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Letter: Obama's War on Whistleblowers

To the Editor:

President Obama promised a “sunshine” policy for his administration, pledging to make openness and transparency a top priority and to “protect whistleblowers.” He pointed out that “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out.”

Yet, this administration has gone after whistleblowers and leakers with aggressiveness, both in court and inside various government agencies. It has brought six criminal cases against officials for confiding to the media, whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden — more than all previous presidents combined. At the same time, the administration has not prosecuted the CIA torturers, senior leaders responsible for Abu Ghraib or other war crimes, or anyone connected with the illegal surveillance of American citizens. Clearly, it is the messenger not the message that is the focus. This is chilling for both those entrusted with keeping legitimate secrets and for whistleblowers or officials who want the public to understand how our national security is or is not protected. Such “slow-drip intimidation” keeps people in line; the administration seems to prefer the silence of compliance to the noise of democracy.

What conundrums we face in attempting to reach some balance between transparency and nontransparency relative to government policies and actions. Think of the complexities involved in ferreting out relevant information about terrorists or potential terrorists in order to ensure our safety. Then, place such efforts within our constitutional context, knowing that, in the words of John F. Kennedy, “The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society.”

Though we face genuinely dangerous enemies abroad, there seems now a new enemy — American oppositional types and whistleblowers. Given the last decade of carnage with no public debate or aggressive media investigations, we must be vigilant about our government’s commitments. It is timely to remember the aphorism, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to remain silent.”

Bob Scobie

Hanover