During the last week of March, a rare congregation of notable and headline-making whistleblowers will visit Syracuse University, SUNY Cortland, and SUNY Upstate Medical as part of the Government Accountability Project’s (GAP) acclaimed American Whistleblower Tour, a collegiate effort that has brought prominent truth-tellers to speak directly to thousands of students over the past three years.
A series of events will take place in the days leading up to and following the whistleblowers’ visits, but the centerpiece of the educational effort is a moderated panel featuring five prominent whistleblowers that are regularly featured in ongoing public debates.
Notably, two of the panelists are at the forefront of the ongoing debate over the balance of constitutional privacy rights and national security surveillance. They are Jesselyn Radack, attorney for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and GAP National Security & Human Rights Director, and NSA whistleblower Tom Drake, the first whistleblower charged by President Obama for violating the Espionage Act.
Three other prominent whistleblowers will also explain their stories of persevering and fighting for truth in the face of gross retaliation and wrongdoing. Susan Wood became a champion of women’s rights when she resigned in protest from the FDA after concluding that the George W. Bush administration was letting politics, rather than health concerns, delay the approval of the Plan B pill. Michael Winston was a high-level executive at mortgage behemoth Countrywide Financial who refused to write a false report to allay outside party concerns over finances, only to be fired when Bank of America bought the company. Lastly,Dr. Jon Oberg, will relay his tale of discovering illegal payments to student loan lenders while working in the Department of Education, eventually recovering more than $57 million for the federal government. Fuller biographies of the guests appear below.
The panel will take place on:
Wednesday, March 26
7:00 p.m. 8:30 p.m.
Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium in Newhouse 3
The panel also features GAP President Louis Clark, a nationally renowned expert on whistleblowing who has been helping truth-tellers speak truth to power for over 36 years. Stated Clark: “This is one of a handful of events in history where this many prominent whistleblowers have gathered in one location, and the first of its kind aimed at students. The younger generation is interested in truth, justice and accountability particularly in the issues of digital privacy, student loans, reproductive rights and affordable mortgages, all of which will be covered by these truth-tellers. Syracuse University and the other institutions involved should be applauded for examining the whistleblower experience and bringing this reality to their students, professors and the public.”
Another key ongoing event highlights the integration of whistleblowing and art. From Tuesday, March 18 through Friday, April 11, the exhibit, “Portraits of Americans Who Tell the Truth,” by renowned artist Robert Shetterly will be on display at 914Works gallery. Shetterly’s portraits showcase notable whistleblowers and truth-tellers throughout history, some of whom include the very speakers participating in this Tour stop. More information can be found at www.AmericansWhoTellTheTruth.org.
While the moderated panel is the centerpiece of the whistleblowers’ visit, that event is only one of several productions being coordinated around occupational truth-telling for the latter part of March. Such events will take place at Syracuse University, SUNY Cortland, SUNY Upstate Medical, the ArtRage Gallery, and Syracuse University’s 914Works gallery, all of which are sponsoring the events along with GAP. Other prominent events include (listed chronologically):
Wednesday, 3/12: A screening of the award-winning whistleblowing-focused film The Insider, at ArtRage. 7:00 p.m.
Tuesday, 3/25: A Conversation with Dr. Susan Wood as part of a monthly seminar series at the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at Upstate Medical University. 12:00 p.m.
Tuesday, 3/25: A more intimate version of the moderated panel taking place the following day, on Tuesday, March 25, SUNY Cortland will bring student loan whistleblower Jon Oberg and GAP President Louis Clark to campus to speak to students. The event, free and open to the public, will take place in the Park Center Hall of Fame room at 4:30 p.m. This particular event is sponsored by GAP, the SUNY Cortland Sociology/Anthropology Department, SUNY Cortland’s Institute of Civic Engagement, and the Campus Artist and Lecture Series. 4:30 p.m. 6:00 p.m.
Tuesday, 3/25: ArtRage will host a public presentation featuring whistleblower Michael Winston and GAP President Louis Clark. 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, 3/27: The Contemporary Music Ensemble will feature a theatrical piece on whistleblowing, using the words of Snowden and other truth-tellers. It will also feature musical compositions by three Syracuse students based on artist Shetterly’s portraits. Setnor Auditorium. 8:00 p.m.
Further, in conjunction with the exhibit of his works at 914Works, Robert Shetterly will be speaking at the Wed Lab Convocation in the Department of Drama, the Visiting Artist Series in the Department of Art and the Illustration Program and the Music Convocation in the Setnor School of Music.
At Syracuse University, participating schools, colleges and centers include the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Martin J. Whitman School of Management, College of Visual and Performing Arts, and the Tully Center for Free Speech.
