Classified Woman: A Review at the Whistle- The Newsletter of Whistleblowers Australia by Brian Martin

The Lessons for To Be-Whistleblowers on Paths to be Taken or Not

Brian Martin has written an informative and well-written review of my book, Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story, in the July 2013 edition of the Australian magazine-The Whistle. It is an honor to have my memoir reviewed by a solid and highly informative site in Australia dedicated to whistleblowers. I know the author checked all the boxes in writing a review that is all facts based and comprehensive in highlighting the saga of whistleblowers in the age of war on whistleblowers, and I am thankful for his hard work.

Here are a few excerpts from the review, but I encourage you to read the entire piece, and this not for the purpose of promoting my book, but to have a better understanding of the notion of whistleblowing, the price paid by the truth-tellers to inform the public, and the lessons for to-be whistleblowers on the paths to take or not to take:

If you have any trust in the US justice system, beware! This book shows such deep-seated dysfunction and corruption that any idea of working within the system for change seems forlorn. There is, though, hope in the end.

One big disappointment was the response of US watchdog bodies. The day after I was fired, I began looking for an attorney, which proved difficult. Good, affordable attorneys willing to take on the FBI and Justice Department are a rarity in Washington, DC. As far as government watchdog and whistleblower organizations go, none of them call back unless you happen to be famous. (It took me years to understand the game: high-profile cases are cash cows for many of these groups, who use the funds they raise to pay the salaries of their staffs, none of whom are whistleblowers.) (p. 152)

The extraordinary part of this saga is that the government was able to retrospectively claim that certain information was classified, even though it was already in the public domain. This information included Edmonds’ date of birth, where she attended university and what languages she speaks. This absurd prohibition was a side-effect of the contortions required by the administration and courts as they tried to prevent the release of embarrassing information. Retrospectively classifying information as secret prevented action by the US Congress. This result had nothing to do with national security; quite the contrary, it damaged security but protected incompetence, negligence and criminality within the national security apparatus.

And here are some excellent points on a few lessons for future legit whistleblowers [All Emphasis Mine]:

Edmonds continued to believe in official channels. If the courts had become tools of the system, she next put her hope in the political system, and organised lobbying of politicians. Some were supportive. Then came the 2008 election, when Barack Obama was elected. To Edmonds’ disgust, the previously supportive politicians didn’t follow through, and the Obama administration carried on the same oppressive policies as its predecessor, the Bush administration. Obama had voiced support for whistleblowers, but his administration took tougher action against them than Bush’s. So much for putting trust in political reform.

For some readers, the story Edmonds tells may be almost too confronting to believe. However, I found it entirely convincing because all of Edmonds’ experiences follow a trajectory familiar to whistleblowers: speaking out, reprisals, appeal to official channels, the failure of official channels, and going public. Not every whistleblower proceeds this way, but enough of them do for the path to be well worn. Edmonds’ story is unusual mainly in the exceptionally high profile of her saga and the lengths the US government went to block independent investigation of her claims.

There is another stage worth mentioning: going to the media. In many whistleblower cases, the mass media are powerful allies. A balanced treatment of a whistleblower story is often highly damaging to the employer, so media coverage is often the best support a whistleblower can obtain. But this applies only to cases within a certain political context. Some cases are too hot to handle even by the media. In the US, the mainstream media will not challenge the status quo beyond a certain point, as Edmonds discovered. Early in her struggles, the media were keenly interested, but as the stakes became higher and the implications more far-reaching, suddenly the media lost interest. Concerning tough questions about espionage and invoking state secrets privilege, “The media — that is, the mainstream media in the United States — never asked these questions, never sought an answer through investigative work. Never.” (p.283)

The higher the stakes, the more consideration should be given to anonymous leaking. Edmonds did not take this road, so how well it might have worked for her is uncertain. It is worth noting that speaking out means the attention is often more on the whistleblower and the injustice of reprisals than on the issue being addressed. Edmonds was adamant that national security was the central concern, but this often took a back seat in her saga of secrecy, surveillance, intimidation and other reprisals that she encountered. She was aware of this problem but could not find an easy way to overcome it.

Another lesson is not to trust official channels. Edmonds tried one after another, continually searching for justice. Eventually she learned that the system was sewn up: there was no way to achieve reform on the inside. Through a process of elimination, she found only two reliable ways of having an impact: mobilizing other national security whistleblowers and alerting the wider public.

If Edmonds had known what was coming, she might have chosen an entirely different strategy, lying low, collecting information, leaking information, and anonymously notifying committed campaigners about ways to intervene against corruption in the security apparatus. Perhaps some future insider dissidents will take this path. Meanwhile, we can be thankful that there are individuals such as Edmonds who have taken the noble, principled path of speaking out, paying the penalty for pushing for honest and effective behaviour, and surviving to mobilise others and tell a story that can inform and inspire us all.

Again I encourage you to take the time and read the entire review here. And one more time: Thank you “The Whistle Australia”!

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*Classified Woman- The Sibel Edmonds Story is available via Amazon, Kindle & Nook. For more information Click Here

*For countries and regions where the book is not available signed copies can be purchased here

Sibel Edmonds is the Publisher & Editor of Boiling Frogs Post and the author of the Memoir Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story. She is the recipient of the 2006 PEN Newman's Own First Amendment Award for her “commitment to preserving the free flow of information in the United States in a time of growing international isolation and increasing government secrecy” Ms. Edmonds has a MA in Public Policy and International Commerce from George Mason University, a BA in Criminal Justice and Psychology from George Washington University.

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  1. CuChulainn says:

    it’s been a while since I read the book but I did not recall that Melek Can had difficulties with Turkish; it is her native language is it not?

    a good article

  2. Bill Bergman says:

    Not to steal a great quote from your news review yesterday, but it seems to help underline your integrity here.

    “If you do not speak up when it matters, when would it matter that you speak? The opposite of courage is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.” — Jim Hightower

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