Like WikiLeaks but Better: New Group Aims to Reveal Truths, Protect Whistleblowers

What separates a democracy from a dictatorship? Government transparency, among other things. Here’s a new way to help get the important stories told.

From left: Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Daniel Ellsberg. (Photo: Barton Gellman, AFP, Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Jun 4, 2014· 3 MIN READ
Eliza Krigman is a Washington, D.C.- based journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post. She writes about politics, business, and lifestyle issues.

WikiLeaks may have inspired a new generation of whistleblowers to come forward with classified information about the American government, but despite the site’s vow to never betray its contributors, there was little Julian Assange could do from exile when his sources came under fire. As a result, Pvt. Chelsea Manning became a casualty of conscience, sentenced to serve 35 years in prison for leaking documents to Assange.

Partially inspired by WikiLeaks, a first-of-its-kind organization is looking to become a more sophisticated home for whistleblowers and is supported by a distinguished editorial board of journalists and an advisory board of world-class government transparency advocates. ExposeFacts.org is looking to keep government and corporate power in check as a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy, said executive director Norman Solomon.

“A lot of organizations that we admire greatly are doing work in the area of liberties and whistleblower support, but we are doing a unique synthesis that has never gone under one roof before,” Solomon told TakePart. “We are combing a direct journalistic function with grassroots organizing with encouragement to truth telling.”

The new organization’s mission is to “shed light on concealed activities that are relevant to human rights, corporate malfeasance, the environment, civil liberties, and war” by calling on Americans to share “official information—whether governmental or corporate—that the public has a right to know.”

The website, which went live Wednesday morning, features a “SecureDrop” function to allow potential whistleblowers to share information anonymously. After they receive submissions, ExposeFacts plans to have its editorial board, which includes Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, and John Hanrahan, who previously led the Fund for Investigative Journalism, vet the material.

“We will vet [submissions] in terms of authenticity and public interest value,” Solomon said. Then they will determine the best way to distribute it.

The goal is for the initiative to be a powerful antidote to the government and corporate spin machine that often distorts and hides the truth.

“I don’t want to hear nuance or spin anymore. Just give me some basic truths,” Kirk Wiebe, a former employee at the National Security Agency and an outspoken critic of its surveillance policies, said at a news conference Wednesday.

The new group has the support of a powerful roster of whistleblowers, including Daniel Ellsberg, arguably the most famous in American history. Ellsberg caused an international uproar in 1971 when he leaked the Pentagon Papers, government documents that revealed the administration’s thought process about America’s unpopular war with Vietnam.

For the deed, Ellsberg faced 12 felony charges, which were dismissed in 1973 on grounds of government misconduct against him. The incident led to a Supreme Court case between The New York Times and the U.S. government in which the paper triumphed, formally positioning the media’s First Amendment rights above the White House’s executive authority to censor content.

“All governments lie, and they all like to work in the dark as far as the public is concerned,” Ellsberg said in prepared remarks for the launch event. A nation “that wants to be a democracy has to be able to penetrate that secrecy, with the help of conscientious individuals.”

Ellsberg’s face graces a new billboard at a bus shelter near the State Department that promotes ExposeFacts with the following message: “Tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers.”

According to Solomon, it will be the first of many outreach efforts to encourage telling the truth about information that the public has a right to know.

“We are not putting our operation on the table and hoping people stumble across it,” Solomon explained. “We are doing outreach.” Next week, he plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign to put up more billboards.

Other whistleblowers who spoke at the conference included Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, who blew the whistle at the Environmental Protection Agency after it ignored her complaints about an American company harming the environment and human health in its mining in South Africa, and William Binney, whom Edward Snowden told a Wall Street Journal reporter is “owed a debt of gratitude” for his criticism of the National Security Agency. After a 30-year career at the NSA, Binney went public with his concerns about the agency’s access to telecommunications companies’ domestic records, programs that were confirmed by Snowden’s disclosures.

Binney offered chilling remarks at the news conference.

“Our government is turning into more of a totalitarian state,” he said. “They are setting the stage for this to continue to the point where everybody could be monitored almost constantly throughout the day.”

That’s why it’s more important than ever, Binney and others argued, that citizens who want to guard against unethical and illegal behavior by the government and corporations have the support of an organization like ExposeFacts.

The bottom line for ExposeFacts is in its tagline: Whistleblowers Welcome.