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Film Review: Through Intimate Details, ‘Silenced’ Shows the Emotional Toll of Becoming a Whistleblower

During President Barack Obama’s presidency, a record number of government employees have been prosecuted for leaking or blowing the whistle. Several of them have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act, a World War I-era law that was intended to be used against spies and not for punishing people who disclose information without authorization. Simultaneously, the amount of information being kept secret by the government has increased exponentially, as the national security state’s tentacles reach out establishing more control in the United States.

Silenced brings viewers into this world.

Directed by James Spione, it tells the personal stories of three whistleblowers—former NSA employee Thomas Drake, former Justice Department employee Jesselyn Radack and former CIA officer John Kiriakou. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York on April 19. (It will screen one more time at 2:30 pm on April 24 and then will be screened at other festivals later this year.)

Drake blew the whistle on NSA surveillance and what the government should have known prior to 9/11. Radack blew the whistle on how John Walker Lindh (“American Taliban”) was being treated when she uncovered evidence that the Justice Department was trying to conceal how it had violated his due process rights. Kiriakou blew the whistle when he said on ABC News in 2007 that waterboarding was torture and it was part of Bush administration policy.

The thread that runs throughout the film is Kiriakou’s case. He is the main character because his case is unfolding in real time and Radack and Drake are supporting characters, who provide support to Kiriakou because they have had similar experiences.

Kiriakou needs a favorable decision from the judge so that he can be confident he will be able to defend himself at trial. The struggle his wife and children are going through is shown on screen in scenes at home. When his daughter cries as she gets hurt playing in a tree, it puts an emotional exclamation point on the anguish the family is experiencing and will have to live with as he goes off to prison.

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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."