Top 10 Whistleblowers

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10. Peter Buxtun

I didn’t want to believe it, this was the Public Health Service. We didn’t do things like that.

In 1972, after numerous letters questioning the ethical basis of a particular government study were sent to leaders at the Center for Disease Control and blatantly ignored, Public Health Services investigator Peter Buxtun passed on information to mainstream media outlets on the secret Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments. In these experiments, African-American men with syphilis were led to believe they were receiving free treatment for the disease. Instead, the focus of the experiment was simply to study the effects of syphilis until participants died and their bodies could be examined in autopsy.

The experiments took place over 40 years until ending in 1972, and it took an additional 25 years before the government apologized for these acts. The effect it had on the trust and confidence in Public Health Services, especially among minorities, can still be seen today. However, some good came from this revelation, as the bioethics community made profound changes in experimental procedure and ethical guidelines.

9. Frederic Whitehurst

First of all, we needed to stop it, then we needed to fix it, then we needed to find out who got hurt…there are tens of thousands of individuals who were accused by faulty science and faulty crime lab work product

What do Avancia Flight 203, the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, and the O.J. Simpson murder trial have in common? According to Mr. Whitehurst, the FBI Crime Lab seriously dropped the ball in all those investigations, and many more. Whitehurst became the first modern day FBI-whistleblower in the early 1990s when he spoke out about what he saw as severe incompetence and fraud within the FBI’s special “Crime Lab.” Although the Inspector General would go on to deny many of Whitehurst’s claims, he did confirm a number of disturbing mistakes made by the FBI in some of the biggest investigations in recent times. For his decision to uphold FBI forensic standards and discontinue fraud within the department, Whitehurst was fired and considered a “rat” by his former colleagues. Fortunately, he managed to convince the President to issue an executive order protecting FBI-whistleblowers and later went on to found the National Whistleblowers Center.

8. Jeffrey Wigand

I used to come home tied in a knot. My kids would say to me, ‘hey, Daddy, do you kill people?’ I didn’t like some of the things I saw. I felt uncomfortable. I felt dirty.

Jeffrey Wigand blew into the media spotlight after an interview with 60 Minutes. In the monumental interview, he took a stand against Big Tobacco, claiming they had vast amounts of evidence that nicotine was addictive despite alternative testimony from several CEOs. Wigand had been the top executive responsible for research and development at B&W Tobacco and received extensive harassment and death threats for revealing the truth to Americans. His story was later sensationalized in the film The Insider, starring Russell Crowe. Wigand’s brave testimony contributed to a massive decrease in smoking among high school students, a wave of anti-smoking campaigns and truth-in-advertising, and a drop in smoking overall after all time highs in the mid-90s.

7. Gary Webb

After spending three years of my life looking into this, I am more convinced than ever that the U.S. government’s responsibility for the drug problems in South Central Los Angeles and other inner cities is greater than I ever wrote in the newspaper

The laughable :“Just Say No” years of the Reagan administration suffered a big hit when journalist Gary Webb released his Pulitzer-prize winning book Dark Alliance, chronicling the role of the U.S. Government smuggling cocaine into American cities throughout the 80s. Unfortunately, Webb stands as an example of the ugliest parts of the American relationship with the persecution of those who stand for truth. Although much of what he reported on in the mid-90s has since been confirmed, Webb was blackballed in the world of journalism; unable to support his family or deal with the attack on his character by the government, he committed suicide.

Maybe even more tragic is the fact that nothing really came of his quest for justice. No one was held accountable for the actions of the CIA and the administration, as George H.W. Bush granted pardons to all top-level officials involved

6. Harry Markopolos

The Great Recession that began toward the late-2000s was marked by one of the greatest (err..worst) Ponzi schemes in history, when Bernie Madoff managed to swindle investors out of $50 billion before being arrested and convicted for numerous charges of fraud. His crimes earned him a sentence of 150 years in jail and left a lasting stain on finance. But 8 years before the SEC finally caught up to Madoff, Harry Markopolos began warning everyone that he could, including the SEC, that the most successful firm in town was actually a scam. Although it took investigators nearly a decade to respond, while many people lost their life savings, Markopolos set a precedent showing the kind of guts that you don’t normally find on Wall Street. As one of the major investors in Madoff’s firm said before the arrest,

Doubt Bernie Madoff? Doubt Bernie? No. You doubt God. You can doubt God, but you don’t doubt Bernie. He had that aura about him.

5. Jesselyn Radack

Few paths are more treacherous than the one that challenges abuse of power and tries to make a meaningful difference. Whistleblowers should not have to choose their conscience over their careers.

