Ten Best Whistleblowers
The Australian-born founder of WikiLeaks released more than 90,000 pages of classified reports on the Afghan War on July 25, much to the chagrin of President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The 90,000 reports, which document problems the American military has faced over the past six years in Afghanistan, is not news to the Pentagon. But the revelation of intelligence sources and military methods could mean disastrous consequences for US forces and Afghans who have aided the troops, Gates said. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a blistering rebuke of Assange’s actions. “Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he and his source are doing,” Mullen said, “but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.”
The 2000 Academy Award-winning film starring Julia Roberts introduced the world to Erin Brockovich. A single mother struggling to raise her children, Brockovich got a job as a file clerk in a California law firm. While organizing documents in a real estate case, Brockovich uncovered medical records that revealed Pacific Gas & Electric had been poisoning the residents of Hinkley, Calif. for more than 30 years by leaking Chromium 6 into the groundwater. Brockovich and attorney Ed Masry filed a direct action lawsuit against PG&E on behalf of more than 600 Hinkley residents and won the largest tort injury settlement in US history — $333 million.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post did their part, but it could be argued that Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later the New York Times and 17 other newspapers actually toppled the Nixon presidency. Ellsberg stood trial for 12 felony counts and faced a possible sentence of 115 years. All charges were dismissed in 1973 on grounds of governmental misconduct, which led to the convictions of several White House aides and figured in the impeachment proceedings against President Nixon, according to Ellsberg’s website, www. ellsberg.net. Ellsberg remains an activist nearly 40 years later.
W. Mark Felt (aka Deep throat)
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s legendary confidential source, W. Mark Felt was associate director of the FBI who helped guide Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s groundbreaking coverage of the Watergate scandal. Felt was given the nickname “Deep Throat” by a Washington Post editor because he only spoke with Woodward on deep background. For more than 30 years, neither Woodward nor Bernstein revealed their source, but Felt’s family revealed his identity to a Vanity Fair reporter in 2005. Felt’s leaking of critical information about Richard Nixon administration’s web of lies, deceit and dirty tricks led to the first resignation of a president in US history.
Wilson’s op-ed piece, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” published in the July 6, 2003 edition of the New York Times sparked “Plamegate.” One week after Wilson criticized the Bush administration for twisting the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program to exaggerate the Iraqi threat, Washington Post syndicated columnist Robert Novak revealed that Valerie Plame, Wilson’s wife, was an undercover CIA operative. The resulting grand jury investigation led to the conviction of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former vice president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, on four felony counts. After Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison, former president George W. Bush commuted his sentence.
UNC-TV’s senior legislative correspondent, Vajda found herself at the center of a firestorm last month after state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell and the Senate Judiciary II Committee subpoenaed more than 200 hours of raw video and all materials related to Vajda’s investigation into Alcoa’s operations on the Yadkin River. Vajda and her producer, Martin Sansone, edited a 53-minute rough cut of their documentary, “The Alcoa Story,” documenting allegations regarding the aluminum giant’s Badin
Works smelting plant being linked to PCB, arsenic and cyanide contamination of Badin Lake and the Yadkin River. After the film screening, state legislators grilled Alcoa officials about the company’s record of environmental stewardship.
One honest cop’s refusal to take a bribe led to the exposure of rampant corruption in the New York City Police Department. On Feb. 3, 1971, Serpico was shot in the face during a “buy and bust” operation. Later that year, Serpico testified in front of the Knapp Commission about his experiences in trying to report corruption within the ranks of the NYPD.
According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Coleen Rowley wasn’t the only FBI agent frustrated with the failure of America’s intelligence agencies to stop the Sept. 11 attacks, but she was the first agent to go public with the facts. After 9/11, Rowley wrote to FBI Director Robert Mueller about how Washington failed to follow up on information provided by the Minneapolis field office on its investigation of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui.
In January 2004, Sergeant Joseph Darby gave Special Agent Tyler Pieron a CD containing photographs of Iraqi prisoners being tortured and abused at Abu Ghraib prison, which exposed the US Army’s egregious violations of the Geneva Conventions to the world, and had a profound on public opinion at home and abroad about the US occupation of Iraq.
Some whistleblowers pay for the actions with their lives. Karen Silkwood appears to be one of those brave individuals. A labor union activist, Silkwood investigated claims of wrongdoing at the Kerr-McGee plant, which made plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods, in Oklahoma. Silkwood died under mysterious circumstances, but her story raised important questions about the safety of nuclear energy.