Find out more about the men and women who stood up and revealed wrongdoings within corporations and the government.
Created by pov on Oct 4, 2010
Last updated: 12/07/10 at 03:23 PM
"Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks web site, turned himself in at a London police station. His attorneys have said they plan to aggressively fight extradition to Sweden, where he is accused of raping two women."
Read more on the PBS NewsHour website.
Wikileaks leaks over 250,000 diplomatic cables from the US State Department. Bradley Manning, a US army intelligence analyst, is suspected of leaking both the Afghan War Diaries and the cables.
WikiLeaks makes public a classified video that shows U.S. bombs striking civilians in Iraq in an attack that killed 12, including two Reuters news staffers. Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army intelligence analyst, is arrested for leaking the video.
Appointed by President George W. Bush as head of the United States Office of Special Counsel, Scott Bloch is the government’s leading enforcer of whistleblower protection laws. Rather than protecting employees, Bloch defends discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and retaliates against whistleblowers who oppose or report his many abuses. While under investigation for his actions, Bloch hires Geeks on Call, a computer firm, to scrub potentially incriminating files from his computers. Bloch pleads guilty to contempt of Congress.
Over 92,000 secret U.S. military reports about the war in Afghanistan are released online by WikiLeaks. The reports suggest that the war in Afghanistan is grimmer than its official portrayal, and that despite the efforts of the United States, the Taliban is becoming stronger. WikiLeaks offers the documents to three newspapers — The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel — three weeks before they are posted so that journalists may analyze and research the documents. The leak is one of the largest in U.S. military history, and Daniel Ellsberg describes the leak as similar in scale to his own leaking of the Pentagon Papers. Bradley Manning, who is under arrest for leaking the Baghdad airstrike video, is suspected of leaking these documents, known as the “Afghan War Diary,” as well.
The House of Representatives passes the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007, designed to provide greater protection for whistleblowers. The bill becomes stuck in the Senate when Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma places a hold on the bill.
The website WikiLeaks publishes documents that expose corporate and government wrongdoing around the world while preserving the anonymity of the sources of those documents. One of WikiLeaks’ goals is to ensure that whistleblowers and journalists are not jailed for leaking information.
In the Supreme Court’s Garcetti v. Ceballos decision, the court states that public employees are not protected by the First Amendment when they are speaking about matters related to their job duties. Whistleblower and First Amendment advocates universally decry the decision.
While working at UBS bank in Switzerland, banker Bradley Birkenfeld realizes that managers at the bank are encouraging American clients to evade taxes by putting their money in offshore accounts. Despite the recovery of billions of taxpayer dollars and the fact that he has helped to end the illegal UBS tax fraud scheme, Birkenfeld is ordered to serve a 40-month prison sentence.
Rick Piltz, a senior associate in the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, resigns over the White House’s attempt to interfere with the program’s findings and manipulate them to overstate the degree of scientific uncertainty about human causes of climate change. An Oxford University study sees a shift in media coverage away from false “balance” and toward the reality of global warming and cites this revelation of direct interference on the part of the White House as one of the causes of that shift.
Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) safety officer David Graham breaks ranks with his employer and testifies to the U.S. Senate that Merck’s blockbuster arthritis drug Vioxx has killed as many Americans as the Vietnam War did. Graham lists five other unsafe prescription drugs approved by the F.D.A. Merck is forced to withdraw Vioxx from the market, and the F.D.A.’s reputation is severely tarnished.
Sergeant Joseph Darby provides a computer disc containing photographs of the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib to the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, triggering an investigation of Abu Ghraib. Darby attempts to remain anonymous, but Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld names Darby during a Senate hearing. Punishments for soldiers involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal include prison terms, dishonorable discharge and reprimands.
British government translator Katharine Gun leaks an email detailing illegal activities by the United States and the United Kingdom in their push to invade Iraq. In the document, a U.S. National Security Agency official requests British help with spying on United Nations diplomats. Gun is arrested and charged with crimes before the case is finally dropped in 2004.
