ACLU Offers Legal Counsel to Government Whistleblowers; Calls on Congress to Adopt Whistleblower Protection Legislation

September 9, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON-At a press conference held by prominent government whistleblowers, the American Civil Liberties Union today announced that it will provide legal counsel to federal employees who may want to come forward to expose government wrongdoing or cover-ups.

“”Government employees who risk their careers to expose deception and misconduct are true American patriots,”” said Ann Beeson, ACLU Associate Legal Director. “”The ACLU stands ready to provide legal support and advice to individuals who want to reveal evidence of wrongdoing by the government.””

The ACLU issued its announcement at a press conference sponsored by Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and his organization, the Truth-Telling Project. The press conference also featured comments from CIA whistleblower Ray McGovern and FBI whistleblowers Sibel Edmonds and Coleen Rowley.

According to the ACLU, whistleblowers need legal counsel because they may lose their jobs or even face criminal prosecution for exposing government wrongdoing. The ACLU has established a special e-mail address to respond to inquiries from potential whistleblowers,, and will shortly launch a hotline as well.

The ACLU’s concerns with the protection of whistleblowers also resonate in the halls of Congress. The ACLU has endorsed two bipartisan bills — S. 2628, the “”Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act,”” sponsored by Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), and H.R. 3281, the “”Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act,”” sponsored by Representatives Todd Platts (R-PA), Ray LaHood (R-IL), Frank Wolf (R-VA), Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH).

These two bills, if enacted, would strengthen existing whistleblower protection laws by making the revocation of a security clearance in retaliation for whistleblowing a “”prohibited personnel practice”” and by forbidding the president from using his power to exempt an agency from whistleblower protection laws retroactively, a step that would strip whistleblowers of their protections.

The ACLU also recently testified before a House Subcommittee on the threats posed by the government’s increasing penchant for shielding information from public scrutiny. “”Greater openness, real accountability to both Congress and the public, and protection of whistleblowers is vitally necessary to challenge old assumptions and ensure better analysis and performance,”” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.

The ACLU has previously worked with government whistleblowers on public education campaigns and both Ellsberg and Rowley spoke at the ACLU’s annual membership conference in July.(see /2004memberconf)

“”We are proud to support Daniel Ellsberg and other brave Americans who have risked their careers and livelihood to expose government misconduct,”” Beeson said. “”As history has taught us, excessive secrecy is not only antithetical to our democratic system, but it actually harms national security.””

The growing tendency to create a system of secrecy is further evident in the public’s attempt to gain information on the Patriot Act. In two legal challenges to controversial provisions of the Patriot Act brought by the ACLU and other groups, the government has submitted secret evidence that it is refusing to disclose to the public and even to the attorneys in the case, and is also using gag orders to keep one of the proceedings secret.

For more information on the ACLU’s work challenging the Patriot Act and opposing government secrecy, go to/safeandfree/

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