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Click here for the main Learning Guide for a Unit on Whistleblowers.


Additional Helpful Background:

      False Statements to Congress About
            the Extent of NSA Surveillance
      Scooter Libby — No Jail Time for a
            High Level Leaker

Additional Discussion Questions:

      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Additional Assignments

Other Sections:
      Links to the Internet and Bibliography
      CCSS Anchor Standards
      Selected Awards & Cast

Go to the Learning Guide for this film.

Additional Helpful Background

Pre-Snowden Disclosure False or Misleading Statements to Congress by the Director of Intelligence and the Director of the NSA About the Extent of Government Data Collection on American Citizens

Ed Snowden made his disclosures in May of 2013. They were first published in early June of that year. Two months before, on March 12, 2013, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had questioned National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who was testifying before a Congressional committee.

    Senator Wyden: This is for you, Director Clapper, again on the surveillance front, and I hope we can do this in just a yes or no answer because I know Senator Feinstein wants to move on. So, does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?

    Director Clapper: No, sir.

    Senator Wyden: It does not?

    Director Clapper: Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly.

About a year earlier, on March 20, 2012, Congress Member Hank Johnson (D. Georgia) questioned National Security Administration director, General Keith Alexander:
    Rep. Johnson: Does the NSA routinely intercept American citizens' emails?

    Gen. Alexander: No.

    Rep. Johnson: Does the NSA intercept Americans' cell phone conversations?

    Gen. Alexander:No.

    Rep. Johnson: Google searches?

    Gen. Alexander:- No.

    Rep. Johnson: Text messages? Gen. Alexander: No.

    Rep. Johnson: Amazon.com orders?

    Gen. Alexander: No.

    Rep. Johnson: Bank records?

    Gen. Alexander: No.

    Rep. Johnson: What judicial consent is required for NSA to intercept communications... and information involving American citizens?

    Gen. Alexander: Within the United States, that would be the FBI lead. If it was a foreign actor in the United States, the FBI would still have the lead and could work that with... with NSA or other intelligence agencies as authorized. But to conduct that kind of... of collection in the United States, it would have to go through a court order, and the court would have to authorize it. We are not authorized to do it, nor do we do it.
Neither man was prosecuted for perjury, nor were they fired or demoted or even reprimanded. After Snowden's revelations, Clapper acknowledged his "mistake" and apologized.

Scooter Libby -- A Leaker Who Went Too Far

One leaker who went too far and was prosecuted was Scooter Libby, chief of staff for then Vice-President Dick Chaney. Mr. Libby was prosecuted by an independent Special Counsel in the Justice Department who was not answerable to the Attorney General or to the President. The Special Counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald is known for his integrity and independence.

The background for the incident was the second invasion of Iraq (2003) which had been justified based on faulty intelligence reports that the Iraqis were acquiring or had acquired weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear bombs. Vice-President Chaney had been a proponent of the faulty intelligence and had strongly advocated for the invasion. The leak apparently occurred when his office wanted to punish a man named Joe Wilson who had criticized President George W. Bush for taking the country to war based on the selective use of intelligence, i.e., crediting only the intelligence that supports an action that the President had already decided he wanted to take.

Mr. Wilson was a respected American diplomat and former ambassador to several small African countries. Before the Iraq war, the CIA had asked Ambassador Wilson to go to the African country of Niger to determine if a claim that Saddam Hussein had tried to obtain uranium for a nuclear bomb was accurate. In 2002, Mr. Wilson had found no evidence of any effort by the Iraqis to purchase uranium from Niger and that the documents supporting this claim had been forged. Later, President Bush, in his January 2003 State of the Union address said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Mr. Wilson knew that there was also contradictory information, i.e., what he found during his trip to Niger. The fact of Mr. Wilson's trip to Niger and his findings had been declassified, and Mr. Wilson wrote an opinion article in the New York Times in which he criticized then President Bush for ignoring the intelligence reports, such as his, that contradicted the President's position. Later, the claim that the Iraqis had been seeking uranium from Africa was withdrawn by the administration as a basis for the invasion. Mr. Wilson also claimed, correctly, that the Vice-President's office had been advised of the results of his trip to Niger.

