I'm John Tye, I blew the whistle on Executive Order 12333, a legal loophole the NSA was using to collect, store and search Americans’ electronic communications without a warrant or any suspicion. Now I run a project called Whistleblower Aid https://whistlebloweraid.org, dedicated to helping federal employees report wrongdoing they witness in the workplace. Here is some of our recent work with CIA whistleblowers: https://www.propublica.org/article/administrations-nominee-for-cia-watchdog-allegedly-misled-congress

Signing off now. Thanks for your questions!!! -John

Comments: 52 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

vagabond97 karma

Do you consider yourself a whistleblower? I know you did not publish classified information and everything you did had been in accordance with the NSA etc.

What's your opinion on Edward Snowden?

You fought against collecting data from american people but what about all the people outside of the USA, do you think the NSA should spy on them?

tyejohn6 karma

Thanks for a great first question. Will answer in segments.

(1) Yes, I do consider myself a whistleblower. Leaking classified information is not always the same as being a whistleblower

tyejohn5 karma

Imagine a Venn diagram with two circles: "whistleblowers" and "leakers". These circles partly overlap, but are not identical

tyejohn9 karma

I was a whistleblower, reporting (still ongoing today) 4th Amendment violations by the NSA, without leaking classified information.

tyejohn8 karma

Someone can be a leaker without being a whistleblower, if they disclose classified information that doesn't expose government lawbreaking or misconduct

tyejohn7 karma

So those first two examples show whistleblowing and leaking can be different. But the hardest cases are where, in order to expose government lawbreaking, someone feels compelled to break the law. This is the intersection of the "whistleblower" and "leaker" circles in the diagram. And often, people strongly disagree about whether people in this intersection have done things right or wrong

tyejohn7 karma

(2) My views on Mr. Snowden are complex. He definitely broke the law, and the classification laws are important. For instance, when I worked at the State Department, we relied on keeping secret the identities of human rights activists that we worked with around the world. So I'm definitely not of the radical transparency view that there shouldn't be any classification laws. So Mr. Snowden was definitely a leaker.

tyejohn6 karma

But I believe he was also a whistleblower. The documents he exposed showed that the NSA was and is engaged in massive operations that violate the rights of Americans and people around the world, and that not even Congress knew this was happening.

tyejohn6 karma

So in my view, Mr. Snowden was both a leaker and a whistleblower. I wish that Whistleblower Aid <whistlebloweraid.org>, had been around when he was struggling with what to do. I hope we can help people like him.

tyejohn8 karma

In general I support following the laws. But I also agree that there is a role for civil disobedience in every democratic society for laws that are fundamentally unjust. And sometimes we know that the government misuses the classification laws to hide its own lawbreaking or wrongdoing. There are no easy answers to these kind of dilemmas. I want Whistleblower Aid to make things easier on whistleblowers so they're not faced with prison for following their consciences

LuthierSalazar5 karma

What's the difference between a Walmart $10 whistle and a boutique $1000 whistle?

tyejohn9 karma


Breakingindigo4 karma

What do you think has led to our current situation of it being a toxic environment of simply trying to improve a system that's meant to Serve the People? What do you think could be done to correct it and who do you think are the vested interests that would stand something to lose? Why would they feel that implementing such suggestions to correct the system would make them feel that doing so would be a loss for them? Was there ever a golden age of being able to blow the whistle without having to worry about personal repercussions or has it always been this bad?

tyejohn9 karma

easy one first: there was never a golden age of being a whistleblower. power and self-interest have always overcome the rule of law sometimes.

tyejohn3 karma

The fact is, vested interests often do have something to lose from transparency and accountability.

"Vested interests" can be as big as the big as the business model of the coal industry -- or about expediently pleasing our foreign allies at the expense of human rights -- or about a selfish bureaucrat who wants to keep their job and their power in the office.

Each case is different and honestly it is crucial to see the world from your adversary's perspective. Our most important work is to understand what is important to our clients, and what is important to their adversaries. Sometimes there is a genuine conflict -- a zero-sum situation in which one party's gain is the other's loss. But sometimes there are creative solutions that meet everyone's needs

One of our best arguments is always "maybe it seems easy for the government to cut this corner now -- but in the long term it's better if we protect the Constitution and the rule of law."

There will always be conflicting interests and in those cases there just isn't an easy answer -- this is where we hope to add value. It requires law, politics, relationships, communications, arguments.

Not ideal, but better than solving problems with violence (which is how it used to be)

tyejohn3 karma

I've worked in civil rights and human rights issues my whole career. And I think the law is a crucial tool for helping people. And we need more lawyers to help with this.

But even more than lawyers, we need other resources: investigation money and experience. financial support for victims, but also medical and social support.

