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Groundbreaking 'War on Whistleblowers' Investigation Exposes Obama Admin's Record of Censorship and Persecution of Unsung Heroes and Journalists

Robert Greenwald's new documentary sheds light on how far the national security state will go to keep its secrets.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


The 9/11 attacks on America did not just launch Washington’s war on terrorism; they launched a new White House war on whistleblowers, first under President George W. Bush and then under President Barack Obama, according to a bold new documentary directed by filmmaker Robert Greenwald.

War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State traces how two of the most powerful and secretive Washington power centers—the Pentagon’s military-industrial complex and Internet era’s national security state—ran amok after 9/11 and declared war on a handful of whistleblowers who went to the press to expose lies, fraud and abuses that meant life or death for troops and spying on millions of Americans. It explores why Obama, who promised the most transparent administration, became the most secretive president in recent decades and even more vindictive to intelligence-related whistleblowers than George W. Bush.  

Whistleblowers are not spies or traitors, as the Bush and Obama administration’s lawyers have alleged. They are patriotic and often conservative Americans who work inside the government and with military contractors, and who find unacceptable—and often life-threatening—or illegal behavior goes unheeded when they report it through the traditional chain of command. They worry about doing nothing and feel compelled to go to the press, even if they suspect they may lose their jobs. What they don’t realize is that their lives will never quite be the same again, because they underestimate the years of government persecution that follows.

The documentary portrays the whistleblower as a special kind of American hero—one whose importance is easily forgotten in today’s infotainment-drenched media. Since the Vietnam War in the 1960s, whistleblowers have been part of many history-changing events: questioning the war in Vietnam by releasing the Pentagon Papers on military’s failings; exposing the Watergate burglary that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation; exposing the illegal nationwide domestic spying program by the George W. Bush administration after 9/11; revealing the military’s failure to replace Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan with better bomb-deflecting vehicles, leading to hundreds of deaths and maimings; revealing how the nation’s largest military contractor was building a new Coast Guard fleet with ships whose hulls could buckle in rough seas and putting radios on smaller rescue boats that wouldn’t work when wet. 

These are some of the scandals and issues whose contours are traced by the documentary, especially the explosive growth of the military-industrial complex and national security state after 9/11, and how these institutions sought to silence those who questioned and tried to correct mistakes or seek accountability. The film also shows how reporters, at blogs, newspapers and TV networks, have real power to put pressure on government and force change, and how public-interest activists are a conduit for that critical exchange of information. A free press very much matters.

A key element of War on Whistleblowers is the number of nationally known journalists who speak out collectively and for the first time in reaction to the government’s attacks on their sources and their reporting. The film features many respected mainstream investigative reporters, including the Washington Post’s Dana Priest, the New Yorker's Jane Mayer and Seymour Hersch, USA Today’s Tom Vanden Brook, New York Times’ media critic David Carr and former Times editor Bill Keller, among others.

Still, the documentary leaves a lingering impression that the system—many government agencies and their embedded codes of secrecy, self-interest and self-protection—endures in the long run, even if whistleblowers stop or slow their agenda. Indeed, the film makes a powerful case that Obama has been seduced by the nation’s spymasters, which is why his prosecutors have tried to intimidate and punish these messengers more than all recent presidencies combined.