Column, 569 words

The Sad Fate of America’s Whistleblowers

History may smile on these guardians of the public trust, but during their lifetimes they remain outcasts.


What is it about whistleblowers that the powers that be can’t stand?

When I blew the whistle on the CIA’s illegal torture program, I was derided in many quarters as a traitor. My detractors in the government attacked me for violating my secrecy agreement, even as they ignored the oath we’d all taken to protect and defend the Constitution.

All of this happened despite the fact that the torture I helped expose is illegal in the United States. Torture also violates a number of international laws and treaties to which our country is signatory — some of which the United States itself was the driving force in drafting.

I was charged with three counts of espionage, all of which were eventually dropped when I took a plea to a lesser count. I had to choose between spending up to 30 months in prison and rolling the dice to risk a 45-year sentence. With five kids, and three of them under the age of 10, I took the plea.

Mike Mozart/Flickr

Mike Mozart/Flickr

Tom Drake — the NSA whistleblower who went through the agency’s chain of command to report its illegal program to spy on American citizens — was thanked for his honesty and hard work by being charged with 10 felonies, including five counts of espionage. The government eventually dropped the charges, but not before Drake had suffered terrible financial, professional, and personal distress.

This is an ongoing theme, especially in government.

Chelsea Manning is serving 35 years in prison for her disclosure of State Department and military cable traffic showing American military crimes in Iraq and beyond. And Edward Snowden, who told Americans about the extent to which our government is spying on us, faces life in prison if he ever returns to the country.

The list goes on and on.

Baltimore Police Department whistleblower Joe Crystal knew what he was getting into when he reported an incident of police brutality to his superiors after witnessing two colleagues brutally beat a suspect. Crystal immediately became known as a “rat cop” and a “snitch.”

He finally resigned from the department after receiving credible death threats.

It’s not just government employees either. Whistleblowers first brought attention to wrongdoing at Enron, Lehman Brothers, Stanford International Bank, and elsewhere.

And what’s their reward? Across the board, whistleblowers are investigated, harassed, fired, and in some cases prosecuted.

That’s the conclusion of author Eyal Press, whose book Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times documents the struggles of whistleblowers throughout history. Press’s whistleblowers never recover financially or professionally from their actions. History seems to smile on them, but during their lifetimes they remain outcasts.

This is a tragedy. Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing should be the norm, not the exception.

I recently visited Greece to help the government there draft a whistleblower protection law. The Greek word for “whistleblower” translates as “guardian of the public trust.” I wish our own government’s treatment of whistleblowers could reflect that understanding.

Yet even legal guarantees of protection from prosecution and persecution aren’t enough — especially if, as in the case of existing law, national security employees are exempt from these safeguards.

Instead, society must start seeing things differently. Like the Greeks, all of us need to start treating whistleblowers as guardians, not traitors. And if we value what freedoms we have left, we should demand that our government do the same.

OtherWords columnist John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s a former CIA counterterrorism officer and senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

  • Auld Spyce

    “Our government” is not our government. We’re merely the chickens herded by the Bankster wolves. Their shock troops today and for about the past century are the CIA, MI6, and Mossad. Our freedoms are an illusion, merely crumbs tolerated by the wolves in charge. Enjoy the 2016 coronation show everybody, but don’t expect it to change anything. We’re not in charge of this game, and never have been.

    I’m glad you survived the ordeal John. Keep fighting the good fight. Who knows? Maybe one day, someone will figure out what needs to be done to finally wrench control from the wolves. I’m not optimistic it’ll be anytime soon.

    • vlp1730

      I would hope that we are not in a matrix.

      • Peter K Joneleit


    • Jim McMexico

      We have a de facto government and not a de jure government. Would you be willing to bet your life savings that our government officials are really chosen and elected by the people? If not, what do we have?

    • GenEarly

      I’m not optimistic that it won’t be soon, but………

      wtf, if it’s coming, bring it on,
      btw, “when you’re going thru hell, keep moving.”

  • jill

    Heroes all of you John! A hero (masculine) or heroine (feminine) (Ancient Greek:
    ἥρως, hḗrōs) is a person or character who, in the face of danger and
    adversity or from a position of weakness, displays courage, bravery or
    self-sacrifice—that is, heroism—for some greater good; a man or woman of
    distinguished courage or ability, admired for his his or her brave deeds and noble qualities.

  • Joan

    Thanks, John, for your sacrifice and service in the face of persecution and prosecution. I believe it is brave Americans like yourself that encourages and inspires others to come forward to expose government crimes. You probably saw the recent revelation by another whistleblower to “The Intercept” exposing the horrendous drone program. Democracy Now had great coverage. Brave Americans coming forward as whistleblowers and the journalists who cover them gives me some modicum of hope. More Americans would be well advised to turn off their television, educate themselves about the crimes and corruption going on in this country and the horrendous crimes against humanity our government and multinational corporations are committing around the world in our name.

