On Tuesday, a District Court judge in Washington criticized the federal government for invoking the state secrets privilege in a case in which a DEA agent claimed to have been illegally wiretapped by the CIA. The “state secrets” defense restricts the court from ruling on cases in which government secrets could be released.  

The judge, Royce Lamberth, reluctantly approved a $3 million settlement in this case because of the government’s “state secrets” defense.  Judge Lamberth expressed irritation that government officials would not be held responsible to the public.  In announcing the settlement, Judge Lamberth stated:

“Now this Court is called upon to approve a $3 million payment to an individual plaintiff by the United States, and again it does not appear any government officials have been held accountable for this loss to the taxpayer. This is troubling to the Court.”

Though the plaintiff will receive some retribution, government officials will never take public responsibility for invading his privacy. Judge Lamberth raised the red flag on government abuse of the state secrets defense, pointing to previous similar settlements.

National security whistleblowers also fall victim to the “state secrets” defense, as the government claims their cases are just too sensitive to be tried in court. This defense often leaves whistleblowers with the stigma of “tattle-tales” and “traitors,” and without sufficient recourse for exposing scandals that pose a threat to our national security.  

In what could be the final blow for national security whistleblowers, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (S.372) does not limit, but expands the use of the state secrets privilege.  With the expansion of this privilege, the government will become less and less transparent, and whistleblowers will be silenced with greater ease.  TAKE ACTION and ask the Senate to fix this provision, or we will all be left asking, “What will the government hide from us next?”

*NWC intern Philip Barrett contributed to this post