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Whistleblowers, Watchdogs, And The People’s Right To Know

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Whistleblowers

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” – Winston Churchill

With all due deference to Sir Winston we would argue that there are still a few voters among the electorate who are actively engaged in the pursuit of the most up-to-date, unvarnished political information available to them.

Others, of course, are quite happy to lose themselves in an afternoon at the tractor pull or with getting their news from Rush Limbaugh, but that’s another story.

While we trust and believe in this country and the people who lead it we prefer to remain just a wee bit cynical, asking the hard questions when necessary and using the resources available to us in a modern world to unearth the un-redacted, unexpurgated data we require to make informed decisions about our government and those chosen to represent us. We do this out of the belief that power can be an alluring lover, with those who seek it willing to do – or say – just about anything to keep hold of it.

Over the years, a string of brave – some might say tortured – souls have stepped forward for a variety of reasons but most often out of a sense that great wrongs have been or are being committed in our name, and risked the persecution of their governments to bring critical information about wrongdoing, real or perceived, to the attention of the people.

For this, many of these self-appointed whistleblowers have been pursued and pilloried by their own governments, hunted until they have no home to call their own and their lives and careers are nothing but a memory. You may have heard of a few of them. There was Stewart Menzies, a serving British Army officer who, after seeing his regiment mangled in a series of pointless engagements organized by officers without a thought for the thousands of lives they were sacrificing, proved that certain general staff officers were concocting intelligence reports out of a desire to show success where there was none. There was Peter Buxtun, who brought the twisted experiments of the Tuskegee Syphilis Cases to light, exposing the country’s racist leanings in the process. And there was W. Mark Felt, a ranking FBI official whose penchant for subrosa meetings in underground parking garages led to President Richard Nixon’s involvement in Watergate – a scandal that eventually led to Nixon’s resignation and prison terms for White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and presidential adviser John Ehrlichman.

There have been more recent cases, as well. You may remember Cynthia Cooper and Sherron Watkins, who shared Time magazine’s People of the Year honor in 2002 after blowing the lid off the Worldcom and Enron financial scandals. More of you may have heard of Julian Assange, founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks and the Sunshine Press, whose posting of cables detailing the thoughts of American diplomats about their global counterparts is believed to have sparked the Tunisian revolution – which ultimately inspired other uprisings in the Middle East which continue to this day. We have Bradley Manning, currently being prosecuted for supplying a “treasure trove” of classified documents to Assange – including a video showing cockpit video and voice recording of two American helicopter pilots opening fire on a group of Iraqis in July 2007, killing 12 people, one of them a Reuters photographer whose telephoto lens was apparently mistaken by the pilots as an anti-tank weapon. And now there’s Edward Snowden, the NSA and CIA contractor currently on the run from the United States after leaking details of top-secret US and British government mass surveillance programs to the press.

It remains to be seen how much damage they and others like them have done, beyond mere violation of laws established by governments to keep them from doing what they have done, and it is difficult to project if history will see them as heroes or traitors. But removing the personal motivation of the whistleblower from the equation, I can only say how refreshing it was to see much of this information dragged out and under the light of public scrutiny, because so much of what my government does in my name these days seems to be carried out in secret.

I happen to feel much of this secrecy is wrong and I believe many of you may feel the same, but I’d be interested in knowing: how much of what the government does should be shared with the people? How much should we be allowed to see? Exactly what can be done in the interest of “national security” and are you satisfied with the way things or going or would you like to see even more government transparency?

We’re interested in your answer. Feel free to drop your comment in the comment stream below. And, no, your name will not be given to WikiLeaks – or to the CIA. This is still a free country, right? Right?