The Price of Whistleblowing: Manning, Greenwald, Assange, Kiriakou and Snowden
We were eating dinner last night around my kitchen table when the news of the dustup between Wikileaks and the Interceptcame through the tubes. As I read the details to the people who came here to share food and conversation, everyone’s eyebrows raised.
The eyebrows at a lot of tables probably raised as Wikileaks took the Intercept to task for its latest story, and failing to release the name of one of the countries in which the United States is spying on its citizens. The Intercept maintained they had been shown compelling evidence that led them to redact the name; Wikileaks maintained the citizens of the country have a right to know.
The eyebrows at my kitchen table were somewhat unique as it relates to the story, however. They belong to members of a group we jokingly refer to as the Friends of the Enemies of the State, a regular gathering of people who have personal experience on the business end of the state’s relentless persecution of those who choose to expose its criminality.
I’ll leave it to the people who come here as to whether they want to identify themselves or not. But everyone regards these dinners as a place where everyone knows they are among friends who understand they’ve been through and aren’t judging them for it. Many have lost everything — marriages, jobs, homes, relationships with friends and family, have risked jail (and in some cases gone to jail) — as a result of decisions they made to become whistleblowers.
(I will identify one person, with permission — FDL contributor and State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren, who is in town promoting his new book The Ghosts of Tom Joad. It’s excellent, please buy it.)
Without saying how everyone came down, I will say that there was sympathy expressed on for those on both sides. More than one of the regular attendees at the FES dinners has been charged with espionage. More than one has been to visit Julian Assange in England, and Edward Snowden in Russia. And they are all keenly aware that these are extremely difficult decisions that whistleblowers and journalists are increasingly having to face in the era of big data — and that the price of a mistake can be perilously high.