It turned out that Mr. Wilson's wife, a woman named Valerie Plame, was a career clandestine CIA Operative. The identity of CIA clandestine operatives is secret classified information, and it is a felony to disclose or to confirm their identity as spies. Mr. Libby, in his work for the Vice-President, had access to classified information. The Vice-President's office was apparently angered by Mr. Wilson's statements, and apparently in an effort to punish Mr. Wilson, Libby confirmed Ms. Plame's role with the CIA to several reporters.

When Mr. Fitzgerald was appointed Special Counsel to investigate the leaks that led to the outing of Ms. Plame as a clandestine CIA agent, Mr. Libby lied to the FBI and to a grand jury about what he had said about Ms. Plame. These are also felonies. Libby was prosecuted for the lies and a jury found him guilty on four counts. Sentenced to 30 months in prison, a $250,000 fine, and two years of probation, Libby petitioned President Bush for a pardon. The influential Vice-President, Dick Chaney, strongly supported Libby's request for executive clemency. However, many in the intelligence community opposed any pardon for Libby because if people involved in outing a CIA agent were not punished, the whole structure of CIA clandestine activities would be put at risk. In other words, it could be said that Mr. Libby had stepped on the toes of the military-industrial-intelligence complex. President Bush accepted Mr. Chaney's position to a certain extent and granted Libby a commutation of his prison sentence only, leaving in effect the conviction (which meant that Libby would lose his license to practice law), the fine, and the term of probation.

Note that a minor CIA official, John Kiriakou who admitted to one count of confirming the identity of a secret CIA operative was sentenced to 30 months in prison for this crime. Mr. Kiriakou had angered CIA officials because he was the first former CIA agent to confirm that the U.S. government was torturing terrorism suspects. Mr. Kiriakou served 26 months of his sentence and received no pardon or commutation based on his years of service to the CIA.

Many people (including at least one member of the jury that convicted Libby) felt that there were other persons behind the leak, such as Vice-President Chaney or Republican political operative Karl Rove, and that Libby was a fall-guy. Rove and Chaney were never prosecuted.


Additional Discussion Questions

16.   Assume that John Kiriakou was seeking some type of personal or private gain when he confirmed the existence of the clandestine CIA operative to a reporter. Confirming the name means that the reporter already knew that the person was a CIA operative from at least one source. However, reporters are trained not to rely on only one source, but to get at least one "confirmation," a statement from another source that the information is correct. Compare Kiriakou's case, in which he served most of his 30-month prison term (about four months were knocked off for good behavior) with that of General David Petraeus. While Petraeus was still a general in Iraq, he met Paula Broadwell, a reporter certified by the Department of Defense to receive some level of classified information. She was working on a biography of the general and interviewed him for the book. They had an affair, and he gave her his secret diaries which contained a trove of classified information. It violated regulations for Petraeus to let the diaries go outside of a protected government facility. Some classified information from Petraeus ended up on Broadwell's computer, and the FBI found it. However, there was no evidence that Broadwell ever published the classified information to which she had access.

Petraeus was not only a general in charge of the war in Iraq, he was later promoted to be head of the CIA. When the FBI began to investigate the security breach, Petraeus initially denied the charges but later pled guilty to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified information. The scandal forced Petraeus to resign from the CIA and leave government in disgrace. His sentence in the criminal case was probation and a fine. He was allowed to keep his generous military pension. Broadwell was never prosecuted for possessing classified information.

Comment on Kiriakou's statement that, "If you are a general and you're buddies with the president or if you're the girlfriend of the general, you're going to get a pass. If you are a nobody you are going to go to jail, on something. Whether it's on an espionage count or some reduced charge, you're going to go to jail."

Suggested Response: There is no evidence that either security breach injured the U.S. Clearly, Petraeus suffered some substantial consequences as a result of the scandal, i.e., he had to resign as head of the CIA and suffered the public humiliation of the disclosure of his extra-marital affair, and he was prosecuted for a crime. However, it appears that he received preferential treatment in the criminal proceedings. Strong arguments can be made that his service as a general who had provided invaluable leadership to the U.S. was enough to justify the preferential treatment. In addition, the loss of his high government position and the humiliation of the disclosure of the affair and being a defendant in a criminal case were a substantial additional penalty. The problem with the Kiriakou prosecution was that it seemed to have been in retaliation for his public admission that the CIA had been torturing terror suspects.

