When the media, big business and big government are working in collusion to further their respective agendas, the general populace — putting faith in the information, policy and business practices of the aforementioned entities — usually gets shafted. But in a free society, whistle-blowers serve as a great equalizer in the battle between everyman and elitist; unfortunately, the U.S. legal system as it currently stands dissuades or, worse, destroys those who bring to light abuse, incompetence and corruption.
Over the course of the past year, the plight of the American whistle-blower has been highly publicized with the military trial of military leaker Bradley Manning under way, Stratfor hacker Jeremy Hammond in jail awaiting a trial, Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer’s imprisonment for pointing out an AT&T security flaw and the late Aaron Swartz’s Federal harassment and subsequent suicide after he downloaded academic journals and made them free to the public.
The Internet has made hackers and activists more able not only to access information that could affect public perception but also to disseminate the information to a wide audience, often bypassing traditional “legitimate” media organizations. This has led prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to pursue and prosecute so-called hacktivists and whistle-blowers with what some would describe as gratuitous severity.
To counteract a legal structure that is, by design, an encumbrance to the act of exposing wrongdoing for the public good, a group of expert criminal defense attorneys interspersed throughout the Nation have joined forces to create the Whistleblower Defense League. Among those more notable legal minds involved in the endeavor are Constitutional lawyer Dennis Roberts, a veteran of the civil rights movement; Jay Leiderman, a renowned Internet rights attorney; and writer and attorney Jason Flores-Williams.
In a press release, the legal experts explain the newly-formed group’s mission: “The government has amended the constitution with fear. In response, a nation-wide group of expert criminal defense attorneys have formed the Whistleblower Defense League to defend and encourage those willing to investigate and speak out against the corporate and political forces threatening our democracy.”
The WBDL says that it will provide, at limited cost, defense to Americans who are willing to put their freedom on the line in order to expose political and corporate malfeasance whether they are acting in the role of journalist, activist, freedom fighter or some combination of all three.
Flores-Williams, in an interview with Personal Liberty Digest™, explained that the government’s assault against whistle-blowers comes from a desire to protect the status quo by controlling information.
“It’s absolutely oppressive, the government’s goal is to kill dissent and to kill First Amendment rights,” he said. “The reason that the prosecution is so harsh is this: If you, as a journalist, decided to investigate the relationship between government and defense contractors, for instance, and you discover corruption or some wrongdoing, you’ll think twice before making the information public.”
According to the attorney, the government’s bid to silence whistle-blowers doesn’t end at prosecuting and intimidating the individuals seeking and disseminating damning information. The system also allows for the state to bully legal professionals who come to the aid of activists.
“Often, lawyers are afraid of the idea of taking on such a massive power,” Flores-Williams said. “When I used to hear people talk about surveillance and the need to talk on a secure line or use a secure connection, I used to laugh and think they were paranoid. But we’re dealing with a government that goes to great lengths to monitor whistle-blowers and dissenters. It’s not paranoia anymore; it’s going on.”
By extension, the attorney said, the government could also decide to monitor legal professionals who agree to defend individuals being prosecuted for publicizing sensitive information. This makes many lawyers unwilling to take on the cases of those who run afoul of the government apparatus.
Flores-Williams recently got involved in the case of writer, hacktivist and Anonymous ally Barret Brown who currently faces up to 100 years imprisonment for the simple act of pasting a hyperlink in an Internet chat room and allegedly making threats in a Youtube video against FBI agents who were investigating (and by many accounts, harassing) him.
In working to enter a motion to crush a subpoena in the case, Flores-Williams needed to find an attorney in Texas, where the legal proceedings are under way, to file the motion on his behalf. But the attorney found that legal professionals in the area were reluctant to get involved.
“That’s one of the hardest things to deal with in these kinds of cases,” he said. “Simply getting an attorney to say ‘yes’.”
Flores-Williams and his colleagues involved with the WBDL, however, are on a mission to change that.
“We’re here to protect these people, to encourage them to continue providing information that the public deserves access to,” he said. “And it isn’t just about going to court and going through the motions. They need to know that we’re for them and we believe in what they’re doing.”
The ability of individuals to gain access to and uncover more information than ever before has created a number of complex legal questions related to how freedom of the press relates to the individual who investigates and publicizes information without being affiliated with a traditional media organization.
Flores-Williams believes that government prosecutors are on a mission to ensure that grassroots media is hindered in its efforts to provide the information that mainstream news outlets (which have a much cozier relationship with government officials) are unwilling to report.
“Nobody really expects CNN or other mainstream news outlets to tell the truth about things,” he said. “But there are, as we have seen, individuals out there who are willing to uncover the truth.”
As for mainstream media’s lackluster coverage of cases like those involving the government’s bullying of Auernheimer, Brown, Swartz, Manning Hammond and Sibel Edmonds, the attorney contends that the media silence speaks volumes.
“It should be a humiliation to mainstream journalists because it reveals that they don’t do their job,” Flores-Williams said. “Mainstream media basically serves as a press release system for the government.”
According to Flores-Williams, WBDL has received nonstop inquiries from whistle-blowers and activists who fear retaliation and prosecution by the state; but the private group of lawyers will continues to take on new cases in order to support people willing to risk it all to expose the truth.
For more information about the WBDL, visit its website here.