11 Famous Whistleblowers

December 22, 2017



Or as I refer to them... HEROES


Edward Snowden joined the list of famous whistleblowers when he leaked classified NSA information. All of these figures became famous for providing information, sometimes secretly, in an attempt to expose the people or organization they worked for. 


Many people consider whistleblowers as heroes while others look at them as traitors. The truth is, no matter what the context of the truths these whistleblowers expose, it is one of the riskiest and bravest actions any person can take. While some whistleblowers went on to be supported and have high-paying careers, many of them went to jail or were ostracized or even forced to exist in anonymity.


If a whistleblower is fortunate, history will view them as a hero - a modern day David striving to bring down a Goliath. But most of the time, they are seen as traitors whose future is bleak and heeds a long prison sentence. Here we will look back on some of our history’s most notorious whistleblowers and the different fates each of them faced because of their courageous acts.






1. Mark Felt

In the Watergate scandal that toppled the presidency of Richard Nixon, this FBI figure was the secret informant known as Deep Throat who helped Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. 


Deep Throat, the secret source whose insider guidance was essential to The Washington Post’s groundbreaking coverage of the Watergate scandal, was a pillar of the FBI named W. Mark Felt.


As the bureau’s second- and third-ranking official during a period when the FBI was battling for its independence against the administration of President Richard M. Nixon, Felt had the means and the incentive to help uncover the web of internal spies, secret surveillance, dirty tricks and concealments that led to Nixon’s unprecedented resignation in Aug. of 1974, and to prison sentences for some of Nixon’s highest-ranking aides. 


Felt’s identity as Washington’s most renowned confidential source had been a target of speculation for longer than 30 years until his role was reported by his family in a Vanity Fair magazine article. Even Nixon was caught on tape speculating that Felt was “an informer” as early as February 1973, at a time when Deep Throat was providing confirmation and context for some of The Post’s most critical Watergate stories.


Though Deep Throat became a representation of shadowy Washington sources dishing out information in secret meetings, his identity was kept secret until 2005.






2. Daniel Ellsberg

The employee of the State Department In 1971, Ellsberg was a high-level defense analyst when he leaked a top-secret report on U.S. involvement in Vietnam to The New York Times and other newspapers, which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. 


In the summer of 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara commissioned a group of thirty-six scholars to write a secret history of the Vietnam War. The project took a year and a half, ran to seven thousand pages, and filled forty-seven volumes.


Only a handful of copies were made, and most were kept under lock and key in and around the Beltway. One set, however, ended up at the Rand Corporation, in Santa Monica, where it was read, from start to finish, by a young analyst there named Daniel Ellsberg.


Ellsberg was dismayed by what he learned. For a generation, the U.S. government had been lying to the American people about the Vietnam War. He put the first of the volumes in his briefcase, praying that the security guards at rand would not stop him, and made his way to a small advertising agency in West Hollywood, where a friend told him there was a Xerox machine he could use.


He played a key role in ending the Vietnam War. Few know Ellsberg was also a Pentagon and White House consultant who drafted plans for nuclear war., a secret account of documents pertaining to how the United States came to fight the Vietnam War. 


Ellsberg was an insider—and that fact puts him in stark contrast with the man who has come to be seen as his heir, Edward Snowden.


The Nixon administration sought the Supreme Court's help in preventing The New York Times and Washington Post from publishing the papers but was rejected.


He has also talked about how contemporary whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Ed Snowden are his heroes.





3. Linda Tripp

This former White House staff member was a key figure in the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to an attempt to remove President Bill Clinton from office during his second term.


It was Tripp who revealed the president’s sexual relationship with a 21-year-old White House intern and, for her troubles, was painted as the villain of the shameful episode.


She was, as executive assistant to Clinton’s chief counsel, located near the very seat of power (her workspace was, for a time, adjacent to Hillary’s, and she brought deputy counsel Vince Foster what turned out to be his last meal on the day he committed suicide).


The more Tripp saw of the Clinton administration, the more uncomfortable she became. She thought that the personnel in the White House travel and correspondence offices were shabbily treated, and what she saw and heard about the president’s libidinous impulses appalled her. “The housekeeping staff was afraid to bend over in his presence,” she says. Tripp’s discomfort must have been obvious, as in August 1994 she was transferred to the public affairs office of the Pentagon.


