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Book Review: Whistleblowers, Leaks and the Media

​American Bar Association;; 296 pages; $39.95.

The editors of this text have compiled a thoughtful and comprehensive study of the issues of secrecy and transparency of government. The contradictions between the ideals of government secrecy and the public's right to know are highlighted throughout the text in a manner that thoroughly examines the history, laws, and consequences associated with unauthorized disclosures of government information to the media.

The editors use historical perspectives to support their idea that the obligation of the government is to protect the public against threats while preserving civil liberties. They cite recent cases of leaks by Edward Snowden, Private Chelsea (Bradley) Manning, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as the most visible contemporary exemplars of this context. 

The first two chapters of the book provide an outline of the laws relating whistleblowing and leaks, with examples that show how government leaks to the media have resulted in the prosecution of the whistleblower or leaker, with no action against the reporter receiving sensitive information. A review of prosecutions under U.S. criminal and other relevant laws, as well as the efforts underway to change them, is presented in Chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 5 examines the first amendment arguments for protecting news media and journalists who leak information and provides arguments as to why free speech is not unlimited. 

The chapter on the laws protecting whistleblowers discusses the legal rights of government employees and contractors and the reforms that have enhanced protection of those reporting waste, fraud, abuse, and other wrongdoings. Chapters 7 and 8 delve into the specifics of information classification and declassification and their bearing in prosecutions of leakers. Subsequent chapters look at parallel laws in other countries, as well as how to track down leakers and address security breaches. The book also addresses the impact of the computer age.

This book provides a balance in examining the prevailing issues surrounding whistleblowers, leaks and the media and shows the dynamics that must encircle any discussion regarding the overall theme of the book: Is greater transparency in government actions worth the loss of secrecy the government requires to protect the public? The editors show that both sides have worthy and credible concerns that make these issues ones that cannot be easily resolved.

I recommend this book to anyone wanting to address these issues. It provides a thought-provoking look at both sides of the issues, and will leave the reader with an enhanced perception of the issues.


Reviewer: David O. Best, CPP, ISP (Industrial Security Professional), CBM (Certified Business Manager), SFPC (Security Fundamentals Professional Certification), and Security+CE, is owner of Security Compliance Solutions, LLC, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He is member of ASIS International.