Government Whistleblowers in the Crosshairs

Normally, the government tends to appreciate whistleblowers–at least when they’re helping the government get back millions of dollars stolen by a shady contractor. When it comes to national secrets, however, the government takes off the gloves and will vigorously pursue government employees who are believed to have leaked government secrets. A grand jury recently indicted a NSA official on charges that he leaked government secrets to a newspaper reporter

The official, Thomas A. Drake, was accused of obstructing justice. He provided information to a reporter for the Baltimore Sun that detailed failings in NSA programs to use computers to collect and sort electronic intelligence. The programs ended up costing billions and were plagued with cost overruns. The NSA appears to have had some serious egg on its face after the program fizzled, so it’s possible that Drake was a convenient scapegoat. Press advocates argue that Drake’s indictment will have a chilling effect on reporters’ interaction with potential whistleblowers. Of equal importance is the effect that such prosecutions will have on future whistleblowers themselves.

In another case, the government recently charged another man, a former contract linguist for the F.B.I named Shamai Kedem Leibowitz, with leaking five classified documents to a blogger. Leibowitz pleaded guilty in December 2009. Leibowitz’s case is interesting because he is not exactly a whistleblower, but more of an activist with a (controversial) political agenda. He is also the grandson of a well-known Israeli philosopher, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, and had gotten top-secret security clearance which gave him access to documents classified as “secret.” The younger Leibowitz was sentenced to 20 months in prison for the leaks.

National security is obviously of the utmost importance, but there is an argument to be made that whistleblowers need to feel confident that they can bring certain information to the attention of the public without fear of reprisals. The Obama administration appears to be just as aggressive as the Bush administration when it comes to pursuing individuals who divulge secrets to reporters, so it seems that business will stay pretty much “as usual” in this tricky area.

This article is brought to you by The Qui Tam Team, the epicenter for whistleblowers and people interested in the False Claims Act, Qui Tam Provisions, and Medicare and Medicaid fraud. To discuss a potential case, please call Eric Young at 1 (800) 590-4116.