 4. Frank Serpico

This New York City police officer, later portrayed by Al Pacino in a 1973 movie, attempted to confront the rampant corruption within the police department.


In 1971, shortly after exposing widespread, even systemic corruption amounting to millions of dollars in bribes and illegitimate relationships between the New York Police Department and criminals citywide, I was shot point-blank by a dealer during a buy-and-bust drug operation. My backup team failed to call 911, but an elderly Latino tenant did, saving my life. I was awarded the Medal of Honor by the NYPD—not for exposing corruption, but for being shot while engaging a drug dealer. Both my “back-ups” were also awarded medals for saving my life.


To this day, many officers believe I gave the department a black eye. I’ve been vilified for speaking out about corruption and the excessive use of force, for holding my colleagues accountable and for reminding them of their mission: first and foremost, to protect and serve the community.Decades later, more and more citizens across the country are losing faith in our justice system, with brazen acts of police brutality frequently captured on cellphone videos; the militarization of police forces through the acquisition of war-machine surplus; continuing racial tensions coupled with a lack of initiative for community policing; and the sentencing of minor offenders to long terms in for-profit prisons, where they essentially become indentured servants.


Even now, I do not know for certain why I was left trapped in that door by my fellow police officers. But the Narcotics division was rotten to the core, with many guys taking money from the very drug dealers they were supposed to bust. I had refused to take bribes and had testified against my fellow officers. Police make up a peculiar subculture in society. More often than not they have their own moral code of behavior, an “us against them” attitude, enforced by a Blue Wall of Silence.


He left the force after being shot in the face during the botched drug raid and later moved out of the country.


 5. Karen Silkwood


Nov. 13, 1974, union activist and plutonium-plant worker Karen Silkwood was found dead in what police ruled a single-car accident. But the circumstances surrounding her death have kept people guessing to this day. In the midst of a campaign to challenge Kerr-McGee about the safety of a nuclear facility.


She took a $4 per hour job as a metallography technician at the Cimarron plutonium plant operated by Kerr-McGee near Crescent, Oklahoma. Her duties there included polishing fuel rods packed with radioactive plutonium pellets. While at the plant, she joined the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union, who staged a strike at Cimarron not long after she started working there. When the strike ended in failure, many of the workers severed ties with the union.


Not Silkwood, however, who as a member of the bargaining committee (the first woman to hold the position in the union's history) was charged with investigating health and safety issues at the plant.


In the summer of 1974, Silkwood testified to the Atomic Energy Commission that she had found serious violations of health and safety regulations – including evidence of spills, leaks, faulty fuel rods and enough missing plutonium to make multiple nuclear weapons. She also alleged the company had falsified inspection records.


Not long after, some strange things began happening.


On Nov. 5, 1974, during a routine check, Silkwood discovered she had been exposed to over 400 times the legal limit for plutonium. She was sent home with a sample kit to conduct more self-tests. The following morning, despite having handled no dangerous materials as part of her job that day, she tested positive once more. On Nov. 7, plutonium contamination was found in her lungs and she was sent to Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico for further testing.


Silkwood believed she was deliberately contaminated as a result of her whistleblowing efforts against Kerr-McGee.


The company would later maintain in court that she willfully contaminated herself in an effort to make them look culpable. While radiation levels at her apartment were high, no radiation was detected either in her car or her work locker.


By Nov. 13, she had decided to go public with her story. She gathered evidence documenting the plant's wrongdoing and was en route to meet a national representative of her union and a New York Times reporter in Oklahoma City when her car went off the road and struck a culvert, killing Silkwood. She was 28.


Quaaludes were found both in her car and in her bloodstream, and the Oklahoma State Troopers ruled that she had fallen asleep at the wheel. But her family and supporters noted there were skid marks in the road – how could she have hit the brakes while asleep? Dents and paint scrapes on her rear bumper lead her supporters to believe that she was deliberately forced off the road by a trailing vehicle. The documents she'd planned to share with New York Times reporter were never found.


The publicity surrounding the case led to a federal investigation of the plant, where many of Silkwood's allegations were proven true. Kerr-McGee closed Cimarron in 1975.





