intelligence whistleblowers

The New Yorker takes the publication of Edward Snowden’s new memoir to explore the state of whistleblowing. Jill Lepore offers this take on what it means that more insiders are coming forwards with evidence of wrongdoing.

Whistle-blowing is very often an upstanding act of courage, undertaken at great personal cost, and resulting in great public good. But the presence of a lot of whistle-blowing—an age of whistle-blowing—isn’t a sign of a thriving democracy or a healthy business world; it’s a sign of a weak democracy and a sick business world. When institutions are working well, either they don’t engage in misconduct or their internal mechanisms discover, thwart, and punish it. Democracies have checks and balances, including investigations, ethics committees, and elections. Businesses have regulations, compliance departments, and inspections. Whistle-blowing is necessary when these safeguards fail. But to celebrate whistle-blowing as anything other than a last resort is to give up on institutions.
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While working as a translator for the a British spy agency, Katherine Gun leaked a government memo to the press. In doing so, she violated the country’s Official Secrets Act. The memo detailed a request for damaging information the UK and US wanted to use as leverage with UN Security Council members reluctant to vote for the 2003 Iraq war. “Official Secrets,”a movie documenting the case, opens today. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Knightly said they looked to the film “All the President’s Men” for inspiration. It shows, in a good way. While one of the more tense moments in that Watergate film involves a confusing phone conversation, in this one, drama emerges from a spell check error.

Below find comment from some of the players and reviews of the film.

Katherine Gun recalls her reaction to the memo in a Q&A with Salon:

This was literally right before Colin Powell’s speech at the UN [alleging that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction]. I got an email on the 31st of January, it was a Friday. The email was basically forwarded down to a whole group of analysts, and that was approximately 100 people or so, and I happened to be one of them. So it was an email from a guy called Frank Koza, he was the head of regional targets at NSA. It was basically a request from the NSA to GCHQ, it just said, “We want all the information you can gather on the personal or the domestic or office communications of the six delegates that were sitting on the UN Security Council, the swing nations.”…They wanted any information on these diplomats, and it said specifically, this is a quote, “the whole gamut of information that would give U.S. policymakers an edge in achieving goals favorable to the U.S.” So I was just stunned by this, you know? I was appalled and I was shocked.


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