Whistle Blown

A sincere thank you to everyone who has read “Whistle Blown – One Year On” – closing in on 20,000 reads at this point.  Further, a sincere thank you to those who have reached out to express your support as well as your personal stories of courage.  Your words of encouragement provide me and my advisors the energy to keep us fueled in the quest to rid the military of the toxic cancer of retribution and reprisal.  A special thank you for those who have volunteered to join the Walk the Talk Foundation as advisors – your time and expertise will be invaluable in the coming months as we work toward our Congressional engagement on this matter.  Finally, thank you to all the people who have signed the e-petition to reform the DoDIG.

With that, I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss some trends from my many interactions I’ve had in the past week.

Loss of faith

In the few days that my article has been live, you have, through your feedback, conveyed one unambiguous message: there exists a significant breach of trust in the military, whether that be vis-à-vis its leadership or its Inspector General or both. The reasons for this trust deficit are many, but the effect converges to this point: servicemembers are losing trust in the military’s so-called avenues of redress (chain of command, IG, etc.) and at the same time losing trust in the leadership of the U.S. military itself. This is a disconcerting trend, however, given what I and so many others have experienced and witnessed in the past three years, this loss of faith has been duly earned. It is also clear that in order to right the ship, we must address the root cause(s) of the moral decay of the organization.

A concerted effort, a shared concern

What came across again and again from my conversations with dozens of people in the past week is that all are committed to the improvement of the military, and all are concerned about the direction it is taking. I mention this because I know the counternarrative (with which I have been targeted many times) which is that whistleblowers are disgruntled, that we only aim to usurp good order and discipline, that we have an axe to grind, that we don’t support the sanctity of command. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I say that after having spent hundreds if not thousands of hours on the phone over the past twelve months with dedicated Americans who genuinely want to see positive change in our military.

To the deniers: some dangerous fallacies of logic

Three, really.  

#1: Just because you haven’t seen or experienced something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. 

I have been the subject of a lot of disparagement these past few years. In fact, the day after the February 2022 Wall Street Journal article was published, it was reported to me that the Director of the Defense Attaché Service held an “all call” and labeled the piece as “the work of disgruntled attachés.” No shock the Agency attempted to discredit me – that is part of their often-used playbook. And I’m honestly fine with the meager attempt to dissuade me – it clearly had no effect. What I do not tolerate, however, is this: when you unequivocally deny that abuses and wrongdoings have occurred, and are occurring in the military, not only are you wrong, but you are also veritably labeling all the victims as liars. You either concede that wrongdoings occurred, or you do not and by corollary, you either accept that victims really were the subject of these wrongs, or you don’t. And by subsequent corollary, you either concede that perpetrators carried those wrongdoings out, or they did not. The stances are binary and are mutually exclusive. So, when you say, “this is all bullshit,” I take it very personally and not because you’ve attacked what I’ve said – I could care less about that – I take exception to it because you have, by extension, told all the people I’ve spoken to – who have attempted suicide (some, multiple times), who have considered suicide, who are in psychiatric care because of the abuses they suffered, who have been sexually harassed or assaulted, who have had careers derailed, who have had their personal lives upended, who have been forced out of the military and have had their retirement benefits taken away – you call them liars, and that is an attack I will not tolerate. Unlike you, deniers, I have had the tough conversations with those victims, I’ve listened to their stories, I’ve shared their pain; listening and counseling and advising, for hours on end and at all hours. You have not. Yet, you would so capriciously label it all as “bullshit.” In doing so, however, you not only out yourself as part of the problem, but also personify the toxic cycle of abusive power in the armed forces. When someone questions the system in which a denier has enjoyed success, the denier and their cabal takes that complaint and complainant as an existential threat to that system; the one which they rely on for power, legitimacy, etc. This is why toxic elements within the military so often retaliate disproportionately against those who raise concerns of wrongdoings: because those whistleblowers are calling into question that cabal’s legitimacy and authority, which is usually illegitimate and/or abusive.

#2 Some things are not “majority rules.”

If you say you have a zero-tolerance policy towards something, then you can, by definition, not tolerate any of that something. You can’t purport to have zero tolerance, for example, discrimination, but then allow it within your organization, or allow the perpetrators of it to not be held accountable, or to allow those perpetrators to continue to operate with impunity. You can’t say “of my 10 subordinates, only one is sexually harassing their coworkers, so 90% aren’t – that’s a really good rate!”

#3 Two things can be true.

You can be part of an organization which is in dire need of repair.  You can work for an incredible boss.  You can be in an organization which is in dire need of repair and, at the same time, work for an incredible boss.  They can coexist.  Many things can coexist.  You can have fabulous colleagues and enjoy an incredibly healthy work environment, and, in the division next door, the workers hate life and work for a toxic boss.  Again, both can be happening…at the same time…in the same organization.  So, if that colleague from down the hall called you and told you that work is terrible and the boss is a bigot and a bully, you wouldn’t (remember fallacy #1) say “that’s bullshit”…..right???

#3a  Two wrongs don’t make a right…just like one right doesn’t erase a wrong…

In the week after the Wall Street Journal exposé was published, the Director LTG Scott Berrier went on a charm offensive of sorts.  I found this to be odd since the Journal authors offered both he and his Attaché Director Mike Bochna the opportunity to offer comment; both declined, thereby forfeiting a golden opportunity to “convey their concerns,” etc.  Internally, however, both leapt into action in order to counter the narrative from the Journal.  Berrier’s approach was to highlight the good work that was being accomplished in DIA and especially the Attaché Service.  Of course, that was 100% accurate.  Also obvious (see #3 above) is that both sides of the coin were true: the DAS was doing great things and at the very same time there were toxic and abusive leaders implanted in it.  However, Berrier attempted another tactic which was to counter the narrative with non-sequitur anecdotes of good leadership and mission accomplishment.  It’s an amateurish maneuver, but effective to the untrained eye: don’t address or even acknowledge the problems, just highlight other things that, in your mind, are going well.  It was his hope that the “good news” stories could simply overcome the negative press or perhaps he strove to just distract everyone.  Whatever the objective, the approach combines several of the above-mentioned flaws in logic: ‘majority rules’ (“we are doing more good stuff than bad stuff, so, we’re winning!”) and the denial that ‘two things can be true’ (good stuff is in fact occurring here…and so is bad stuff).  The problem with this approach is that good deeds don’t simply nullify bad ones.  Good news may distract from the bad, but the underlying deeds – they continue unimpeded.

What’s Next?

Over the coming weeks, we’ll collate inputs and feedback while continuing with the DoDIG reform e-petition drive. We will also explore potential opportunities to team up with other whistleblower advocacy groups that are also pursuing leadership and cultural reform in the DoD. In the interim, our near-term goal is the proposal to HSGAC on IG reform.

vincit omnia veritas!

Ryan Sweazey

Founder and President