November 22, 2015

What it's really like to be a whistleblower

Timothy Bella, Al Jazeera - Five years after becoming the first American to be charged for espionage in nearly four decades, Thomas Drake is still trying to rebuild his life.

In 2010, Drake, a senior executive with the National Security Agency from 2001 to 2008, was indicted under the Espionage Act by Barack Obama’s administration for leaking classified information, after speaking out on secret mass surveillance programs, multibillion-dollar fraud and intelligence failures from 9/11. He was the first U.S. whistleblower to be charged under the Espionage Act since Daniel Ellsberg in 1971 and faced 35 years in prison before the government’s charges against him were ultimately dropped in 2011.

And Drake, much like fellow NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, remains a case study of sorts for the present and future of whistleblower protections in the U.S...

On the burden of being a whistleblower who talks to the press: The burden is huge.
I didn’t have an attorney at the time. I didn’t have anyone representing. I now tell people that before you decide to blow the whistle or leak to the press in the public interest, make sure you hire a really good attorney or an advocacy or support group...

On how the fallout affected his personal life: Years and years of associations, social networks, people I got to know over time — all of that is gone. They’re just gone. I had family questioning me. There were serious reservations from people about who I was. I had one person who I worked with who said, “I don’t know you anymore.”

You’re also putting a huge burden on your family. The FBI raided me. I was no longer earning an income, and I went from senior executive to wage grade. I was headed for divorce. All these dynamics were in play. There are a lot of prices paid by whistleblowers. I became, essentially, broken and practically bankrupt. The court declared me indigent for two years. I went through all of my liquid assets. I couldn’t pay for my own attorney, and I was appointed public defenders. And I was facing the prospect of going to prison for many decades. So yeah, it’s an extraordinary burden.

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