An interesting follow-up question is whether Petraeus should have been prosecuted at all. The rule of law, which applies to great men as well as "nobodies" says that he should be prosecuted. However, as a practical matter, why should the U.S. deny itself the services of such an effective public servant over such a relatively small matter? Then again, if Petraeus was not prosecuted for violating the secrecy laws and continued to head the CIA, how could the government have credibly argued that the security laws should be enforced as to anyone?

17.   What is the difference between a spy and a whistleblower? Suggested Response: A spy works for a foreign power and is attempting to harm the U.S. A whistleblower acts in public to expose illegal action, fraud, waste, or abuse of power. A spy's disclosures are secret, a whistleblower's disclosures are public.

18.   What is the difference between an animal rights activist, who infiltrates slaughterhouses and factory farms to take pictures to show the public how the animals are being mistreated, and a whistleblower? Note that the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (passed at the behest of lobbyists for the animal agriculture industry) makes these actions illegal and equates them with terrorism. Suggested Response: The only differences are that the investigator is actively seeking information to disclose and that the lobbyists for the animal agriculture industry have convinced Congress to pass laws giving special protections for their industry (to hide what occurs in their feed lots and slaughterhouses). Effectively, there is no ethical difference so long as the disclosures are in the public interest. Certainly knowing about the origins of the food we eat and what goes on in the slaughterhouses are in the public interest.

19.   How does the human tendency to shoot the messenger who brings bad news play out in situations of whistleblowers? Suggested Response: Part of the anger felt against whistleblowers is that they are the bearers of news we don't want to hear.

20.   In every whistleblowing case, there were many very good people who went along with the illegality, gross waste, fraud, mismanagement, abuse of power, or dangers to public health and safety without saying or doing anything. What does this say about human nature? What does it say about whistleblowers? What would our society be like without them? Suggested Response: It is a pretty damning view of human nature and it tells us what we have to guard against. How could so many people have kept quiet about the torture program or the illegal surveillance disclosed by Snowden or the gross waste disclosed by Drake? Over the years, hundreds of tobacco company executives must have known about the dangers of tobacco consumption, but they kept quiet. It tells us that whistleblowers are few and far between and must be protected. It tells us that whistleblowing takes the courage to stand up against the group and the power of the government.

21.   George Orwell said, "The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it." Apply that statement to the case of [insert name of a whistleblower]. Suggested Response: The answer will depend upon the situation of each whistleblower However, it seems to fit the experiences of whistleblowers Gayl, Kiriakou, Snowden, Manning, Drake, and many others.

22.   George Orwell said, "In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act." Apply that statement to the case of [insert name of a whistleblower]. Suggested Response: The answer will depend upon the situation of each whistleblower However, it seems to fit the experiences of whistleblowers Gayl, Kiriakou, Snowden, Drake, and many others.

23.   Is it true that in a democracy, in most cases, secrecy is the lynch pin of the abuse of power? Defend your response. Suggested Response: A strong response will agree with the statement because in most cases abuse of power is exercised in secret, in the dark.

24.   [Note to teachers: Have the class read the following passage:]
The only government official who has been prosecuted for a crime relating to the U.S. Government's program to torture selected terror suspects was the first former government official to publicly confirm the use of waterboarding. His name is John Kiriakou. In the years after 9/11, President Bush authorized the use of a set of specifically described "harsh interrogation tactics," (torture), such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation. There is a debate about whether these were legal or illegal under U.S. and international law. However, some interrogators went even further and used torture techniques that were not authorized by the government such as "anal feeding." However, these people were not prosecuted.

John Kiriakou made statements in an interview with ABC News that angered CIA officials because, even though he said he was trying to defend the CIA, he acknowledged the existence of the torture program. Prior to that time, the existence of the torture program had already been reported but it had never been confirmed by a current or former government official. Kiriakou, as a retired CIA agent, was seeking employment as a consultant and was later employed by ABC News.

