Blowing the Whistle in National Security and Defence Organizations: Navigating the Tensions Between Transparency and Secrecy

Anne Roelsgaard Obling, Thomas Lopdrup-Hjorth

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This study investigates the organizational and political problems generated by whistleblowing in a national security context After Snowden’s and Manning’s major leaks of classified materials, public opinion in several countries have tilted towards considering whistleblowing within the national security realm in a more favourable light. By putting themselves in harm’s way, and fighting for a higher cause, whistle-blowers are perceived as contributing to nourishing ideals that keep democracies vibrant In exploring these themes, scholars have portrayed whistle-blowers in the national security realm as ‘tragic heroes’, because the hardships and destinies they must endure resemble those of the characters in Ancient Greek tragedies In this study, however, we depart from this route and instead focus on the less explored tragic organizational and political consequences that ‘successful’ whistle-blowing might have for the organizations that come under scrutiny in conjunction with whistle-blowers’ disclosures. By developing and utilizing an ‘ethics of office-inspired’ typology through which whistleblowing can be categorized, the study argues for whistle blowing as a type of professional activity which rests on distinct mixtures and combinations of whistle-blowers’ views of responsibility, professionalism and the public interest Empirically, we draw on two types of data: (a) claims of wrong-doing in the Danish Defence submitted through a whistle blower line, and (b) public accounts of whistleblowing cases in the Danish Defence On this ground, we theorize the motivations and circumstances that have defined whistleblowing in the defence and security sector, and we discuss ‘the problem of ambiguity’ this raises in regards to the ethics of whistleblowing Finally, we highlight how our findings raise a number of fundamental questions concerning transparency and secrecy in contemporary national security contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2023
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventXX ISA World Congress of Sociology: Resurgent Authoritarianism: The Sociology of New Entanglements of Religions, Politics, and Economies - Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 25 Jun 20231 Jul 2023
Conference number: 20


ConferenceXX ISA World Congress of Sociology
LocationMelbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
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