Longtime friend of Dispatches Radley Balko has a great idea for a whistleblower prize, or a series of them, that would provide some incentive for whistleblowers to come forward and reveal wrongdoing. It would require a lot of funding, but I think it’s a great idea.
High-level whistleblowers know when they come forward that they’re sacrificing their national security clearance, likely their jobs, and quite possibly their freedom. Set aside for a moment what you think about the actions of Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden. Imagine you have a top-level security clearance, and you discover in the course of your work evidence of illegal government activity. Even going through the proper internal channels carries risks, and aren’t likely to change much, anyway. (Thomas Drake, remember, actually went through the proper internal channels to expose government spying — he was prosecuted, anyway. He now works at an Apple store.) Would you risk your career, your lifestyle, your family’s security, and possibly your freedom to expose it? How serious would it need to be for your to consider going public?
It needn’t even be something as dire as national security. I’ve seen and reported on countless law enforcement officers whose careers were cut short (or worse) when they reported wrongdoing by other cops, or more systemic problems within their police agencies…
A series of prizes for government employees who risk their livelihoods to shed light on government abuse might be one way to provide an incentive for more whistleblowing. It needn’t just be one big prize. Think about a foundation that might give out multiple prizes, at all levels of government. Yes, it would need to be pretty well funded. The idea here would be to give out prizes significant enough to compensate for the losses of income, the foregoing of careers, and potential legal expenses. But it seems to me that there are enough people — and enough affluent people — concerned about NSA spying, police abuse, and government waste to make something like this happen. In fact, there needn’t even be just one foundation, or one series of prizes.
And let’s not limit this to government whistleblowers. Corporate whistleblowers and even non-profit whistleblowers should also get rewarded. And part of the prize should also be free legal representation. I think this is a brilliant idea. The Sunlight Foundation would be a perfect organization to lead the effort.