Top Five All-Time Biggest Whistleblowers

Managing a Sarbanes-Oxley compliant whistleblower hotline allows me to have significant interaction with whistleblowers.  So I was very interested in the article written by Steve Kardell of Clouse Dunn LLP, which describes five of the most prominent whistleblowers of all time, as follows:

“Daniel Ellsberg

Daniel Ellsberg was a Harvard graduate, Marine lieutenant, Pentagon official and researcher for the RAND Corporation. Ellsberg was also a Vietnam War veteran who eventually became an opponent of the war. In 1969, Ellsberg began to copy classified documents known as the Pentagon Papers. The Pentagon Papers detailed how four different U.S. administrations lied to Congress, other governmental agencies and the public about the war. Ellsberg gave the documents to the New York Times. He later surrendered to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to face charges of theft, conspiracy, and espionage. The charges were eventually dismissed.

Peter Buxtun

The Tuskegee experiment was already a 30-year-long U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) experiment of how syphilis afflicted 400 African-Americans when USPHS investigator Peter Buxtun joined the study. The study’s subjects were mostly poor African-Americans who believed that they were receiving medical assistance for their condition. Buxton learned that the USPHS offered no medical assistance at all to the study participants. Buxtun blew the whistle to Associated Press reporter Jean Heller in 1972. He later testified before Congress helping to end the decades-long experiment.

Karen Silkwood

Karen Silkwood was a worker at the Kerr-McGee nuclear power plant in Oklahoma. After becoming active in the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, Silkwood became in charge of investigating the health and safety of workers at the plant. In her role, Silkwood uncovered major health and safety violations that placed workers at risk. She reported her discoveries to the Atomic Energy Commission with the intention of making her workplace safer. Almost immediately, Silkwood tested positive for massive plutonium exposure and investigators concluded that her house had been contaminated. Kerr-McGee claimed that Silkwood exposed herself to danger in order to elicit sympathy. She went to The New York Times to reveal her evidence. Silkwood died in a car crash on her way to bring evidence to reporters.

Mark Whiteacre

In 1992, Mark Whitacre was an executive at Archers Daniel Midland, a food industry giant. Whitacre had everything — money, family and a successful career. Within a short time, it all unraveled. Whitacre participated in international schemes with several Agribusiness companies to fix the prices of food additives like lysine and citric acid. Pressured by his wife, Whitacre went to the FBI to reveal the scheme. Whitacre went undercover for the FBI for three years to expose the breadth and depth of the illegal price fixing. At the same time, Whitacre also began embezzling $9 million from the company and ended up in jail.

Deep Throat

For many years, President Richard Nixon’s administration was involved in covert operations, break-ins, and campaign violations. W. Mark Felt was Associate Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and next in line to Director J Edgar Hoover. Felt began giving hints and clues about the President Nixon’s involvement in these misdeeds to Washington Post reporters Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Their series of articles were a factor in the subsequent resignation of President Nixon. Some speculate that Felt blew the whistle because he was passed over when Hoover died and he was not named director. Nevertheless, Felt permanently changed the way Americans trusted their President.”

The above summaries not only provide for interesting reading, but also remind us of the value of whistleblowers. Having a broadly communicated and well operated whistleblower system provides tremendous value to both companies and employees.  See here for best practices in whistleblower systems.

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