Groundbreaking 'War on Whistleblowers' Investigation Exposes Obama Admin's Record of Censorship and Persecution of Unsung Heroes and Journalists
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The documentary also profiles Michael DeKort, a former lead systems engineer for the Deepwater Program, where the nation’s largest defense contractors, Lockeed-Martin, had a $24 billion contract to build a new generation of Coast Guard cutters and outfit smaller rescue boats. DeKort discovered that the radios Lockheed-Martin planned to install on the smaller rescue boats were not waterproof, and that the hulls of the new boats were prone to bending and buckling under pressure—which is exactly what happens in stormy seas. “Like most people, maybe they tell their boss and they drop it. That wasn’t good enough,” he said.
The film also profiles Thomas Tamm, a former Department of Justice attorney at what was then called the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. When a suspected terrorist was arrested abroad, if his cellphone or computer had U.S. phone numbers on it, Tamm was part of a team that would go before a secret court to get permission to monitor those numbers and emails for 90 days. Tamm discovered that there was a separate initiative, simply called the “program,” where monitoring occurred without going through any court. Some of his colleagues thought it was illegal, he said, but they were told to overlook it.
All of these people went up their chain of command—in their agencies, to Congress’ oversight committees, or up the corporate ladder to the executive suite—and got nowhere.
“I came to the decision that I thought the American people should know, and let the American people decide if the government was doing what they considered legal or not,” Tamm said, echoing sentiments held by Drake and DeKort. And all of these people came to the unavoidable conclusions that they had to speak to the press, even if it put their jobs at risk and upended their lives. “I remember picking up the cradle of the [pay]phone and calling a reporter by the name of Eric Lichtblau at the New York Times,” Tamm said. “Once I put the phone down, I knew I was committed to the path I decided to take. I was pretty confident that my life would not be the same.”
Tamm and Drake became whistleblowers during the Bush administration. But they did not anticipate that the Obama administration would take up Bush’s anti-whistleblower vendetta, especially because they were involved in intelligence-gathering. When Obama took office, he promised his administration would be the most transparent ever. But that’s not what happened. “In 2011, there were 92 million classification decisions, four times the number of decisions as the last year of George W. Bush,” said Ellsberg, talking about the government’s warehouses of secret files. “That’s not increased transparency, of course. That’s closing the curtains.”
When it came to Tamm and Drake, the legal hammer that fell on them got far worse—until both men had their day in court. “I never imagined that he [Obama] would just run with it, and take it far beyond what the Bush administration had implemented,” Drake said. “They have indicted more people for violating secrecy than all of the prior administrations put together,” said ex- New York Times editor Keller.
Eventually, these men also found relief from federal judges who rejected these sham prosecutions and reprimanded the government’s prosecutors. In June 2011, the DOJ, after four years of accusing Drake of a dozen felonies that could have meant 35 years in jail, dropped all but one charge: a misdemeanor count of unauthorized use of a computer. That is the electronic equivalent of a parking ticket.
That same spring, after seven years, the government also dropped its investigation of Tamm, without explanation, apology or offering him his job back. Drake is now working at an Apple store while he completes a PhD in advanced public administration. Tamm is strugging as a private defense attorney and seeking speaking engagements to talk about this experience. Their careers, like DeKort’s, were derailed if not ruined.