In the wake of last week’s report that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security compiled “-intelligence reports” on journalists who published leaked documents, I’m concerned about all the DHS agents who might now be afraid of retaliation for being a whistleblower — perhaps one who legally leaks information such as, let’s say, unclassified information about government activities related to immigration. Not that you’re thinking of doing that, of course.
Assuming the disclosure of the information to a journalist is legal (for which I would suggest it would be prudent to consult an attorney who is well-versed in national security law, freedom of speech constitutional claims and government accountability), there are several steps that someone — not you, of course, but someone — might want to take to avoid retaliation for this completely legal act.
Assuming disclosure is legal and there are no criminal consequences that could be faced, one might also want to address whether the leak could result in employment-based discipline or retaliation. For this reason, seeking proper legal counsel and ensuring anonymity would probably be in the best interest of a would-be whistleblower, who is totally, definitely, not you or any of your colleagues.
For the sake of argument, however, let’s say someone actually were to be interested in bringing to light an egregious misdeed ordered by the federal government that goes against the freedoms the United States was founded on. In that situation, someone — not me, of course, but someone — might point them toward organizations that exist for those considering taking whistleblowing action. Organizations like Whistleblower Aid, which offers free aid and alternatives to illicit leaks, and Whistleblower.org, which has been engaging in whistleblower advocacy, education and litigation since 1977. Not to say that YOU would use these resources, per se, but it might be fun to take a look at them in a hypothetical, “Haha what if I were to expose gross injustices being perpetuated by my department?” kind of way. Probably not on a work computer, though — not that it matters, of course! (I’m sure it’s of no interest to you, but one interested in understanding how the disclosure of information can come to light might be interested in checking out the information that can be found here: How to Organize Your Workplace Without Getting Caught.)
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Sophie, if there is such a need to protect whistleblowers with this sensitive information, doesn’t that suggest there are systemic issues at play? Would someone (who isn’t you) even recommend that a DHS employee (who isn’t me) partake in this historically necessary and honorable action?
Such a person, if they were to read this article, might feel proud of the fact that since the leak, DHS has ceased compiling these “intelligence reports” and ordered an inquiry:
UPDATE: After we published our story on DHS compiling intelligence reports about journalists’ articles, the acting secretary, Chad Wolf, has halted the practice and ordered an inquiry. Statement from DHS spokesman: pic.twitter.com/RDMB90feVn
— Shane Harris (@shaneharris) July 31, 2020
In times such as these, times in which children in custody at the border are again at risk of being separated from parents during the COVID-19 pandemic; when the freedoms this country was built on seem to be under attack from within; when an employee of the DHS might find themselves handling the fragile responsibility of truth at the crossroads of powerlessness and obligation — in times like these, sometimes drastic actions must be undertaken to ensure that America is a country we can believe in.
This is the onus on someone — not you, of course, but some someone — who has a whistle to blow, and perhaps an identity to protect.