Whistleblowers urge workers to disclose classified information

By Chris Strohm

September 9, 2004

A group of former government officials urged federal employees Thursday to come forward with information exposing government wrongdoing -- especially with regard to Iraq -- and announced a new legal support network to protect whistleblowers.

The group issued a public memo asking current government officials to disclose classified information concerning plans and cost estimates for the war in Iraq, as well as other documents that reveal government deceit or misconduct.

"Some of you have documentation of wrongly concealed facts and analyses that, if brought to light, would impact heavily on public debate regarding crucial matters of national security, both foreign and domestic," the memo states. "We urge you to provide that information now, both to Congress and, through the media, to the public."

The group is made up of 10 former employees of the Defense, Labor and State departments, the FBI and the CIA. It includes Daniel Ellsberg, a former Marine who leaked the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War to the media in 1971; Sibel Edmonds, who reported security breaches and cover-ups of intelligence within the FBI while working as a contract linguist; Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA analyst who founded an organization opposed to the invasion of Iraq; and Mary Ann Wright, a career foreign service officer who resigned the day the Iraq war began.

The group compared Iraq to Vietnam, saying that government deception and the reluctance to publicize information carries a significant price in human life and national security.

Members also issued a list of 12 specific documents they said are being wrongly withheld and should be disclosed by federal workers. The documents relate to prisoners in the war on terrorism, the 9/11 commission investigation, security breaches and misconduct within the FBI, estimates on how many troops were needed to invade and occupy Iraq, and requirements for the postwar restoration of Iraq.

"It is a time for truth-telling. It is a time for unauthorized disclosure," Ellsberg said. "There is a more patriotic and more effective way to serve your country as an official than either by resigning in frustration or continuing to participate as Americans are lied to death. And that way is to tell the truth."

The memo notes that whistleblowers have little legal protection and often end up losing their jobs. Ellsberg said a new support network for whistleblowers is being established. The network includes pro bono legal counsel from the American Civil Liberties Union and advice from the Project on Government Oversight. The network also includes Ellsberg's Truth Telling Project and McGovern's group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

"Needless to say, any unauthorized disclosure that exposes your superiors to embarrassment entails personal risk," the memo states. "Should you be identified as the source, the price could be considerable, including loss of career and possibly even prosecution."

By Chris Strohm

September 9, 2004