This week, the Securities and Exchange Commission made history by promising an anonymous overseas whistleblower a reward of $30m.
It doesn’t usually work out that way for whistleblowers. Ringing the bell on abuse in a company or government usually means losing jobs and status. The norm is pariah treatment and low-wage jobs, as well as trips to the welfare office and the lingering threat of prosecution or intimidation.
Consider: it’s not every day that you get to buy an iPhone from an ex-NSA officer. Yet a number of people visiting the Washington metro-area Apple store get to do just that. For over a year now, several days a week Thomas Drake puts on his blue Apple work T-shirt and goes to work.
Drake, former senior executive at National Security Agency, is well known in the national security circles. In 2006, he leaked information about the NSA’s Trailblazer project to Baltimore Sun. Years later, in 2010, he was prosecuted under the Espionage Act, but the government ended up dropping all 10 felony charges against him. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for unauthorized use of a computer.
Drake, unlike other NSA whistleblowers, has the freedom to move freely within any city or state within America. His freedom, however, comes with a very tangible price: his livelihood.
“You have to mortgage your house, you have to empty your bank account. I went from making well over $150,000 a year to a quarter of that,” Drake says in Silenced, a recently released documentary depicting the lives of several national security whistleblowers. Silenced, which made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, is to be screened at additional movie festivals this fall. “The cost alone, financially – never mind the personal cost – is approaching million dollars in terms of lost income, expenses and other costs I incurred.”
“Obviously, I am a persona non grata within the government … and so I am unemployed,” Drake says to the cameras in Silenced. “I did look for work. I spent a lot of time looking for work. I applied for a part-time position with Apple, and several month later I actually got a phone call. I ended up working at an Apple store in the metro DC area as an expert.”
This kind of result is what most whistleblowers can expect. The potential threat of prosecution, the mounting legal bills and the lack of future job opportunities all contribute to a hesitation among many to rock the boat…
[continues at The Guardian]