Louis Clark serves as both President and Corporate & Financial Accountability Director of GAP. Clark assumed the directorship of GAP in 1978, having first served as legal counsel for the organization. As President, Clark serves as a spokesperson and public ambassador for GAP, and frequently negotiates with government and corporate officials about legal cases and social reform initiatives. Clark often meets with international delegations from all over the world in order to describe GAP’s methodology, the laws that are needed to protect employees who speak up about problems, and how to use information to promote progressive social change. In his role as Corporate & Financial Accountability Director, Clark oversees numerous cases involving widespread financial fraud.
Thomas Drake is a former NSA senior official whom the Justice Department prosecuted under the Espionage Act. In June 2011, the case against him collapsed, but he endured four years of investigation and faced 10 felony counts after he used internal mechanisms to disclose serious wrongdoing concerning a data collection program called “Trailblazer.” That program was costly, wasteful and ineffective; it threatened Americans’ privacy rights, and was wholly undeveloped despite the availability of a cost-effective, functional alternative that protected Americans’ privacy. Ultimately, the Department of Justice (DOJ) dropped all felony counts against him, and the judge excoriated DOJ lawyers for their conduct. Drake is the recipient of the 2011 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, regarded in the U.S. as the highest honor that a whistleblower can receive. Drake is a former client and current supporter of GAP, previously represented by Radack.
Dr. Jon Oberg, while working in a research capacity at the Department of Education in 2003, discovered illegal payments to student loan lenders of federal tax dollars, but department officials instructed him not to investigate further. On his own time, he researched the payments and reported them to Congress, which in 2004 ended the payments prospectively, saving billions of dollars. In 2007, Oberg sued the recipients under the False Claims Act. Three years later, the Department of Justice announced it had settled four of the cases for over $57 million.
Jesselyn Radack serves as counsel for three of the seven whistleblowers that the Obama administration has charged with violating the Espionage Act, including NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. A whistleblower herself, Radack served as an Ethics Advisor in the Department of Justice. In 2001, she learned that FBI agents sought to interrogate “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh. Because Lindh was represented by counsel, she advised the agents they could not conduct the interrogation without Lindh’s attorney. They did so anyway. As a result, she correctly advised them that Lindh’s testimony was inadmissible in a legal proceeding. When Attorney General John Ashcroft falsely stated in public that the seriously injured Lindh had waived his right to legal counsel before speaking with the FBI, Radack’s advice was reported in the news media. Radack is GAP’s National Security & Human Rights Director and a recipient of the 2012 Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award.
Robert Shetterly’s paintings and prints are in collections all over the U.S. and Europe. A collection of his drawings & etchings, Speaking Fire at Stones, was published in 1993. He is well known for his series of 70 painted etchings based on William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell”, and for another series of 50 painted etchings reflecting on the metaphor of the Annunciation. His painting has tended toward the surreal, however, for more than ten years he has been painting the series of portraits Americans Who Tell the Truth, which will be shown in 914Works gallery as part of the events. The exhibit has been traveling around the country since 2003. Venues have included everything from university museums and grade school libraries to sandwich shops, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, and the Superior Court in San Francisco. To date, the exhibits have visited 26 states.
Michael Winston was a high-level executive at Countrywide Financial tasked with helping it develop better managers to grow the company. When Moody’s Investors Services, a credit rating company, expressed concern about Countrywide’s succession planning and other governance issues, Winston was asked to write a report to allay Moody’s concerns. However, Winston had seen no succession plan, nor knew if one even existed. He refused to write the report and soon afterward his budget was frozen and his duties severely curtailed. When Bank of America took over Countrywide in 2008, he was fired.
Dr. Susan Wood served as U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Assistant Commissioner for Women’s Health for five years. When she concluded in 2005 that George W. Bush administration politics not medical concerns was tying up the approval of the “Plan-B” contraceptive, she resigned her position and spoke out forcefully on the principle that the FDA should exclusively exist to serve public health, not the agenda of the “pro-life movement.”
About the Tour
GAP’s American Whistleblower Tour: Essential Voices for Accountability is a dynamic campaign aimed at educating the public particularly university students about the phenomenon and practice of whistleblowing. A full description of the Tour can be found at www.WhistleblowerTour.org.
The combined stop at Syracuse/SUNY is the sixth of several to be held this academic year. Previous 2013-14 stops have included Florida International University, American University, West Virginia University, Auburn University and Princeton University. After Syracuse/SUNY, the Tour will visit the University of Southern California, Stanford, Temple and West Chester.
GAP secures some of the most prominent whistleblowers in American history for its Tour. Previous whistleblower presenters have included Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers) and Frank Serpico (NYPD).
Goals of the Tour include raising awareness about the vital role whistleblowing has in our democracy, preparing America’s youth for ethical decision-making, countering negative connotations associated with whistleblowing, connecting prospective whistleblowers to available resources, and encouraging academic studies of whistleblowing.