Kiriakou was charged with five felony counts: three for communications with reporters relating primarily to the identity of CIA operatives, and two for allegedly making misleading statements to the C.I.A.'s Publications Review Board while seeking clearance to publish his memoir. No charge was made against him for confirming the existence of the torture program. As the government's case on most of the charges against Kiriakou collapsed, it offered him a deal to plead guilty to one charge of confirming the identity of the CIA operative to a reporter. Kiriakou admits that he made a mistake in revealing this information. Unable to continue to pay for the costs of his defense, Kiriakou took the deal and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. He served his sentence and has now been released.
What lesson can you learn from this about the rule of law and the influence of the "National Security State?" Suggested Response: Responses will vary. Strong responses will point out that the CIA believed that Kiriakou acted against the interests of the "National Security State," while the torturers acted for its benefit and were never prosecuted although their crimes were much worse offenses than that of Kiriakou. However, Kiriakou did violate the law. Should he get a pass just because in an interview, he had confirmed the allegations that there was a government program of torture? However, this begs the question of selective prosecution, that is, whether the government should have prosecuted him when it didn't go after the torturers whose crimes were worse even if their victims were not very sympathetic people. Generally, high level officials get pardons, light sentences, or there is no prosecution if they violate the law. See the cases of: David Petraeus (fine and probation for removing secret material and giving it to his girlfriend, a reporter working on his biography); Caspar Weinberger (former secretary of defense, charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in the Iran Contra scandal); Mark Felt (former second in command of the FBI) convicted of violating the civil rights of people thought to be associated with members of the Weather Underground Organization, by ordering FBI agents to search their homes as part of an attempt to prevent bombings; Mr. Felt and an associate publicly disclosed their actions and accepted the blame to protect lower level FBI agents who were acting on their orders; Mr. Felt and his associate were convicted by a jury and then pardoned by President Regan; and Scooter Libby, Chief of Staff to Vice-President Dick Chaney, convicted of lying to the FBI and to the grand jury but spared jail when President George W. Bush commuted his prison term.

Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions


1.   Why does national security whistleblowing require courage? Suggested Response: In addition to losing their jobs, whistleblowers risk being prosecuted for crimes and going to jail for very long periods of time, having incredibly high legal bills that wreck their finances, losing friends and associates, etc.


Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)
(TeachWithMovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner"
and  uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical


(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)

1.   How does the ethical principle of "responsibility" apply to whistleblowing? Suggested Response: Whistleblowers are doing what they believe they are supposed to do. However, there is a conflict in what they are supposed to do. See the Learning Guide to this unit.


(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Get involved in community affairs; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment; Volunteer)

See Questions 10, 11 & 13 in the Learning Guide for this unit.

Additional Assignments

9. Compare the pardons given by President Regan to Mark Felt and Edward S. Miller for authorizing FBI agents to burgle the homes and offices of American citizens during the 1970s with the situation of Edward Snowden. [Teachers, for background on this see Supplemental Materials to Learning Guide to All the President's Men.]

10.   Research and write an essay in which you compare and contrast the actions of U.S. Captain Frank Rockwood, Jr. (U.S. invasion of Haiti, 1994 - 1995) and the three men whose pictures Rockwood kept at his workplace.

  • Hugh Clowers Thompson Jr. — saved civilians during the My Lai Massacre;
  • Claus von Stauffenberg — German officer attempted to assassinate Hitler in 1944;
  • Georges Picquart — French officer court-martialed for disclosing the truth in the Dreyfus Affair.
Note to Teachers: While the propriety of Rockwood's actions and those of the Army in prosecuting him can be debated one way or the other, Rockwood's attempt to stop human rights abuses at a Haitian prison were not clearly justified, while the actions of his three heroes were clearly justified in the circumstances in which they violated direct orders. Regardless of where one comes out on Rockwood, he did have a point, and there is a certain romanticism about what he did. For background, see Links to the Internet Section on Captain Rockwood.


Links to the Internet and Bibliography

Whistleblower Advocacy Organizations
Franz Gayl and the Humvee

Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Thomas Drake
Edward Snowden

Meta-Data Collection

John Kiriakou

Jeffrey Sterling

Chelsea Manning

Michael DeKort - Deepwater

Leaks and Leakers, Selective Prosecution, and Disparate Treatment
War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State
Defense of Superior Orders Miscellaneous

Captain Lawrence Rockwood

Common Core State Standards that can be Served by this Learning Guide
(Anchor Standards only)

Multimedia: Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: "Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.") CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.

Reading: Anchor Standards #s 1, 2, 7 and 8 for Reading and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 35 & 60.

Writing: Anchor Standards #s 1 - 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41 & 63.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards #s 1 - 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.

Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.

Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

Selected Awards: 2013 Annie Awards: Best Animated Effects in an Animated Production; Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production;

Featured Actors:



The Bibliography for this Learning Guide consists of the websites listed in the Links to the Internet Section.

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