Prominent whistleblowers to speak at JMU ethics event

A pair of prominent whistleblowers, one who exposed the White House’s improper editing and censorship of science program reports on global warming and the other who unmasked a warrantless wiretapping program run by the George W. Bush administration, will speak at James Madison University 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, April 9. The discussion, which is free and open to the public, will be held in Room 1302 of the Health and Human Services Building on the JMU campus east of Interstate 81.

Rick Piltz and Thomas Tamm are speakers for the "American Whistleblower Tour: Essential Voices for Accountability" organized by the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization. Their visit to JMU aligns with the mission of The Madison Collaborative: Ethical Reasoning in Action.

Piltz is a former senior associate in the coordination office of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. In 2005, he blew the whistle on the White House’s improper editing and censorship of science program reports on global warming intended for the public and Congress. Piltz released edited reports to The New York Times that documented the improper editing, which downplayed the reality of human-driven global warming and its harmful impacts. The changes also introduced an element of scientific uncertainty that had not been part of the original reports.

Tamm was a well-regarded Justice Department attorney in the capital cases unit who, in 2003, transferred to the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. While working there, Tamm became aware of a program that bypassed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court in an arrangement where only the attorney general would sign certain wiretap requests, sans review. After Tamm’s inquiries about the program repeatedly ran into walls of silence, he contacted The New York Times, which in 2005 ran an explosive Pulitzer Prize-winning cover story about the George W. Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The program was part of wide-ranging covert surveillance activities authorized by President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11.

The discussion will be moderated by GAP President Louis Clark, who has spent more than 35 years at GAP protecting whistleblowers.

Dr. Ming Ivory, JMU professor of integrated science and technology, said, "As future employees of private-sector businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations, JMU students at times will have to assess the benefits and risks of sharing information without official authorization. As this whistleblower panel will make clear, sometimes employees face vital decisions about whether loyalty to the organizational mission, to fellow employees or to the general public is of central importance. During this panel session, students can rehearse in their own minds what their obligations to the public, to their place of work or to their own ethical values would argue that they do."

The event is the 10th tour stop held this academic year. The 2012-13 tour has also been to the University of Houston-Clear Lake, Whitman College, Franklin & Marshall College, Auburn University, Florida International University, American University, University of the District of Columbia, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Indiana University-Bloomington.

In addition to the Madison Collaborative, the event is being sponsored by three academic departments: integrated science and technology; political science; and writing, rhetoric and technical communication.


April 7, 2013

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