 6. Mark Whitacre

Another figure who ended up the subject of a movie, this time "The Informant!" starring Matt Damon, Whitacre worked with the FBI in the 1990s to expose price-fixing in agriculture by his own company, Archer Daniels Midland but ended up in legal trouble himself for his own actions.

Back when he was working for the agricultural giant as president of its bioproducts division, ADM’s price fixing of lysine helped drive up the price of corn syrup used to sweeten a wide array of consumer products from Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg's, and Tyson Foods. Those higher costs were ultimately passed along to the consumer.



7. Jeffrey Wigand

This former tobacco company executive made enemies by claiming on "60 Minutes" in 1996 that cigarette companies were fully aware that they were packing their products with addictive levels of nicotine. He was played by Russell Crowe in the 1999 film "The Insider."



 8. Coleen Rowley


Coleen Rowley brought several of the pre 9/11 lapses to light and testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on some of the endemic problems facing the FBI and the intelligence community.


In 2002, this FBI special agent alleged that the agency had failed to act on information provided by agents in Minnesota about one of the figures in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 


Ms. Rowley's memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller in connection with the Joint Intelligence Committee's Inquiry led to a two-year-long Department of Justice Inspector General investigation. She was one of three whistleblowers chosen as Person of the Year by TIME magazine.


In April 2003, following an unsuccessful and highly criticized attempt to warn the Director and other administration officials about the dangers of launching the invasion of Iraq, Ms. Rowley stepped down from her (GS-14) legal position to resume her position as a (GS-13) FBI Special Agent. She retired from the FBI at the end of 2004 and now speaks publicly to various groups, ranging from school children to business/professional/civic groups, on two different topics: ethical decision-making and "balancing civil liberties with the need for effective investigation."


She also ran for Congress in 2006 but was not elected.



9. Sherron Watkins

An executive for the Enron Corp., she helped expose the seemingly formidable company in 2001 and 2002 as one assembled on enormous financial lies and frauds. Along with Coleen Rowley and WorldCom's Cynthia Cooper, she was one of three whistleblowers named Time magazine's Persons of the Year in 2002.





 10. Bradley Manning

The Army soldier was court-martialed at Fort Meade, Md., in the summer of 2013 for documents provided to WikiLeaks.  A judge sentenced Pfc. Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison, bringing to a close the government’s determined pursuit of the Army intelligence analyst who leaked the largest cache of classified documents in U.S. history.


The long prison term is an attempt to hearten national security officials who have been unnerved by the subsequent leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Manning’s conviction may also encourage the government to bring charges against the man who was necessary for the publication of the documents, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.


Manning, 25, was acquitted of the most severe charge he faced — aiding the enemy — but was convicted of various other counts, including violations of the Espionage Act, for copying and distributing classified military field reports, State Department cables, and assessments of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


Manning reiterated his reasons for leaking classified material, saying he had “started to question the morality” of U.S. policy. Manning added that he will serve his time “knowing sometimes you pay a heavy price to live in a free country.”


11. Edward Snowden

Snowden left his job as a National Security Agency contractor in Hawaii in 2013, with thousands of the U.S. government’s most closely held secrets in his possession. In the course of his work, Snowden had learned things that dismayed him, and numerous secrets soon found their way onto the front pages of the world’s newspapers, earning him his reputation as the post-9/11 Ellsberg.


In “The Leaky Leviathan,” a study published in 2013, in the Harvard Law Review, David Pozen attempts to explain a puzzle. Strict laws forbid government officials from disclosing secrets, yet leaking has been a consistent feature of American political life. Since the passing of the Espionage Act, in 1917, the federal government has prosecuted around a dozen cases regarding media leaks of state secrets. That’s an astonishingly minute number. Pozen, a Columbia law professor, cites one estimate that, between 1949 and 1969, 2.3 percent of the front-page stories in the Times and the Washington Post were based on government leaks. 


Another study looked at just the first six months of 1986 and found that a hundred and forty-seven stories in the country’s eight primary newspapers were based on leaks. The entire career of Bob Woodward, perhaps the best-selling political writer of his generation, is based on leaks. And yet, with a few symbolic exceptions, nothing is done. 


Why don't we give power to the truth, and speak truth to power?

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Nicki is a Mother, Blogger, Author, Activist, and Survivor.
Her passions are Freedom & Food. When she isn't overloaded with daily life she loves to travel and meet like minded people.
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