    • Rod1

      I could not agree more. The problem being that all of the people seem to be distracted and uncaring somehow. I cannot exactly explain why I feel that 25 years ago or so, if all of these things had surfaced there would have been a revolution, but now it is just silence. I believe that the lack of media coverage on all of this is the main reason, and even when it is covered by the mainstream media it is done with a tarnished spin. I wish John all the blessings that God might give, because in the end, no matter how the government has mishandled, lied, misdirected the public, and betrayed the people, your are in the right. You are the one who, against great odds to yourself,your job, and your own well being decided to do what was right for the people while those who were elected by the people failed miserably to provide even the most basic truths. They shall reap there just rewards as well. As for me and my house, I rest with the Lord and the truth.

      • Mrs M

        I think they suffer from what is called normalcy bias. I also think corrupt men have long tried to manipulate and control the masses and they’ve gotten further along than we can imagine. Just look on youtube ‘CIA use subliminals to to brainwash americans’ or an article just came out last week ‘Scientists claim they can change your belief in immigrants and God- with magnets.’

        • GlomOnToMe

          I agree. It’s like the frog in boiling water analogy. Each generation starts out in a culture that is normal to them (cold water). By the time they’re 40 the culture has drastically but gradually degraded (boiling water). As each generation dies off, a more degraded level of culture becomes the new average norm. Never underestimate “their” ability to manage the decline and keep the steeple from noticing the boiling water. The whole world needs a wake up call.

  • mlnw

    Fine article by an honorable and patriotic American. One non-American whistleblower I would include is Mordecai Vanunu, who blew the whistle on Israel’s WMD program and has suffered for decades- though there are so many more (including those in the UK and elsewhere who blew the whistle on the fraudulent intelligence used as the pretext for the 2003 Iraq War.

    • vlp1730

      If my memory serves me correctly, Vanunu is not allowed to travel anywhere. I believe he is under some form of house arrest for the rest of his life.

    • dewdly

      It is quite possible that Vanunu was “created” by the Israelis to give verisimilitude to a non-existent nuclear weapons program. Why go to all the trouble of making, testing and storing nuclear weapons if the illusion works as well? Creating a “whistleblower” that “reveals” disinformation is a tactic similar to that of the false flag operation.

      • mlnw

        Dewdly- What a pile of nonsense you’ve just spewed. Not only were documents released months ago by the US government acknowledging the existence of Israel’s WMD program, but there have been numerous incidents of theft of nuclear secrets and material by the Israelis. So, get real.

        • dewdly

          Israel doesn’t spend money when a pretense will do; nor do they advertise traitors – they kill them. Pretending to have nuclear weapons allows Israel to thumb their nose at the IAEA and every country that submits to inspections. I could be wrong, but a real nuclear program is very expensive and totally useless.

  • blowinsmoke

    Resistance is futile…

    Truth in fiction. The core is warped.

  • KevanRowlee


  • Silverado

    What does one expect from the criminal, psychopathic, war mongering neocons?? Just look at what they’ve done. Soon as we as a country get rid of these…vermin all these other problems will take care of themselves. World peace and a great (honest) economy?? That won’t be possible until we eliminate the one group of tyrants and thieves that stands in the way of achieving those noble goals. It’s long passed time to…JAIL THE NEOCONS!!!!!

    • GenEarly

      and the Marxist-Mooslems……..Tyranny has so many covering labels.

      • Silverado

        Here’s what Paul Craig Roberts says: “The neoconservatives should be quickly rounded up, arrested, tried, convicted, and executed for their massive crimes before they destroy the world.”

        • GenEarly

          Here’s what I read that makes sense to me,
          “When you are facing a traitor and an enemy and only have one bullet, shoot the traitor.”

          NeoCons were all DemocRats initially, and like the marxist-mooslems are all NWO. So many Traitors.

    • Peter K Joneleit

      Neocons is a euphemism for Israeli Zionist SLIMEBALL AGENTS of the ANCIENT ALIEN RACE of SATAN and their American lobotomized stooges. “I know the blasphemy of THEM which say THEY are Jews and are not, but are the Synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9). THE “Solution” (literally) is Ezekiel 22:20!

  • Peter K Joneleit

    The treatment of truth tellers (whistleblowers) and what they reveal are indications that America and the Main Stream Media are controlled by criminals. The cover-up of crimes like 911, the Kennedy assassinations, the USS Liberty attack, etc. by high government officials, up to and including Congress, the Military Brass and the president, constitutes PROOF that they have violated their Oaths of Office and committed HIGH TREASON, punishable by HANGING.

