Unfortunately for our shaky democracy, the U.S. has needed serious and frequent help in exposing the misuse and abuse of government power in recent years. Fortunately for our democracy, people like Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake and Jesslyn Radack have been paying attention.

On April 8, Ellsberg, Radack and Drake joined Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer for a valuable meeting of the minds at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. They discussed the challenges of taking on the top brass in Washington during the moments when they put everything on the line to serve what Radack, who herself has acted as both a whistle-blower and a legal defender of key figures like former NSA executive Drake and contractor Snowden, calls the “fifth estate” of American government — the “last final check when pillars of our tripartite democracy are not working.”

For his part, Pentagon Papers truth-teller Ellsberg doesn’t mince words, giving his withering take on what happens when intelligence agency heads and presidents are presumed to always be doing their jobs, toiling away for the public interest as their mandates dictate:

“I think we have to change the culture of secrecy … the cult of secrecy … change the benefit of the doubt that’s given quite wrongly to politicians and the president in terms of what the public should know and should not know. … To even think of thinking, for example, [Director of U.S. National Intelligence James] Clapper or [former NSA Director] Keith Alexander or the president should be the last word on what the public should know about what they’re doing in our name represents a kind of culpable ignorance at this point unless you’re 16 years old. … These people do not deserve the benefit of the doubt at this point. Behind the veil of secrecy, extremely bad, disastrous policy-making goes on without accountability.”

C-SPAN covered the event earlier this month; watch the panel discussion in full here.

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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