquired his papers for their archives.
“The focus of our archive is social change,’’ said Robert S. Cox, head of special collections and university archives at UMass. “People, organizations, and individuals who go about trying to change the world consciously for the better. And so social change becomes what we do. And Dan fits that.’’
Cox said it will take two years to process and catalogue the collection.
At UMass, Cox said Ellsberg’s papers will be rich material for scholars who are examining warfare or nuclear power or governmental secrecy — or ethics and morality.
“He could have stayed in his lane,’’ Cox said when I visited with him in his 25th-floor office at the library here. “He could have been a guy sitting up in the highest echelons of war planning, and if he had been one of those guys who was willing to live with that, we wouldn’t know him today.’’