2012 Award Winners

NSA Whistleblowers J. Kirk Wiebe and William Binney

J. Kirk Wiebe and William Binney, former National Security Agency (NSA) officials, joined whistleblower Thomas Drake in blowing the whistle on fraud, waste, abuse and illegality within the agency. Together, they disclosed that the NSA had dismissed ThinThread – a data collection program that could efficiently and cost-effectively analyze massive amounts of information while protecting Americans’ privacy – in favor of Trailblazer, a vastly more expensive, intrusive and undeveloped program. Binney and Wiebe used appropriate channels to share their concerns with Congress and the Department of Defense Inspector General, but despite their efforts, no one was held accountable at NSA for one of the worst intelligence failures in history.

Recently, Wiebe and Binney have made several key disclosures crucial to the ongoing public debate about America’s growing surveillance state, such as the first public description of NSA’s massive domestic spying program, Stellar Wind, which intercepts domestic communications without protections for US citizens. Binney revealed that NSA has been given access to telecommunications companies’ domestic and international billing records, and that since 9/11 the agency has intercepted between 15 and 20 trillion communications. Binney further disclosed that Stellar Wind was grouped under the patriotic-sounding “Terrorist Surveillance Program” in order to give cover to the warrantless surveillance program’s constitutionally-dubious nature.

Wiebe and Binney have appeared in numerous media outlets (such as Wired Magazine) and in public (Binney recently spoke at the DefCon Conference) discussing these Orwellian surveillance programs. They have become bearers of truth and accountability for incursions on civil liberties, and are often asked to speak publicly on the problems with the growing national security state.

CIA Torture Whistleblower John Kiriakou

John Kiriakou is a former CIA officer who publicly acknowledged that waterboarding constituted torture. For this and other whistleblowing activities, Kiriakou became the sixth whistleblower to be indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act – more than all previous presidential administrations combined.

Kiriakou worked at the CIA for almost 15 years, in a variety of roles, including as an analyst specializing on Iraq and as a counterterrorism operative. Following the 9/11 attacks, Kiriakou was named Chief of Counterterrorism Operations in Pakistan, where he led a series of raids on al-Qaeda safe houses that resulted in the capture of dozens of suspected al Qaeda fighters – including that of Abu Zubaydah, then thought to be al Qaeda’s third-ranking official.

In December 2007, Kiriakou gave an interview to ABC News, during which he described his participation in the capture of Zubaydah. In the interview, Kiriakou publicly acknowledged that waterboarding constituted torture, and that torture was a policy rather than the actions of a few rogue agents. He also said that the U.S. should not engage in the practice.

Since his 2007 interview, Kiriakou has been an outspoken critic of the George W. Bush administration’s torture polices in the media and in his 2009 book, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror.

When President Obama took office, he promised that he would not prosecute any government officials who engaged in torture if they were following Justice Department guidance. The Justice Department then indicted Kiriakou, who did not engage in torture but rather helped expose it, under the heavy-handed Espionage Act, a law meant to target spies, not whistleblowers. After Kiriakou’s indictment, Attorney General Eric Holder closed the investigation of government officials suspected of engaging in torture. Kiriakou’s trial is slated for late November 2012.