A Call to Patriotic Whistleblowing

It is time for unauthorized truth-telling.

Citizens cannot make informed choices if they do not have the facts – for example, the facts that have been wrongly concealed about the ongoing war in Iraq: the real reasons behind it, the prospective costs in blood and treasure, and the setback it has dealt to efforts to stem terrorism. Administration deception and cover-up on these vital matters has so far been all too successful in misleading the public.

Many Americans are too young to remember Vietnam. Then, as now, senior government officials did not tell the American people the truth. Now, as then, insiders who know better have kept their silence, as the country was misled into the most serious foreign policy disaster since Vietnam.

Some of you have documentation of wrongly concealed facts and analyses that – if brought to light – would impact heavily on public debate regarding crucial matters of national security, both foreign and domestic. We urge you to provide that information now, both to Congress and, through the media, to the public.

Thanks to our First Amendment, there is in America no broad Official Secrets Act, nor even a statutory basis for the classification system. Only very rarely would it be appropriate to reveal information of the three types whose disclosure has been expressly criminalized by Congress: communications intelligence, nuclear data, and the identity of U.S. intelligence operatives. However, this administration has stretched existing criminal laws to cover other disclosures in ways never contemplated by Congress.

There is a growing network of support for whistleblowers. In particular, for anyone who wishes to know the legal implications of disclosures they may be contemplating, the ACLU stands ready to provide pro bono legal counsel, with lawyer-client privilege. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) will offer advice on whistleblowing, dissemination and relations with the media.

Needless to say, any unauthorized disclosure that exposes your superiors to embarrassment entails personal risk. Should you be identified as the source, the price could be considerable, including loss of career and possibly even prosecution. Some of us know from experience how difficult it is to countenance such costs. But continued silence brings an even more terrible cost, as our leaders persist in a disastrous course and young Americans come home in coffins or with missing limbs.

This is precisely what happened at this comparable stage in the Vietnam War. Some of us live with profound regret that we did not at that point expose the administration’s dishonesty and perhaps prevent the needless slaughter of 50,000 more American troops and some 2 to 3 million Vietnamese over the next ten years. We know how misplaced loyalty to bosses, agencies, and careers can obscure the higher allegiance all government officials owe the Constitution, the sovereign public, and the young men and women put in harm’s way. We urge you to act on those higher loyalties.

A hundred forty thousand young Americans are risking their lives every day in Iraq for dubious purpose. Our country has urgent need of comparable moral courage from its public officials. Truth-telling is a patriotic and effective way to serve the nation. The time for speaking out is now.


Edward Costello, former special agent (Counterintelligence), Federal Bureau of Investigation

Sibel Edmonds, former language specialist, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Daniel Ellsberg, former official, U.S. Departments of Defense and State

John D. Heinberg, former economist, Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor

Larry C. Johnson, former deputy director for anti-terrorism assistance, Transportation Security, and Special Operations, Department of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism

John Brady Kiesling, former political counselor, U.S. Embassy, Athens, Department of State

David MacMichael, former senior estimates officer, National Intelligence Council, Central Intelligence Agency

Ray McGovern, former analyst, Central Intelligence Agency

Philip G. Vargas, Ph.D., J.D., director, Privacy & Confidentiality Study, Commission on Federal Paperwork (author/director: "The Vargas Report on Government Secrecy" – censored)

Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel and U.S. Foreign Service officer

Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, recently retired from service in the Pentagon’s Office of Near East planning

About the Truth-Telling Project

The Truth-Telling Project, led by Daniel Ellsberg, encourages whistleblowing in the national interest. It urges current and recently retired government officials to reveal the truth to Congress and the public about governmental wrongdoing. lies and cover-up. It aims to change the norms and practices that sustain the cult of secrecy, and to de-legitimize silence that costs lives.

It is becoming increasingly clear that a dominant theme of the Bush administration is cover-up on urgent matters of life and death. Cover-up of the real motives for the war in Iraq and of the foreseeable costs and problems of the occupation. Cover-up of presidential inattention before 9/11 to warnings of imminent attacks by al-Qaeda. Above all, concealment of the judgment of the administration’s own counter-terrorism chiefs that war in Iraq is a disaster for the war on terrorism. Illegitimate silence about these matters has cost American lives, and threatens many more. It is time for truth-telling.

Such cover-ups are both a necessity for this administration, given its past lies and errors, and a vulnerability. They conceal facts that cry out urgently for policy change, and for regime change in Washington. They rely on a secrecy system supposedly intended to protect national security, but which actually operates to undermine both our democracy and security, by concealing embarrassing or incriminating information from Congress and the electorate. The latest dramatic example is the classification of investigative reports and photographs on torture at Abu Ghraib prison, which would still be unknown to the public were it not for their unauthorized disclosure

Thanks to the First Amendment, our nation does not have a broad Official Secrets Act criminalizing all leaks, including unauthorized disclosures of governmental deception, corruption, crime, cover-up, incompetence, and disregard for the Constitution and for American lives. The Project recognizes and respects the secrecy laws now in place to protect narrow areas of highly sensitive information about weapons design, communications intelligence and the identity of intelligence agents. We oppose leaks – which, incomprehensibly, Bush administration officials have made repeatedly in the past year – that violate these criminal laws.

The Truth-Telling Project aims to reach insiders, as well as journalists, lawyers, lawmakers and the American public with a message transcending party or administration, that few of them have heard before: truth-telling to Congress and the public is not disloyal in America. It is an expression of a higher loyalty, to Congress, to fellow citizens, to the Constitution, and to the rule of law.