Documentary Film “Silenced” Shows the Personal Price Paid by Government Whistle-blowers
Written by: John Zangas - Director James Spione screened his documentary film “Silenced” at the Goethe Institute in Washington, DC on Saturday, April 10. “Silenced” features three prominent whistleblowers: former US Department of Justice attorney Jessalyn Radack, former NSA Senior Director Thomas Drake, and former CIA Analyst John Kiriakou, all who paid a heavy price for following their consciences.
Drake, Kiriakou, and Radack were present for a question and answer period following the showing. Their political stories have been widely reported in the press.
The film does much more than tell the story of how three whistleblowers courageously reported crimes they witnessed within their security agencies. It shows their personal struggles through interactions with their families and in their homes, while touching on their collapsing careers and estates.
Each whistleblower loses everything but finds cathartic liberation through their courage to expose truth in the face of powerful forces within the intelligence community.
Spione sought to show the personal side of whistleblowers because of their sacrifices. “I realized the element missing from the reporting was this incredible deep personal toll that this decision to stand up and speak out takes on people and that would be the focus of the film,” he said.
But the film’s backstory also depicts compelling political stories as well in the stories of ordinary people standing for truth. “The core of this movie is about the America we think we have and the America we really have,” said Spione.
Jesslyn Radack, former attorney at the Department of Justice, was fired for exposing a coverup of torture and rights violations of John Walker Lindh, an American citizen arrested in Afghanistan for collaborating with the Taliban. She eventually found a new role helping whistleblowers prepare their cases.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think things could change,” said Radack. The stress of the investigation caused her to have a miscarriage. She now works at the Government Accountability Project defending whistleblowers. “I am here because people care,” she said. “I do believe it’s not too late to roll things back.”
John Kiriakou, the former CIA Analyst who was the first to publicly expose the illegal CIA water boarding torture program in 2007, was charged under the Espionage Act of 1917. In a plea deal, he was sentenced to 30 months. Kiriakou had to leave five children at home when he was incarcerated in a federal prison in Pennsylvania in 2013. He’s just been released from a halfway house after being imprisoned for nearly two years.
Kiriakou said that interest in the film showed there was a “silent majority of people who cared about human rights and civil liberties.” He said the 7,000 letters he received from supporters while he was in prison kept him going. “I come to events like this and I realize I am really not alone.”
Kiriakou credited director Spione for his work on the film. “As long as there are people like this who are putting their money where their mouths are and make films like this, I want to be there fighting too,” he said.
To date, none of the CIA agents involved in water boarding torture have been prosecuted.
Thomas Drake, a former CIA Analyst and later a senior executive at the NSA, turned whistleblower in 2010 after his internal concerns about NSA dragnet surveillance were ignored. Speaking to the press led to 10 charges against him under the Espionage Act. All charges under the statute were dropped as the government’s case collapsed, but he was forced to plead guilty to one misdemeanor charge of misuse of a government computer.
Drake, who is nearly a million dollars in debt, has been able to find work only at a store servicing cell phones.
“The last time I checked, there is still a constitution,” he said. “It may have a lot of dust and dirt on it, but it does open up with those three words “We, the People.”
Interview with Jesslyn Radack at the documentary film screening of ‘Silenced’