D.C. Lawyer Jesselyn Radack Wins Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award For Whistleblower Work

WASHINGTON -- A D.C. lawyer who posed for Playboy while at Yale Law School will be honored Monday at the Playboy Mansion for her work defending a high-profile National Security Agency whistleblower.

Jesselyn Radack is a D.C. native who shares the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in the government category with her client, Thomas Drake, a former National Security Agency analyst who leaked information about a failed computer project to a Baltimore Sun reporter, and was charged with illegally keeping classified documents in his home, lying to federal investigators and obstructing justice.

Radack, who is director of national security and human rights at the Government Accountability Project, a group that represents and advocates for whistleblowers, is also a whistleblower herself. In 2002 she resigned from her job as an ethics adviser to the Department of Justice over the questioning of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001. Radack leaked emails relating to the government's questioning Lindh to a Newsweek reporter. The Department of Justice then asked the Maryland and D.C. bar associations for disciplinary action; she was also placed on a "No Fly List" for a number of years.

U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in 2003 he was "very concerned about this Radack situation. [I]t appears she was effectively fired for providing legal advice that the department didn't agree with.''

In a recent interview with Harper's magazine, Radack stood by the legal analysis she'd provided the Department of Justice about its mistreatment of Lindh and its mishandling of his case. (Radack told Harper's Lindh's sentence should be thrown out because of the government's misconduct.)

Radack is standing by other past actions as well, telling Washingtonian she doesn't regret posing for Playboy:

"I took a lot of flak for appearing in Playboy from my image-conscious Yale Law School classmates," she says. "You could see as much skin in Vanity Fair, [but] Playboy still had different connotations attached to it. It still does today, even though pornography and celebrity sex tapes are ubiquitous, which tells us a lot about the social construction of female nudity, autonomy, and sexuality."

In a 2004 story, Mother Jones provided even more context:

About a week before graduation, she had to rush home to help her mother out of a legal fix, and when she returned to school she saw Playboy's recruitment flyers. "I happen to have big boobs, and it was the easiest, quickest way out for me," she says. She made $600 and signed the check over to her mother to pay for a lawyer. ("I didn't ask her to do it, but it was nice of her," her mother says today.)

Other 2012 award winners include Rice University student Zachary Kopplin for his efforts to repeal legislation promoting the teaching of Creationism, New America Foundation fellow Rebecca MacKinnon for her work on digital freedom and Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, for his successful First Amendment challenge of California ordinances that prevented day laborers from soliciting work on sidewalks. See the full list of winners here.