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Whistleblowers are Watching – Will the National Security Whistleblower be Heard?

Posted  September 23, 2019

In Friday’s Washington Post, Constantine Cannon whistleblower attorney Eric Havian wrote about the potential impact that the current high-profile intelligence community whistleblower battle may have on other potential whistleblowers.  “Whistleblowers are almost always ambivalent about speaking up,” writes Havian. For those who may be considering speaking up, Havian is concerned that the administration’s efforts to conceal the whistleblower’s report send a discouraging message:  “Just because you blow the whistle doesn’t mean anyone will hear it.”

Whistleblowers are often able to report misconduct under whistleblower reward laws that can provide a financial reward, and, as Havian writes, the potential for these rewards can be an important factor for whistleblowers as they weigh the costs and benefits of reporting wrongdoing.  For other individuals, however, like national security and intelligence whistleblowers, there are typically no financial awards available under current law.  For these whistleblowers, one of the most important upsides of coming forward is “exposure of wrongdoing and the satisfaction of seeing that wrongdoing addressed.”

As Constantine Cannon whistleblower attorney Harry Litman also wrote in the Post last week, to provide this benefit and help ensure that information from whistleblowers is addressed, inspectors general and whistleblower programs typically put oversight outside of direct executive-branch control.  Here, however, the whistleblower’s information has been blocked by the administration. As Havian writes, “the whistleblower made a cost-benefit calculation, raised an alarm and discovered that the benefit — exposure of potential wrongdoing — may never materialize.”

Denying this benefit to whistleblowers does more than change the cost-benefit calculation for an individual whistleblower.  Whistleblowers often find it gratifying to share their story and evidence with counsel, the government, and ultimately the public.  There can be tremendous satisfaction in finally being heard and having the evidence reviewed and investigated, even for a whistleblower who remains publicly anonymous.  However, the stakes are high for the whistleblower, with the risk of retaliation or some form of estrangement or alienation very real.  Without some assurance of the integrity of the process, it is not only the whistleblower who loses.  If whistleblowers do not come forward, Havian concludes, we all lose the chance to learn about the malfeasance that they might expose.

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