Thomas Drake, 2011 recipient of The Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize, was a senior official at the National Security Agency (NSA) who blew the whistle through the proper channels and exposed massive waste, fraud and abuse as well as illegal and unconstitutional behavior at the hands of NSA management post-9/11. Drake was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice under the Espionage Act in April 2010 in order to silence him and send an ominous message to future whistleblowers, that not only could you lose your job, you could lose your very freedom. He is due to begin trial on June 13, 2011.
The 2011 Ridenhour Prizes were presented at the National Press Club on April 13. We attended and, as we do each year, found the event to be inspirational from beginning to end.
“The annual Ridenhour Prizes recognize those who persevere in acts of truth-telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice or illuminate a more just vision of society. These prizes memorialize the spirit of fearless truth-telling that whistleblower and investigative journalist Ron Ridenhour reflected throughout his extraordinary life and career.”
The prizes were established by The Nation Institute and the Fertel Foundation in partnership with The Fund for Constitutional Government, Government Accountability Project and The Project on Government Oversight.
The Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling is presented to a citizen, corporate or government whistleblower, investigative journalist, or organization for bringing a specific issue of social importance to the public’s attention.
Thomas Drake, 2011 recipient of The Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize, was a senior official at the National Security Agency (NSA) who blew the whistle through the proper channels and exposed massive waste, fraud and abuse as well as illegal and unconstitutional behavior at the hands of NSA management post-9/11. The Bush administration targeted him as part of a criminal “leak” investigation into those who revealed Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, and suspended Drake’s security clearance and led him to voluntarily resign from the NSA. But the current administration has been even more aggressive. Drake was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice under the Espionage Act in April 2010 in order to silence him and send an ominous message to future whistleblowers, that not only could you lose your job, you could lose your very freedom. He is due to begin trial on June 13, 2011.
For more information, including video and full transcript of Thomas Drake’s acceptance speech, and list of past recipients of the Truth-Telling Prize
The Justice Department has announced that it has dropped the investigation into Thomas Tamm – another NSA whistleblower who admitted that he was a source for the New York Times’ December 2005 story on President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. In contrast, the DOJ is continuing to pursue the prosecution of Drake, even though there is no evidence that he ever was a source for the Times, nor is he charged with disclosing any classified information.
The Ridenhour Book Prize honors an outstanding work of social significance from the prior publishing year. The prize also recognizes investigative and reportorial distinction.
Wendell Potter, the 2011 recipient of The Ridenhour Book Prize, won for Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Healthcare and Deceiving Americans, his damning account of how America’s health insurance industry manufactures distortion and fear. Potter, who walked away from his lucrative job as head of communications for healthcare giant CIGNA in May 2008, found he could no longer participate in a system that placed profits ahead of patient care, and courageously spoke out against what he had seen and participated in during his thirty-year career.
Documentary Film Prize
The Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize is given to a documentary film that in the view of the judges best reflects the legacy of Ron Ridenhour–journalist, whistleblower, truth-teller and social activist. The Prize seeks to recognize a documentary that defends the public interest, advances or promotes social justice, or illuminates a more just vision of society.
Budrus, the inaugural recipient of The Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize, is honored for its moving account of a West Bank village, Budrus, that used nonviolent resistance to unite a divided people and alter the course of Israel’s Separation Barrier. Refusing to allow the wall to destroy his village, Palestinian community organizer Ayed Morrar and his 15-year-old daughter Iltezam formed an unlikely coalition of local Fatah and Hamas members, Israeli supporters, and women and girls, to protest the barrier’s route. As one New York Times review put it, “[Budrus] raises some of the most difficult and contested questions surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, notably the ability of each side to understand the other and the role of popular, nonviolent struggle in bringing it to an end.”
The Ridenhour Courage Prize is presented to an individual in recognition of his or her courageous and life-long defense of the public interest and passionate commitment to social justice.
United States Senator Russ Feingold spent eighteen years as a Democratic Senator from Wisconsin, and before that ten years as a State Senator from Middleton. In his nearly three decades as an elected official, Feingold has earned a reputation for taking principled stands regardless of the potential political consequences. He is best known for the historic McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, which sought to decrease the power of money in politics. Since leaving the Senate, Feingold has founded Progressives United, whose mission is to ensure that voters — rather than rich donors — decide elections. In addition to The Ridenhour Prize for Courage, Feingold is a recipient of the 2011 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.
In 1969, Vietnam veteran Ron Ridenhour wrote a letter to Congress and the Pentagon describing the horrific events at My Lai – the infamous massacre of the Vietnam War – bringing the scandal to the attention of the American public and the world.
Read the Letter…
Ridenhour later became a respected investigative journalist, winning the George Polk Award for Investigative Journalism in 1987 for a year-long investigation of a New Orleans tax scandal. He died suddenly in 1998 at the age of 52. At the time of his death, he was working on a piece for the London Review of Books, had co-produced a story on militias for NBC’s Dateline and had just delivered a series of lectures commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of My Lai. (Ron Ridenhour tribute video)
“Remembering Ron: The Whistleblower Paradox” by Randy Fertel. A great essay.
“Speaking truth to power, whistleblowers are crucial to the health of a free society and inevitably troublesome to the powerful. In a democracy, whistleblowing is one of the unlegislated checks and balances. Or, if investigative journalism serves an open society as a fourth estate, watchdogging the activities of the other three, then whistleblowers are a kind of fifth estate. They help to make organizations accountable and individuals responsible for their actions. Corporations and public servants can do nefarious things behind closed doors, but they never know who in their ranks will feel ill at ease enough to come forward and make wrongdoing public….”