Ten best!: Whistleblower Moments

by Brian Clarey


ten best! randomly compiled by Brian Clarey Whistleblower Moments


Mark Felt, AKA Deep Throat

W. Mark Felt, the lifetime FBI agent better known as Deep Throat, the man who set Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein off on their famous Washington Post Watergate investigative story in 1972, passed last week at the age of 95. In tribute to him, we honor the tradition of the whistleblower, those noble malcontents who, be it for justice, revenge or personal gain, ratted out the wrongdoers to a willing, and sometimes complicit, press.

Sgt. Joe Darby

“Whistleblowers are usually ordinary people, often longstanding employees and experts in their field, who take huge professional and personal risks to blow the whistle on corporate and governmental wrongdoing,” according to This was certainly the case with Sgt. Joe Darby, who in 2004 turned over a CD of photographs documenting abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Saddam Hussein’s torture-drome in Iraq which was taken over by the US Army after the 2003 invasion. Darby’s name was disclosed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in an open Senate hearing. In a subsequent “60 Minutes” interview, Darby said he and his wife were shunned by neighbors in their Baltimore home and now live in protective military custody.

Andrew and Mark Madoff

Talk about being close to the case — Andrew and Mark Madoff were the ones who turned in their father, Bernie Madoff, after he revealed to them that his investment firm was “a giant Ponzi scheme.” The extent of the frauds is estimated at $50 billion, and among its victims are Steven Spielberg’s charity, the Wundserkinder Foundation; banks in Spain, Austria, Switzerland, France and the UK; dozens of hedge funds; and perhaps thousands of individuals.

Daniel Ellsberg

Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, was asked to contribute to a government study titled “United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense” in 1967, a classified, top-secret document that detailed our involvement in the Southeast Asian country. Ellsberg leaked the document, which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers, to The New York Times in 1971. Afterwards, President Nixon accused the Times of treason and obtained a court injunction to prevent publication. But later that year, the Supreme Court declared the injunction unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Peter Buxtun

Peter Buxtun was working for the US Public Health Service in San Francisco. It was there he learned through co-workers about the Tuskegee Experiment, in which 399 African- American sharecroppers, all of whom were infected with syphilis, were left untreated so doctors could study the progression of the disease. The study, which began in 1932, ended just after Buxtun blew the whistle in 1972 to the Washington Star.

Frank Serpico

Yeah, Al Pacino was pretty good in the 1973 film Serpico, chronicling the adventures of the very first police officer ever to testify against his department for corruption. But the real Frank Serpico was way badder than anything that can be captured on film. The Brooklyn-born detective joined the NYPD on Sept. 11, 1959 and worked plainclothes detail during some of the roughest years New York City has ever known. After the police department tried to bury his accusations, he went to The New York Times in 1970. Ten months later he was shot in the face during a drug bust; many believe it was a set-up, including Serpico himself who lives in upstate New York and lectures on police corruption and brutality.

Sherron Watkins

Sherron Watkins was vice president of corporate affairs at Enron in 2001 when she blew the whistle on the corporation for financial chicanery… though, as it turns out, somewhat inadvertently. Watkins authored a memo in 2001 to CEO Kenneth Lay pointing out that there were… issues… in the company’s financials and warning that it would make good fodder for whistleblowers. When the memo became public five months later, Watkins was subpoenaed by Congress and the Senate and testified against her former employer.

Mark Klein

Things got kind of crazy, national-security wise, after the attacks of 9-11. Among the Patriot Act goodies imposed upon the American people was a surveillance cell set up by the National Security Agency in San Francisco. It was used, basically, to spy on American citizens without the benefit of probable cause. Mark Klein described the facility and its activities in a document, first reported in — you guessed it — The New York Times in May 2006.

Karen Silkwood

Hollywood loves a whistleblower, especially when the whistleblower in question is a comely and fiery woman who dies under mysterious circumstances. Karen Silkwood, played in the 1983 film by Meryl Streep, helped the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union strike for better conditions in an Oklahoma nuclear plant, and then uncovered many health hazards there, to which she testified in front of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1974. Over the next three days, her body became dangerously, inexplicably contaminated with plutonium. One week later she died in a suspicious automobile accident en route to a meeting with reporters from… wait for it… The New York Times.

Jeffery Wigand

Jeffery Wigand worked in R&D at Brown and Williamson tobacco company in Louisville, Ky. before he flipped, going public on “60 Minutes” with the knowledge that big tobacco companies were manipulating nicotine levels in their cigarettes to foster addiction. He got his Hollywood moment in 1999 in The Insider, played by Russell Crowe.