Intel Community To Institute Actual Whistleblower Award For 'Speaking Truth To Power'

from the previous-whistleblowers-need-not-apply dept

The Intelligence Community is looking to reward whistleblowers for "speaking truth to power." No, seriously. Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News has posted a recent Intel Community announcement [PDF] that looks to fold a whistleblower honor into the community's existing awards program.

This is part of the intel community's cautious foray into the harsh sunlight of transparency -- itself a response to a presidential directive that our nation's spies head outside for a bit and expose themselves a bit.

The award may as well be called the "Snowden." But the wording makes it explicit Snowden himself will never be eligible to receive the honorific fruits of his whistleblowing.

“The intelligence community has […] committed to establishing a National Intelligence Professional Awards program to recognize superior service by an intelligence professional in effectuating change by speaking truth to power, by exemplifying professional integrity, or by reporting wrongdoing through appropriate channels,” according to a new Self-Assessment Report on the Third Open Government National Action Plan that was released by the White House last week.

It could be argued Snowden's leaks "spoke truth to power," but it's going to be a bit hard to get past the "through appropriate channels" clause, which seems to be the last refuge of anti-Snowden scoundrels: "Yes, his leaks lead to much-needed changes, but he should have used the proper channels where he would have been ignored/retaliated against!" Then again, the award stipulations has an "or" before "reporting wrongdoing through appropriate channels," so being told to shut up and mind your own business by Congressional intelligence committees may not be required to land this new award.

It will be interesting to see how receptive the intelligence committee actually is to whistleblowing. This award may end up being handed out to whistleblowers whose complaints result in the least amount of internal turmoil. Aftergood notes surveillance agencies haven't historically been receptive to constructive criticism… or any criticism, really.

Professional integrity may be welcome everywhere, but “speaking truth to power” is rarely welcomed by “power.” Often it is not even acknowledged as “truth.” (Apparently, the IC envisions itself here as the domain of truth, and not of power. Or will those who challenge the IC leadership itself be eligible for the new award?) Meanwhile, “reporting wrongdoing” often seems to end badly for the reporter, as the frequency of whistleblower reprisal claims indicates.

If the IC moves forward with this award in an honest fashion, it will be a refreshing change from the longtime policy of "bullets for messengers" that has been implemented with particular fervor by this administration. Aftergood believes there may be reason to believe this may not just be the Intelligence Committee looking busy for the boss. Presidential directives come and go but honorifics last forever. Nothing like this would be instituted if it didn't actually reflect values the IC wants to promote.

Whether or not the IC intends to celebrate its own internal critics, it seems to want to encourage and now incentivize them, providing improved channels for dissent and whistleblowing that will not inevitably be career-enders or needlessly disruptive in other ways.

I guess we'll see where this goes. It would be nice if the New Transparency resulted in a livestream of a James Clapper-hosted awards show, broadcast from an undisclosed location in a room draped in American flags and the low hum of server farms. Failing that, a mostly-unredacted document dump on a Friday afternoon preceding a holiday weekend would be an adequate substitute, I suppose.

Filed Under: intelligence community, leaks, truth to power, whistleblowers

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2016 @ 1:09pm

    Which Master?

    Do you serve the Federal Government or do you serve "The People"? Cause there is only ONE choice if you wish to work in government.

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