F.B.I. translator Sibel Edmonds encounters neglect and misconduct in the F.B.I. before and after the 9/11 attacks. When she reports her concerns to her superiors, she is ignored and then fired. She tells her story to Congressional investigators, the U.S. Department of Justice and 60 Minutes.
Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom and Sherron Watkins of Enron exposed corporate financial scandals. Coleen Rowley of the F.B.I. outlined the agency’s slow response time to reports of suspicious activity before the 9/11 attacks. All three are selected as Time’s people of the year.
One of the consequences of the 2001 Enron scandal is passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The act provides increased protection for whistleblowers employed by publicly held companies, among other reforms. Companies are required to form commissions responsible for receiving and investigating reports from anonymous whistleblowers. Retaliation against whistleblowers is deemed a criminal act.
Beginning in 2000, Harry Markopolos, a financial fraud investigator, submits to the Securities and Exchange Commission multiple times materials that document his suspicion that investment adviser Bernard Madoff is running a Ponzi scheme. Despite Markopolos’ attempts to raise awareness, Madoff is not arrested and charged with securities fraud until 2008. Losses to investors as a result of Madoff’s Ponzi schemes are estimated at $18 billion. Madoff is convicted and sentenced to 150 years in prison.
David Franklin files a whistleblower lawsuit against Warner-Lambert, a subsidiary of Pfizer, exposing its illegal promotion of the drug Neurontin for unapproved uses, a practice he believes put patients in danger. The ensuing investigation uncovers illegal pharmaceutical industry practices and results in many convictions and penalties against Pfizer. In 2004, Pfizer agrees to pay $430 million to resolve criminal and civil charges associated with the case.
Jeffrey Wigand, former vice president for research and development for tobacco company Brown & Williamson, is interviewed by 60 Minutes and discloses that the company misled consumers about how addictive and hazardous cigarettes are and conspired to hide and quash research about the health effects of smoking. Initially, 60 Minutes does not broadcast the interview with Wigand out of fear of legal action from the tobacco company. Three months later, after The Wall Street Journal publishes an article about the company’s attempt to smear Wigand in order to discredit him, 60 Minutes airs the interview. Wigand’s story becomes the basis for the 1999 film The Insider, starring Russell Crowe.
Mark Whitacre, an executive at the Archer Daniels Midland conglomerate, blows the whistle on his employer and becomes an informant for the F.B.I. in an investigation of price fixing at the company. However, while working as an informant Whitacre is also embezzling from the company. As a result, Whitacre is convicted and spends eight and a half years in prison. His story is told in the nonfiction book The Informant, later adapted for the screen as The Informant!, starring Matt Damon as Whitacre.
Congress passes a bill allowing whistleblowers to challenge agency moves to alter their working conditions or order them to undergo psychological testing.
One year after President Reagan vetoed passage of the Whistleblower Protection Act, saying it would be a tool for the merely disgruntled, President George H.W. Bush signs into law a weakened version of the act that, nevertheless, expands protection of federal employees who expose waste, fraud and abuse.
With amendments sponsored by Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Representative Howard Berman of California, Congress amends the False Claims Act, offering whistleblowers incentives to uncover fraud harmful to the government. Belittled by opponents as a bounty hunting statute, the reinvigorated False Claims Act helps the government recover tens of billions of dollars, with much of the fraud uncovered linked to defense procurement and Medicaid.
Risking his career, quality assurance auditor Casey Ruud (pictured) testified to Congress about missing plutonium, and public and worker health dangers, at the nation’s nuclear weapons reservation in Hanford, Washington. His testimony led to the cessation of plutonium production in the United States two years prior to the end of the Cold War.
This act, a precursor to the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, provides protections to federal employees who disclose information that provides evidence of violations of laws and regulations, corruption, abuse or dangers to public health and safety.
Frank Camps, a senior principal design engineer with Ford Motor Company, warns Ford that the design of the Pinto makes it unsafe. Later, the Pinto is withdrawn from the market after numerous accidents result in burn injuries due to the design of the model’s gas tank. Mother Jones magazine publishes an exposé in 1977.
