Inside the Witness Protection Program

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be someone else for a day? How about for the rest of your life? That’s the reality for the thousands who have entered the Witness Protection Program (WITSEC). The program provides protection for government witnesses who are at risk due to testimony they’ve given about terrorists or criminals. More than 19,000 men, women and children have participated in it, and not one of them has been harmed. The U.S. Marshals Service provides 24-hour protection to all witnesses while they’re in a high-threat environment. When the trial is over, witnesses are given a new identity, including a new name, Social Security number, and driver’s license and moved to a new location to begin their new life. They are provided with housing, a car, medical and dental care, and basic living expenses. The government also provides job training and employment assistance. On the downside, participants of the program can never again see their friends and families, or travel to the area where they used to live. They can speak with family members by phone, but it’s quite an ordeal to make the arrangements through the U.S. Marshals Service, and it only happens a couple of times a year. Today’s Witness Protection Program faces the added burdens of the digital age. Facebook, Google, texting and the instant access to information via the Internet and smartphones provide new challenges to keep the identities of witnesses a secret. The program is completely voluntary, and witnesses are free to leave at any time. Those who have chosen to leave the program say the worst part of being in WITSEC is living with the fear of running into someone you know. Others would say that’s a small price to pay for staying alive.