Famous whistleblowers pat themselves on the back and blast the security state in Gaston Hall

Some of the biggest names in the whistleblowing community gathered in Gaston Hall on Tuesday as part of a symposium on espionage and exposés entitled “Beyond Orwell: Surveillance, Secrets, and Whistleblowers in the Security State.” Presented by the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice and the Georgetown Lecture Fund, the conference featured a taped video address from investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, who recently won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Edward Snowden revelations, and a keynote speech by Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame.

Greenwald set the tone for the symposium. “I think if Daniel Ellsberg had done what he did in 2001 instead of 1971, he would have certainly spent the rest of his life in prison,” Greenwald said. His address, along with Ellsberg’s, lambasted the White House for its heavy-handed national security programs and its harsh treatment of the insiders like Snowden who brought them to light.

In his nearly hour-long remarks, Ellsberg referred to Snowden as “a modern-day Nathan Hale” and the nation as “the United Stasi of America,” an allusion to the secret police of communist East Germany.

“Benjamin Franklin was asked at the end of the Constitutional Convention, ‘What kind of government is it?’ He said, ‘a republic, if you can keep it,'” Ellsberg said. “Have we kept it? No, we have not. Could we get it back? I would say, ‘not without people who are willing to take the risk of ostracism… you have to be willing to be called names like traitor.'”

Speeches were followed by a roundtable discussion moderated by Anthony Arnove, co-producer of the widely-acclaimed documentary Dirty Wars. He was joined by Ellsberg, former NSA senior executive Thomas Drake, CIA analyst-turned-activist Ray McGovern, Government Accountability Project lawyer Jesselyn Radack, and former FBI agent Coleen Rowley.

The panel spoke on such diverse topics as the dangers of the post-9/11 security state and the need to protect whistleblowers, before opening up to the floor for questions.

Asked how the sorry state of current government affairs might be upended, Drake answered for the group: “We had an American Revolution. What we need now is an American Renaissance.”

In his never-ending search for a campus tie-in, Vox corned Ellsberg after the event to ask what students could do abet whistleblowing in an age where most people can’t even name their own representatives. His response: “You should tell me! Why is there such apathy?”

Profound silence ensued.

Photo: Noah Buyon/Georgetown Voice

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