A new film directed by Robert Greenwald looks at four whistleblowers who had their lives practically destroyed after they went to the press with evidence of government wrongdoing. They are Michael DeKort, Thomas Drake, Franz Gayl and Thomas Tamm. Whistleblowers have come under unprecedented attack by the Obama administration. Evoking the Espionage Act of 1917, the administration has pressed criminal charges against no fewer than six government employees, more than all previous presidential administrations combined. In the film, Greenwald also interviews government oversight experts and investigative journalists who warn about the chilling effect prosecutions may have on potential whistleblowers and the journalists who help them. Click to watch Part 2 of the interview.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to whistleblowers and the unprecedented attack they’ve come under during the Obama administration. Evoking the Espionage Act of 1917, the administration has pressed criminal charges against no fewer than six government employees, more than all previous presidential administrations combined.
AMY GOODMAN: A new film directed by Robert Greenwald looks at four whistleblowers who had their lives practically destroyed after they went to the press with evidence of government wrongdoing. They are Michael DeKort, Thomas Drake, Franz Gayl and Thomas Tamm. In the film, Greenwald also interviews government oversight experts and investigative journalists who warn about the chilling effect prosecutions may have on potential whistleblowers and the journalists who help them. This is the trailer of the film, War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State.
FRANZ GAYL: I had to do something. If not me, then who? I said, "This needs to be fixed."
THOMAS DRAKE: I thought about various investigative reporters that I would try and contact.
THOMAS TAMM: Once I put the phone down, I was pretty confident that my life would never be quite the same.
MICHAEL DEKORT: I mean, at the end of the day, right, when you make a decision like this, if you’re not prepared to have the worst happen, then really don’t do it at all.
JANE MAYER: These people face a terrifying situation.
REPORTER: Thomas Drake, accused of leaking classified information. Agents raiding his home in Howard County.
THOMAS DRAKE: Eighteen agents, some of them in body armor, had been banging on our front door.
UNIDENTIFIED: Any time anyone takes a step like that, you know that they’ve probably got something important to say, because they are basically wiping away their career.
DANA PRIEST: There are close to a million people who have top-secret clearance.
MICHAEL DEKORT: The Obama administration had cracked down on whistleblowers.
WILLIAM KELLER: They have indicted more people for violating secrecy than all of the previous administrations put together.
UNIDENTIFIED: The number of people who indicated to us they wish they could talk, but they can’t, because they’re so afraid of what could happen to them, it’s a terrible thing for our democracy.
THOMAS DRAKE: So speaking truth to power is now a criminal act.
AMY GOODMAN: Some of those voices, Thomas Drake and William Keller of The New York Times, as well as Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. This is Democracy Now! The trailer of the new documentary, War on Whistleblowers is what you just watched. We’re joined now by its director, Robert Greenwald, and founder and president of Brave New Films, producer, director and activist.
Why did you make this film? You’ve looked at so many other issues. Why whistleblowers, Robert?
ROBERT GREENWALD: Well, there were a few things that came together. What we always try to do in our films is connect the dots and explore how the system is working. So we had the crackdown on whistleblowers, number one, but it wasn’t without reason. It’s very deeply connected to the growth and power of the national security state, which believes completely in secrets. So we had the whistleblowers. We had the national security state. And then we had some incredible investigative journalists being attacked, investigated, threatened, their careers at stake also. So we put all three of those together and made a film which allows people to understand what’s going on and how deeply threatening it is to us, in a kind of drip-drip way, where you don’t always see or understand what’s happening.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Bob, I want to turn to the case of Franz Gayl, a former marine. While working at the Pentagon as a science adviser for the Marine Corps, Gayl volunteered to deploy to Iraq. Upon his return, he alerted the office of the secretary of defense, and later the Congress and the media, to critical equipment shortages. These included mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs. Gayl’s public outcry exposed the fact that the corps had failed to provide marines in Iraq with life-saving technologies. Yet Gayl has been the target of years of retaliatory investigations, workplace harassment, including the elimination of meaningful duties and extended suspension of his security clearances. In this clip, Gayl explains why he made the fateful decision to save lives by requesting MRAPs to replace Humvees in Iraq. Journalist Seymour Hersh is also in this clip.
FRANZ GAYL: I had to do something. If not me, then who? And if not now, then when? It was one of those situations. And I just said, "No, no, no, no. It doesn’t matter what the consequences are, personal or otherwise, right?" I said, "This needs to be fixed."
SEYMOUR HERSH: Whistleblowers are just people who say there’s something more important here than my boss or the general or the admiral or the president.
FRANZ GAYL: The most common vehicle used was the Humvee. They were never built to withstand weapons that the insurgents were using, these IEDs.
UNIDENTIFIED: The estimates are that about a third of the casualties in Iraq were due to Humvees.
FRANZ GAYL: Hundreds of Marines were tragically lost, probably thousands maimed, unnecessarily. So I said, "Let’s replace the Humvees with what are called MRAPs, mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles." The MRAP was bound to save lives.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Franz Gayl in the clip from War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State. Robert Greenwald, he was one of the few whistleblowers who actually was able to keep his job, where some of the others have had really terrible times after they did their exposés. Could you talk about that, as well?
ROBERT GREENWALD: Yeah. One of the things that was a common denominator with all the whistleblowers we interviewed is the terrible personal price they paid—even Franz. He was saving lives, literally saving hundreds of lives. He was fired initially. But this is where organizing makes such an incredible impact. Organizations, POGO/GAP got behind him. They worked. People called. They took action. And it really worked. It got him his job back. And it’s important to keep that in mind.
The other cases were horrific. And what is happening over and over again is the Obama administration and previous administrations are literally shooting the messengers—punishing the whistleblowers, trying to pass laws that make it harder for whistleblowers. And look, the only way we find out about the national security state is by these people coming forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Greenwald, part two of this conversation, as we go through the whistleblowers, we’ll post online at democracynow.org. The new film is called War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, the film is premiering there at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Friday night, and I’ll be there after the 8:15 showing for a Q&A with the audience, and then at Wayne State University at noon on Saturday.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll put all the details at our website at democracynow.org.