RonPaulBot11283 karma

What's your job. Does it have a title? Kinda sounds lawyerly.

tyejohn9 karma

Well my business card says i'm "founder + executive director" of whistleblower aid.

Yes, it's kinda lawyerly. I manage both the legal work and the organizational development for whistleblower aid. I love my work because i get to make a difference in my client's lives, and hopefully on some policy issues too.

but being a lawyer can obviously be stressful. i feel like i have to become an "actor" playing a "role" -- which is to be the person that my clients need me to be. Like, maybe i feel bad one day, but i have to find a way to project the right attitude if we're meeting with opposing counsel.

tyejohn3 karma

Thank you all for your questions. Stay in touch!!


apercu_consulting2 karma

In your opinion, why doesn't the US have stronger whistleblower laws? It seems that (in private enterprise at least) corporations have too much power for the average person to contemplate the risk/reward of whistleblowing.

tyejohn5 karma

This is an interesting question related to how the democratic process works. I agree the US whistleblower protection laws are drastically insufficient. For example, it may be illegal to fire a whistleblower "for filing their complaint," but it's often not illegal to fire them for any other reason. So it's pretty easy for a boss to say "wow, 3 minutes late to work today. You're fired."

tyejohn3 karma

Nevertheless, the US does have relatively strong whistleblower laws compared to most countries on earth. Except for a few countries in Europe and maybe Canada, we're relatively better.

tyejohn3 karma

You're exactly right that most prospective whistleblowers, in most situations, conclude it's easier just to stay quiet instead of risking their careers to speak up.

There is no silver bullet solution, but that's exactly why we started Whistleblower Aid. We won't be able to solve every problem, but in fact we have a lot of tools to help clients follow their conscience while not getting in big trouble

tyejohn3 karma

beyond legal services, we are already providing social support services -- including temporary rent or mortgage support for people who lose their jobs, medical or psychological support, and job networking to find a new job in case they're fired.

tyejohn2 karma

It's hard to pass stronger laws because support for these laws is spotty. Typically, the executive branch is not supportive of stronger laws. And of course partisans on all sides try to use them for partisan advantage

xyanon361 karma

What do you think of Reality Winner?

tyejohn3 karma

I don't know the facts of her case, and I certainly wouldn't comment on her innocence or guilt.

My understanding is that the document at issue shows an intelligence community conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. I'm not sure it was evidence of lawbreaking by the US government.

In general, I consider "whistleblowing" by a US federal employee to involve showing lawbreaking, misconduct or unethical activity by a US agency or official.

DesMephisto1 karma

How do you prevent a whistleblower from going to prison?

tyejohn3 karma

Most of the time, the prospect of prison means the whistleblower is handling classified information.

tyejohn2 karma

In that case, the way to avoid prison is pretty straightforward: don't share classified information or documents with someone who isn't cleared and with a need to know.

tyejohn2 karma

The hard part is how to be a whistleblower, if the government is using the classification laws to hide evidence of its own problems.

tyejohn1 karma

The options are not as good as they should be. But they are better than many people understand

tyejohn2 karma

The general sequence is to help a client file a claim with their agency Inspector General (which is supposed to be the "watchdog" of the agency), then with the relevant Congressional oversight committees, and then to use the pre-publication review process to lawfully publish their claims.

tyejohn2 karma

If you have a security clearance and you'd like to write about your work, you're supposed to clear everything through your agency to ensure it doesn't contain classified information. They can delete (or "redact") things that they say are classified.

tyejohn2 karma

So as you can see, that process won't always work.

But still, it's more powerful than you might think. First, the government is hesitant to redact things, because that just draws more attention to them. Like, journalists will start asking around, "what was in that redacted sentence?"

tyejohn2 karma

Also, if the government redacts even a single word of our client's article, we can sue in federal court under a First Amendment argument. We can also use a "classification review" process to try to get documents declassified.

tyejohn2 karma

This whole process also can take months. But still I recommend it because it means our client will avoid prison

justletmedieinpeace1 karma

How common is that? I feel like 99% of bad government behavior is probably classified.

tyejohn2 karma

Definitely not. There is a lot of stuff hiding in plain sight, especially involving contractors who are insufficiently accountable to the government.

But even in the classified area, it's typically possible to describe most of the issue without mentioning classified information. For example, i was able to write my op-ed that alerted the advocacy community (EFF, ACLU, etc.) to the issue of NSA collection under EO 12333, but didn't have to use classified information to do it.

justletmedieinpeace2 karma

Just FYI you can make multiple paragraphs in a Reddit comment, just hit return twice. No character limit either. Carry on, I’m learning a lot here.

tyejohn2 karma

Apologies. My first time here!

solutionsfirst0 karma

what are your 3-5 best examples within the last 5-10 years about why we should care that anyone that does not have any preconceptions would understand?

links answer this questions are good as well