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Justice Department Whistleblower Jesselyn Radack on Bradley Manning as Classic Whistleblower

Following Pfc. Bradley Manning’s statement in court, Justice Department whistleblower Jesselyn Radack shares her reaction to the statement and thoughts on his case. She addresses whether Manning is a whistleblower and considers the prosecution she went through, along with her work at the Government Accountability Project representing whistleblowers.


According to the regular Whistleblower Protection Act, officials are normally not to take “adverse personnel actions against an employee as reprisal for their disclosure of information that they reasonably believe evidences a violation of any law, rule, regulation,” Jesselyn Radack, former Justice Department employee and whistleblower explains. Information on “ross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority or a substantial danger to public health or safety,” is covered as well.

Pfc. Bradley Manning, who disclosed information to WikiLeaks and is being prosecuted by the military for his acts, clearly witnessed crimes. “What he was witnessing was abusive in his opinion and could be believed to be a danger to public health and safety to the extent that innocent people,” Radack adds. “The problem is the Whistleblower Protection Act excludes national security and intelligence people, but luckily for Bradley there is a Military Whistleblower Protection Act, which prohibits anyone from taking, threatening or withholding a personnel action against a member of the armed forces as reprisal for making or preparing protected communications.”

What this act lists is the following: a protected communication is any lawful communication to a member of Congress or an inspector general as well as any communication made to a person or organization designated under competent regulations to receive such communications. “That gives him a little more latitude to go to Congress or an inspector general.” For civilians, whistleblowers can go to a rights organization or a media/press rights organization. Manning’s problem is WikiLeaks is “not an organization designated under regulations to receive communications” if this act was even applied.

“A lot of whistleblowers complain to the wrong entity,” Radack notes. National security and intelligence whistleblowers go to the Office of Special Counsel, which does not offer protection to national security or intelligence whistleblowers. As the Government Accountability Project’s National Security and Human Rights Director, she has represented whistleblowers who went to the inspector general of the wrong government agency or to an agency related to where they are employed.

Furthermore, there are recent examples of people going to inspector generals after going to their boss, who have been criminally prosecuted. NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake was indicted and prosecuted. State Department employee Peter Van Buren was threatened with criminal prosecution for not going through official channels to get his book approved (even though the 30-day period for approval had elapsed and he was technically allowed to have it published).

“I have no idea if you were in a war zone how you’d be making protected communications to inspector general or member of Congress,” Radack declares. (She does not know if soldiers are informed there is such a thing as a Military Whistleblower Protection Act. In contrast, soldiers are required to be notified of laws for reporting sexual assault or harassment in the military.)

Radack addresses a key issue many have had with Manning’s acts. It has been said, if he only had released the “Collateral Murder,” it would be easier to support him. She says the Justice Department will go after people who for disclosing too little information or too much information. The amount does not matter and will be used against whistleblowers to win cases where prosecutors decide to pursue individuals for disclosures.

With regards to his statement, she says, “Manning was doing a deliberative thought process about how to get this information into the public, which I think is a goal of a lot of whistleblowers. They want to remain anonymous and they want to get the information out there to the public. In that sense, he very much fits the profile of a classic whistleblower.”

There is a difference between “leaking” and “whistleblowing.” Leaking is “done for no other purpose than to destroy someone or to take them down,” she argues. “Whereas, whistleblowing is done for the greater good or the public interest. That is why I hate when they call whistleblowers “leakers.” When Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby leaked Valerie Plame’s name,” say adds, “That was a leak. That was done purely to retaliate against her husband for his op-ed [in the New York Times]. There was no social good or public interest reason to do that.”

Manning may not have been familiar with whistleblower protection law, but he thought there should be “public debate and discussion.” That “made it crystal clear to me” that he was a whistleblower, just like statements in the chat logs had previously made it clear.

Radack identifies with what Manning said about his conscience being clear after he gave the material to WikiLeaks. There is a load taken off you if you give it to another organization. “At least it is out there” now, and “some other people have access.” It is impossible to control what a reporter puts in an article. Nobody really knows for certain the information will surface in a story, but it is a huge relief after “carrying around that kind of information” to finally see it receiving widespread attention.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."