By ZHIQI SCARLETT CHEN
Three prominent whistleblowers spoke at noon Tuesday at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and journalism, kicking off a two-day American Whistleblower Tour Event.
The event discussed the relationship between journalists and whistleblowers when dealing with the U.S. National Security Agency and intelligence programs. Panelists included Jesselyn Radack, attorney for Edward Snowden and former ethics advisor of the U.S. Department of Justice, Thomas Drake, NAS whistleblower and Richard Reeves, veteran journalist, author and professor at Annenberg.
More than 50 students attended the event. Panelists Radack and Drake will speak again on the role of watchdogs in the national security era Tuesday night, along with Daniel Ellsberg, former Pentagon analyst and whistleblower.
The nation and the world have been debating how to draw the line between freedom of speech and national security after Edward Snowden, former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency and former contractor for the National Security Agency, disclosed information to a British news agency, The Guardian.
During the event, Reeves talked about the history of whistleblowers in America and shared his encounter and opinion about A. Ernest Fitzgerald, who reported a $2.3 million cost overrun in the Lockheed C-5 aircraft program. Reeves said that the U.S. is a nation that celebrates individualism. Therefore, whistleblowers have played an important role in the nation.
Radack believes that national security is the reason why journalists and whistleblowers have limited protections. She said that only a few journalists are willing to give up their freedom to protect their sources. She points out that the U.S. government should not interfere with the press, but what they have repeatedly done so by subpoenaing journalists for their sources. Radack used the case of New York Times Reporter James Risen, who fought against Obama Administration and refused to testify against his source, to demonstrate to USC students.
On the other hand, Radack says that major media outlets will not publish whistleblowers’ stories for fear of jeopardizing their relationship with government sources.
Drake agreed with Radack, adding that the U.S. government is the biggest leaker.
The government has set up double standards to the press and to themselves said Drake.
Drake talked about his experience being interrogated by the government and believed that the government is constantly broadening surveillance over media.
In the discussion session, Annenberg journalism students shared their concerns over government surveillance and how this could influence their future careers. Radack and Drake asked students to be aware of what information they were dealing with and use data encryption and decryption computer programs, such as Pretty Good Privacy and Off-the-Record Messaging to protect themselves. However, there is no guaranteed way to proect one’s privacy, according to Radack and Drake.
“You have to be prudent, ” said Drake.
Annenberg has been preparing this series of events since last summer, after professor Sandy Tolan got a call from Alison Glick, education coordinator at Government Accountability Project, asking if the school wanted to co-sponsor and co-operate the events.
Michael Parks, director of Annenberg school of journalism, and his colleges felt that having whistleblowers talk to students would get students connected to current events.
Tolan said that journalists were dealing with questions of privacy, freedom and revelation of leaks. So it is important for students to hear voices from the real world on protecting sources.
“We don’t really think about how much it means for people who are out there on the front lines, making decisions that could cause them, even their freedom if they are willing to go to jail to protect their sources,” said Tolan. “The protection of the sources is one of the journalists’ most sacred trusts and to bring people who have really pay the price and willing to stand up for what they believe in.”