Intelligence Whistleblowers Often Pay a Severe Price

Intelligence Whistleblowers Often Pay a Severe Price

Jennifer M. Pacella

Security, Americas

Blowing the whistle carries major risks.

When President Donald Trump likened a whistleblower’s White House sources to spies and made a lightly veiled reference to execution, he highlighted a longstanding peril facing those who come forward to alert the public to governmental wrongdoing.

In many instances, whistleblowers find the abusive power they have revealed turned against them, both ending their careers and harming their personal lives.

In the private sector, whistleblowers are often ignored and told their concern is not part of their job description – and are commonly retaliated against by being demoted or fired.

When a whistleblower is in the U.S. intelligence and national security sphere, they’re often speaking out about misdeeds by powerful figures – and, as a result, have frequently faced death threats, physical attacks, prosecution and prison.

The new whistleblower report that alleges wrongdoing by the president is a reminder of the vital importance of holding wrongdoers accountable, regardless of their level of power. When those acts affect national security, whistleblowing is even more important. But as I’ve found in my whistleblowing research, whistleblowers in this arena have far fewer legal protections from retaliation than those in corporate settings or elsewhere in government.

Targets of Retaliation

The consequences for government whistleblowers in the last 20 years have been harsh, in part because laws about classified information have made it difficult for people to publicize wrongdoing on sensitive issues.

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