As a result of a resolution adopted at a conference sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies on intelligence agency abuses, the Government Accountability Project is launched with the mission of protecting government and corporate employees of conscience who blow the whistle on wrongdoing.
General Electric engineers Gregory Minor, Richard Hubbard and Dale Bridenbaugh blow the whistle on safety problems at nuclear power plants. All three engineers resign from General Electric. Over the following 15 years, more than 500 additional whistleblowers come forward to disclose safety problems at numerous plants, resulting in the halting of construction of three plants and the overhaul of the Three Mile Island clean-up operation.
Karen Silkwood, a technician at the Kerr-McGee plutonium fuels production plant in Oklahoma and a union activist, is in the process of gathering evidence about the plant’s negligence in maintaining safety when she is killed in a fatal one-car crash under mysterious circumstances. The 1983 film Silkwood, starring Meryl Streep, recounts the story.
Congress passes into law the first whistleblower protection statute as part of the Clean Water Act (Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments). The law protects employees who testify or participate in proceedings related to water pollution violations or who file complaints about such pollution.
While working for the United States Public Health Service, Peter Buxtun realizes that the agency is studying the effects of syphilis by monitoring 399 poor African-American men with the disease, who are neither being told that they have the disease nor being treated for it. Buxtun takes the story to the press; Congressional hearings are held; and the U.S. government pays out a $10 million class action settlement to participants and their family members.
After the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover ties between the break-in and the White House. An anonymous source, nicknamed “Deep Throat,” gives the reporters information that eventually leads to President Nixon’s resignation (pictured). In 2005, Deep Throat is revealed to be W. Mark Felt, former associate director of the F.B.I.
Daniel Ellsberg leaks a secret study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam to The New York Times. The Pentagon Papers, as the study becomes known, show that with regard to the Vietnam War, the nation’s leaders have been proclaiming a desire for peace while seeking a wider war, declaring fidelity to democracy while sabotaging elections and exhibiting a sweeping callousness to the loss of both Vietnamese and American lives. Espionage Act charges are filed against Ellsberg, then dropped in 1973.
After police officer Frank Serpico reports police corruption to his superiors for several years and no action is taken, he approaches The New York Times with the story. The newspaper publishes an exposé on the New York City police. The story forces New York City mayor John Lindsay to establish a commission to investigate police corruption. The book Serpico, which tells Serpico’s story, becomes a bestseller and the basis for a 1973 movie directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Al Pacino.
Vietnam veteran Ron Ridenhour, an ex-Army helicopter gunner, writes a letter to Congress and the Pentagon describing the horrific events at My Lai during the Vietnam War, including the torture, sexual abuse, mutilation and mass murder of hundreds of unarmed civilians. His letter brings the massacre to the attention of the American public and the world and opposition to the war deepens.
A. Ernest Fitzgerald, a U.S. Department of Defense auditor, reports a 2.3 billion cost overrun in the Lockheed C-5 aircraft program and testifies before the Joint Economic Committee. President Nixon reportedly tells his aides to fire Fitzgerald, and Fitzgerald is immediately terminated. Four years later, Fitzgerald is reinstated. He continues to fight against fraud, waste and abuse in the U.S. Department of Defense for the remainder of his career there. In the late 1980s, Fitzgerald plays a part in the investigation of wasteful spending at the Pentagon. Taxpayers are shocked to learn that their money is spent on $200 hammers and $900 toilet seats. Fitzgerald authors a book published in 1989 entitled The Pentagonists: An Insider’s View of Waste, Mismanagement and Fraud in Defense Spending.
Congressional aide James Boyd and secretary Marjorie Carpenter photocopy hundreds of pages of materials from the office of Senator Thomas Dodd and distribute the copies to investigative journalists. The papers show that Dodd used more than $200,000 in unreported campaign funds for personal expenses. Dodd is censured by the Senate and loses his seat in the next election.