To Federal Employees: If You See Something, Leak Something
Above image: From the Office of Inspector General, US Dept of State.
IF YOU’RE A public servant in Washington, you may be worried about what your job will look like after January 20 — who you’ll be working for, what you’ll be asked to do. You might be concerned that the programs you’ve developed will be killed or misused. Or that you’ll be ordered to do things that are illegal or immoral.
You may be thinking you have no choice — or that your only alternative is to quit.
But there is another option. If you become aware of behavior that you believe is unethical, illegal, or damaging to the public interest, consider sharing your information securely with us. History shows the enormous value of government workers who discover abuses of power collaborating with journalists to expose them.
Without leaks, journalists would have never connected the Watergate scandal to President Nixon, or discovered that the Reagan White House illegally sold weapons to Iran. In the past 15 years alone, inside sources played a vital role in uncovering secret prisons, abuses at Abu Ghraib, atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq, and mass surveillance by the NSA.
Those scandals only came to light — and led to reforms — because conscientious employees passed evidence of wrongdoing to journalists reporting in the public interest.
More recently, the public only learned that President-elect Donald Trump avoided paying federal income tax for years because someone anonymously sent his tax returns to the New York Times. And the public heard a 2005 recording of Trump bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy” because someone leaked it to the Washington Post.
The Intercept is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news website that was created around the vision that whistleblowing is vital to holding powerful institutions accountable.
We’ve taken steps to make sure that people can leak to us as safely as possible. Our newsroom is staffed by reporters who have extensive experience working with whistleblowers, as well as some of the world’s foremost internet security specialists. Our pioneering use of the SecureDrop platform enables you to communicate with our reporters and send documents to us anonymously.
As nonpartisan journalists, we don’t discriminate between Democratic and Republican administrations when it comes to reporting stories from whistleblowers. Nonetheless, we recognize that Donald Trump’s administration may be unlike any that has come before. If President Trump tries to turn public institutions against the people they are intended to protect and serve, then leaking will be more important than ever.
In presidencies full of secrets and lies, truth-tellers are the strongest check against the abuse of power. The era of access journalism — where reporters treat government officials as arbiters of truth — is reaching its nadir. Whistleblower journalism is far better suited to the challenges facing the press and the citizenry today.
How to Proceed
Before deciding to bring your story to a journalist, you might want to consult an attorney to better understand the risks. If you do, be careful not to write any details in emails, and try to discuss everything face to face. The U.S. government offers some whistleblower protections for personnel who report lawbreaking, abuse of authority, gross mismanagement, waste, and other problems, so one option is to talk to your agency’s inspector general, or reach out to a member of Congress you think may be sympathetic to your concerns.
If you choose to share your information with us, there are key steps you can take to increase your safety.
The best option is to use our SecureDrop server, which has the advantage of allowing us to send messages back to you, while allowing you to remain totally anonymous — even to us, if that is what you prefer.
- Begin by bringing your personal computer to a Wi-Fi network that isn’t associated with you or your employer, like one at a coffee shop. Download the Tor Browser. (Tor allows you to go online while concealing your IP address from the websites you visit.)
- You can access our SecureDrop server by going to http://y6xjgkgwj47us5ca.onion/ in the Tor Browser. This is a special kind of URL that only works in Tor. Do NOT type this URL into a non-Tor Browser. It won’t work — and it will leave a record.
- If that is too complicated, or you don’t wish to engage in back-and-forth communication with us, a perfectly good alternative is to simply send mail to P.O. Box 65679, Washington, D.C., 20035, or to The Intercept, 114 Fifth Avenue, 18th Floor, New York, New York, 10011. Drop it in a mailbox (do not send it from home, work or a post office) with no return address.
Here is what not to do:
- Don’t contact us from work. Most corporate and government networks log traffic. Even if you’re using Tor, being the only Tor user at work could make you stand out.
- Don’t email us, call us, or contact us on social media. From the standpoint of someone investigating a leak, who you communicate with and when is all it takes to make you a prime suspect.
- Don’t tell anyone that you’re a source.
There are even more safety precautions you can take described here.
At The Intercept, our editors and reporters are strongly committed to high-impact reporting based on newsworthy material. If we decide to go forward with a story, we will have a discussion with you about what risks of retaliation you might face, and whether you want to remain anonymous. We will be explicit with you about the parameters of our agreement to protect your anonymity, and we will honor our commitments.
Becoming a whistleblower is not an easy decision, but sometimes it is the right thing to do.