New Whistleblower Group Offers Legal Alternative to Leaking

State Dept. alum, attorney launch well-funded campaign to reach federal workers and contractors.

A new legal group called Whistleblower Aid is encouraging federal workers and contractors to report waste, fraud and abuse without resorting to criminal leaking of classified materials.

Founded as a nonpartisan nonprofit law firm offering free services to qualified clients, the project is trumpeting its debut on Washington's Metro transit system, on mobile billboards on trucks circling agencies and promotional cards handed out on the city's streets—plus thousands of whistles.    

"By making it easier for public servants to expose government wrongdoing without breaking the law or facing criminal prosecution, we hope to encourage more brave whistleblowers to step forward," said co-founder John Tye, himself a former State Department whistleblower. "I was inspired to create Whistleblower Aid by my firsthand experience using lawful channels to publicize unconstitutional activity by the National Security Agency.”

Co-founder Mark Zaid, a longtime national security attorney, added, “Whistleblower Aid provides new ways for public servants to uphold their oath. We are a legal alternative to illicit leaking, enabling clients to report wrongdoing without exposing themselves to criminal liability."

The new firm will help federal investigators gather evidence of alleged crimes, file complaints with inspectors general and the Office of Special Counsel, meet with lawmakers and congressional staff, publicize court complaints and file qui tam (False Claims Act) suits to recover damages.

The only way prospective clients can contact Whistleblower Aid is via a platform called SecureDrop, over the encrypted, anonymous Tor network.

 “There is a huge unmet need for our services,” Tye told Government Executive on Monday when the project kicked off. “Notwithstanding the good work being done by others, many federal employees, service members and contractors don't know where to turn when they witness government lawbreaking.” The firm hopes to “expand the pool of whistleblowers. Like many people, we have concerns that the current administration is not transparent and has behaved in ways that threaten to undermine rule of law.”

Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project, welcomed the group. “The whistleblower nongovernmental organizations can’t provide all the services--we can only make a point through high-profile advocacy cases,” he said. But “they have to prove that they’re trustworthy and effective with a sense of responsibility,” he added. “The pond is inhabited by many sharks.”