  • Magars

    I read Kiriakou’s book “Reluctant SPY…” as ebook. But I decided to have a physical book,and I bought again ,but this time from his website and signed by him. I made a copy of the page with his dedication,and it is hanging framed on the wall in my office as a sign of appreciation for his courage. When people ask me “who is that?,my answer is, “he is a real American hero, you don’t know him, well, you have to stop reading corporate media.
    Thank you for your courage,John Kiriakou!

    • Peter K Joneleit

      Any idea what “the right thing” might be that Americans must do to rid ourselves of the thugs in our government?

  • White pigs rape little boys

    Pederastry and rape of children is the foundation of europenises stolen countries. All still smell like little baby boys African anuses and so do their toilet vassals!

    Come die on me pig toilets!!! Hurry up fire and meat hooks are looming!!

  • Pejig Mikiziw

    As a former whistleblower I would caution any future patriots to make sure that their significant other is firmly on board, as they are the last and most devastating deserter of your cause.
    God bless you all!

  • Terry Lawrence

    We do indeed live in an Orwellian post-1984 world where the criminals are in charge of the prison, “War is Peace” and “Ignorance is Strength”! Particularly the latter, thanks to the corporate controlled media keeping everyone in the dark and spewing disinformation and confusion in all directions. The FUD principal – keep the public in Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, as war criminal Donald Rumsfeld said.

    As Karl Marx predicted long ago, competition leads to concentration, and concentration leads to monopoly. There were thousands of independent newspapers in North America when I was a kid. Now only 6 companies own virtually all of them, and control the “message” to the benefit of the 1 percent who own and run the corporate state.

    As to War is Peace, that could hardly be more obvious as the US and it’s NATO client states constantly bomb and invade the rest of the world in the name of “Responsibility to Protect” – truly an Orwellian reversal of reality as the tide of refugees fleeing American created wars all over the middle east and North Africa is making clear to even the most obtuse.

    • LibertyBill_1776

      Spot on! The drum-beat for war and war preparedness complies fully with what Field Marshal Goering said at the time of the Nuremberg Trials:

      “Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood.
      But, after all, IT IS THE LEADERS of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is TELL THEM THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY.”

      –Goering at the Nuremberg Trials

  • Bill Rood

    John, you are a hero and an inspiration.

  • peter pan

    thank you and God bless you John for your integrity and heroism!!!

  • Noble Intellect

    America is a criminal nation that was born out of violence, murder of indigenous people, thieving and stealing land, greed, sexual perversion, and ever possible other evil that has ever existed… now the chickens are coming home to roost and destruction is clearly visible…soon these freaks will be in the dustbin of history.

  • NTesla

    In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act. -George Orwell

    Americans need to grow some balls against evil and support and not accept evil as these whistleblowers did not. It’s only going to hurt Americans in the long run if we stop being spineless jellyfish against evil and all its manifestations, war, double crossing your friends, neighbors, coworkers and family. Accepting GMOs, Mandatory Vaccinations, and status quo on everthing siphoned to us. Stop fearing and stand up for a healthy, physical, mental and spiritual well-being of your family and children, neighbors and coworkers. Stop letting the banks and government, and corporations hoodwink you. Do go along to get along. Don’t pay high interest rate loans and credit card systems. Don’t be bamboozled by Hollywood, media, and federal reserve. Don’t be afraid to connect the dots even if you are called conspiracy theorist, racist or antisemite. Become aware and change yourself to change the world.

    • Peter K Joneleit

      Check my Facebook page or WordPress blog for the uncensored reply. Just Google my name.

  • John Deere

    John, very glad you survived the “iron heel”. But when mass media is state-controlled, education is diminished, and the law-makers are bought and paid for, Democracy has no chance. My question: is Orwell laughing, or crying from the grave
    with our Founding Fathers?

  • oxi

    Is the time approaching when we will have to overthrow the illegitimate government?

    • Peter K Joneleit

      The time when “the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots” is NOW! (Thomas Jefferson). Actually, the time is LONG OVERDUE! The criminals in government have been rampaging and trampling on the Constitution since at least 9-11-2001!

  • marley engvall
  • Georgia Girl

    This is what happens when people in positions of power (esp in govt) are dishonest. This happens everywhere in varying degrees. Business, school, etc. People protect their friends and often the real truth gets thrown by the wayside. We live in a fallen & dishonest world for the most part.

  • JdL

    Thanks, Mr. Kiriakou, for being a true patriot. The rest of us who don’t have our eyes clamped tightly shut look to men like you for inspiration.

  • LibertyBill_1776

    IIRCC, I was told by a former SAS Lt Col (rtd) that ALL politicians in charge of governments (and by extension, highly placed members of all government agencies) were “thugs in three piece suits.” And he REALLY meant “ALL”!!!