In 2001, Radack was a rising star within the U.S. Department of Justice, acting as legal advisor to those carrying out the “War on Terror,” but by 2003, she had been fired by the DoJ and her subsequent employer, was pursued in a “criminal leak case” without even being told (try and find the law on that one…), and was referred to the bar for discipline regarding legal advice that she gave to U.S. prosecutors while at the Department. The reason? After the FBI blatantly disregarded her advice not to illegally question suspected American terrorist John Walker Lindh without his lawyer present, and after a DoJ cover up, she chose to disclose emails to Newsweek, showing the violation of rights and all-around massive screw-up. For two years, she was persecuted for what amounted to offering legal advice the Bush administration, leading to Lindh receiving only 20 years despite facing 3 life sentences. Although the “American Taliban” case displayed just how incompetent the Department of Justice can be, Radack didn’t make this list for leaking a few business emails, but rather for her role in protecting whistleblowers since then. From 2006, she has worked relentlessly to pursue cases of fraud or corruption in the government, and in 2008 began serving as the Director of National Security and Human Rights at the Government Accountability Office.

4. Bradley Birkenfeld

The fact that I am the only person behind bars as a result of the international banking scandal sends a chilling message to future financial whistleblowers: if you come forward to expose illegal banking practices, you could go to jail.

With whole countries now failing and austerity measures hitting those who can least afford it, there has been no shortage of people asking, “where the hell is all the cash?”. Especially those incessant goons over at the IRS. But in 2007, the agency received a $780 million pay day, thanks to international banker turned bankbuster, Brad Birkenfeld. Birkenfeld took on his former employer, UBS, blowing the whistle on billions of dollars the bank was assisting American depositors in hiding from the IRS. His revelations have since helped the U.S. to collect back taxes on over $5 billion. Although his case was a clear representation of the reasons why we have whistleblower protection laws (this guy came forward and saved us billions), Birkenfeld was prosecuted and sentenced to 40 months in prison and was even denied clemency by President Obama. But don’t feel too bad for the guy…due to the, sometimes whacky, contradiction that is much of the law, he received 30% of the IRS’s winnings against UBS; a whopping $104 million. For once, it seems a whistleblower actually got the thanks they deserved (even if it meant taking $104 million in someone else’s money and spending 40 months with Big Bob)

3. William Binney

I knew if I remained silent, I would be complicit to the subversion of our own constitution

William Binney is arguably the greatest code breaker in the history of the United States and was largely responsible for the automation of surveillance techniques. However, shortly after September 2001, when the programs he built from the ground up began to be used against the American people, Binney resigned from the NSA and started speaking out. He was responsible for ending, through legal means, one of the worst intelligence failures of all time, a program known as TRAILBLAZER. Even the NSA director acknowledged the program as a “wasteful failure,” after costing taxpayers billions. For his part in exposing government incompetence and despite being cleared of any wrongdoing, Mr. Binney was furiously pursued by the Bush administration in what culminated with FBI agents kicking down his door, aiming submachine guns at his head, and confiscating countless personal and business records.

However, that hasn’t been enough to silence such a hardass patriot; Binney also helped shed light on the NSA’s Stellar Wind project last year…

Oh, you thought PRISM was the only domestic spying program of its kind?

2. Daniel Ellsberg

Truth-telling to Congress and the public is not disloyal in America: it is an expression of the higher loyalty officials owe to the Constitution, the rule of law, and the sovereign public. It is a courageous, patriotic, and effective way to serve our country. The time to speak out is now.

Ellsberg stands as the model for government whistleblowers, having leaked the Pentagon papers in the early 70s and also contributing to the exposure of President Nixon’s disturbing abuse of powers during the Watergate years. Ellsberg would turn himself in, in 1971, despite looking at more than 115 years if convicted under espionage and associated charges. His court case brought to light severe Executive Branch corruption, including an event where White House and CIA staff broke into the office of his psychologist Lewis Fielding in an attempt at smearing Ellsberg’s name. Arguably even more important is what his actions did to help solidify [freedom of the press],(http://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/constitutional-law/constitutional-law-keyed-to-sullivan/freedom-of-speech-how-government-restricts-speech-modes-of-abridgment-and-standards-of-review/new-york-times-co-v-united-states-the-pentagon-papers-case/) as the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the New York Times in a case in which the Department of Justice had attempted to discontinue their publishing of the Pentagon papers. Ellsberg was eventually cleared of wrongdoing by the courts and would go on to promote and encourage the actions of responsible whistleblowers down the road, including Sibel Edmunds. Ellsberg later said that what Edmunds “has is far more explosive than the Pentagon Papers…”

1. Edward Snowden

Certainly most people have heard the name over the past week, as Snowden is at the center of possibly the most comprehensive leak of the domestic surveillance apparatus, known as PRISM of all time. Little is known yet about the circumstances, other than the fact we have a young man who was, by all acounts, living the dream in Hawaii as a highly paid computer systems specialist. Apparently, he saw so much government dishonesty and abuse, day in and day out, that he could no longer sit by and allow it to continue without American citizens at least having a voice in the discussion. Although he was the only one to leak official documents, Snowden’s revelations are hardly “new” (see William Binney, above), and it is unfortunate that he was forced to take these actions after previous leaks inspired absolutely no change within the NSA. The last we heard from Snowden, he was in Hong Kong seeking political asylum. However, the Department of Justice is certainly pursuing him, and it’s not clear whether he will escape prosecution, or persecution, according to some.