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Press release: Known Unknowns Fund launched to protect alleged sources under investigation

  • New fund will be the first to aid suspected sources before they face charges
  • An alleged source under investigation by the US government has already reached out to Courage for assistance
  • Courage Advisory Board members Daniel Ellsberg and Thomas Drake underline the importance of the new fund
  • Donations can be made online at https://couragefound.org/known-unknowns-fund/#donate

Courage, the international organisation dedicated to the protection of truthtellers, today announces the launch of the Known Unknowns Fund to support suspected sources under investigation. The Fund is the first specifically designed to assist individuals who are alleged to have disclosed information of significant public value but do not yet face formal charges. The name of the fund, a play on former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s notorious defence of inadequate sourcing, acknowledges that many who find themselves in this situation will not be in a position to confirm their identity to the public.

Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower and a member of Courage’s Advisory Board said:

In the US, the administration of injustice against whistleblowers under President Obama serves to intimidate potential truth-tellers by the prospect of ruinous legal costs defending themselves under investigation, even if no indictment follows. The Known Unknowns Fund will benefit not only those who may earn suspicion of telling wrongly-withheld truths; it also serves the public interest in being so informed.

By providing support at the pre-indictment stage, Courage hopes to limit the number of cases that proceed to prosecution. The organisation has already received a request for assistance for an alleged source who is currently under investigation by the US government.

Courage’s Acting Director Sarah Harrison explained:

Courage has decided to launch the Known Unknowns Fund because there is a real and pressing need that no one else is in a position to fulfill. We have already received a request regarding someone who needs our help, as they are under investigation by the US government for being the alleged source of some important stories in the US media regarding botched counter-terrorism programmes. Up to this point, Courage has advocated for whistleblowers the public already knows about and who have been wrongly retaliated against. Alleged sources who haven’t yet been charged are in a different situation and a really difficult one – they are often in desperate need of financial and other support, but requesting it publicly can harm their legal situation. Even speaking about an investigation in public can put an individual at risk of additional prosecution. Courage’s Known Unknowns Fund aims to help those who can’t ask openly. We want to make sure that the public has an opportunity to support and protect alleged sources ahead of time, so they can get legal advice and prepare a legal team before potential charges are brought.

The experience of whistleblowers shows a clear need for this new initiative. NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake was charged under the 1917 Espionage Act and faced 35 years in prison. By the time the US government’s case fell apart, Drake had spent several years under investigation and another awaiting trial. At the sentencing hearing Judge Richard D. Bennett said that the conduct of the investigation against Drake had been “unconscionable”, likening the experience to “four years of hell.”

Thomas Drake, who is also a member of the Courage Advisory Board, said:

During my pre-trial criminal proceedings, I was advised by private counsel that my criminal defense prior to public trial would cost at least a million dollars and perhaps as much as three million. I had to prepare a legal defense from my own resources against a government criminal investigation and prosecution which had no such limitations. I went virtually bankrupt, emptied all my liquid assets, took out a second mortgage on my residence and went into severe debt paying for my private attorney over two years. I ended up declared indigent before the Court and represented for criminal defense by public defenders and by attorney Jesselyn Radack, who represented me in the court of pubic opinion as well as whistleblower advocacy and media outreach. She was my voice when I had none. If something like the Known Unknowns Fund had existed before I was indicted, I’d have been in a much better position to defend myself.

Donations to the Known Unknowns Fund can be made at https://couragefound.org/known-unknowns-fund/#donate

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The following people are available for interview and comment by emailing courage.press@couragefound.org

Daniel Ellsberg, Courage Advisory Board Member and whistleblower
Thomas Drake, Courage Advisory Board Member and whistleblower
Ray McGovern, Courage Advisory Board Member, veteran intelligence analyst and whistleblower champion
Sarah Harrison, Courage Acting Director