  • GenEarly

    Thanks, John for being a Patriot in the face of an overwhelming tyranny that encompasses both political parties and is agreed to by much of the population.

    Also there are far reaching consequences as real Patriots leave the service to their country. I post two links for those consequences….

    • WinstonSmithy

      Wearing a gov’t issued costume and killing brown people 7000 miles away on the orders of politicians like Bush and Obama for the sole benefit of banksters and MIC Corp profits for a paycheck doesn’t make you a “real Patriot.” Not enlisting and/or leaving the miltary at this point is serving your country.

      • GenEarly

        I agree on the NWO Wars not being patriotic, but my point is that there are always consequences. I wouldn’t serve in the USSA military either, whether under Bush or Obamy, but understand the New Military of homosexuals and trannies, not to mention mooslems will have consequences for all of us.
        Not only is there the spectre of a “right” boot or “left” domestic boot on your neck, but a foreign boot as well.
        Liberty as always seems to be the victim.

        • WinstonSmithy

          The Founders did their best to guarantee the citizen’s natural right to self defense against enemies foreign and domestic via the 2nd Amendment, which contains the still operative element of citizen militias. They also warned vigorously of the dangers to liberty that a standing army and empire can pose. An added danger of standing armies the Founders didn’t quite foresee was that the military is the ultimate socialist institution and, for at least 70 years, has been used as a laboratory for social engineering. We are seeing these dangers play out today.

          • GenEarly

            and they Obey Orders from the corrupt Generalissimos on down. A FIB agent can get a case of remorse (highly unlikely) and resign after a Waco or Ruby Ridge while a soldier will be shot.

  • Vic Anderson

    Blow the Whistle, REGARDLEϟϟ !

  • Not So Free

    ” The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from its government.”

    Thomas Paine

  • Z54

    “What is it about whistleblowers that the powers that be can’t stand”?

    “When I blew the whistle on the CIA’s illegal torture program, I was derided in many quarters as a traitor. My detractors in the government attacked me for violating my secrecy agreement, even as they ignored the oath we’d all taken to protect and defend the Constitution”.

    You took an oath to protect the Constitution against all enemies, ‘Foreign and Domestic Mr. Kiriakou. The Constitution is the highest law in the land. Now sir, how do you go about getting around that oath to the Constitution if you’re the President, Chief of Staff, Director of the CIA, NSA, DIA or the Pentagon?
    Of course, you come up with a document that must be signed by all people wanting to work in a government job that might expose you to higher ups in the US Government breaking their oath to the highest law in the land. But, because you’ve signed this nondisclosure agreement. you can’t say anything to anyone about what you’ve heard or witnessed. Neat trick on their part, isn’t it! But hear’s the thing, the Constitution still remains the highest law of the land, which of course means nothing else trumps it. That would include the governments precious nondisclosure agreement. Your lawyer should have known that, so should have the prosecutor, the judge, your boss, the president, the attorney general of the US, any and all of the talking heads on TV or radio seeing that what ever company they work for have access to a legal department which could have told them this. So should have any amerikan citizen that wasn’t a product of “No child left behind as they Raced to the bottom”! But sadly Mr. Kiriakou, over the last thirty-five/forty years in this country we have been developing a moron class in this land of ours. A class that just needs to hear the bell being tolled on the radio or TV which sets them off frothing at the mouth and barking loudly. You Mr. Kiriakou were guilty of nothing sir, nothing except holding fealty to your oath of office and the ideas that that oath holds. You were a victim sir. A victim of the corrupt people above you. You sir were a victim of a government that loves loopholes. The US House and Senate can be used as an example here. They often pass laws that mandate that the amerikan people must live or do business by certain rules. Yet very often the House and Senate exempt themselves from the very laws that they pass that the rest of us must live by. This country needs an overhaul sir, an overhaul by, for and of the people, and not by the powers that be!

  • Robert

    Thank you sir for your bravery to speak out. Governments actions speak louder than words. waste fraud abuse posters. of course they don’t want you to actually report any. You will be destroyed for doing the right thing. Because the other looters in the system do not want to lose their government jobs. What Constitution, it has not existed since the people that signed it died.’ “Government is Force”- unknown

  • Pattie Kelly

    Great read and thank you as of today American has a long rough road ahead.

  • FranciscoCanales

    The truth is that Americans are brainwashed by the mainstream news media, most Americans are in complete denial of the truth because they are being deceived by our government, the multinational corporations and our education system. The new system is designed to cover up the truth for self protection and the best practice is to disengage from reality. Americans today do not want to know the truth, their biggest crime is apathy and the lack of courage to stand for their best interest. They know that free trade and globalization has made them economic slaves, but they are silent and fail to speak up against the TPP.

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