Notable Whistleblowers In U.S. History
A whistleblower is defined as someone who exposes information or activities that they deem to be illegal, unethical or not in the best interest of the general public. In many cases, these people do so at great risk to their personal reputations, their job security and even under the threat of being prosecuted.
The following is a list of some of America’s most famous whistleblowers and the results of their actions:
Daniel Ellsberg – 1971
Ellsberg worked for the Rand Corp. as a military analyst. Fed up with what he learned about deception and secret operations conducted by the U.S. during the Vietnam War, he and several colleagues released secret documents to the New York Times in what they titled the Pentagon Papers.
Result- Public support for the war decreased and a number of court cases were instituted against the government that forced the release of other damaging secret documents.
Deep Throat 1972
An unknown whistleblower codenamed “Deep Throat” revealed secrets to two reporter from the Washington Post about rampant crimes being committed by officials in the Nixon Administration. Known as the Watergate Scandal, the information rocked the nation with its revelations of illegal money transactions, bribery, and criminal acts. Only after his death in 2005 was it revealed that “Deep Throat” was M. Mark Felt, the number-two man in the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Result – Numerous members of the Nixon Administration were prosecuted for various felony crimes and sentenced to prison. Nixon was well aware of the illegal activities and forced to resign the Presidency. He only avoided prosecution thanks to a pardon from President Ford.
Karen Silkwood – 1974
Silkwood was the first whistleblower to reveal the dangers of working in a nuclear power plant. She was a chemical technician who worked at Keer-Mcgee nuclear plant. She joined the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union in order to expose a number of safety issues that the company was not addressing. Speaking before the Congressional United States Atomic Energy Commission in 1974 at great risk to herself, she exposed a number of safety failings in the industry.
Result – New safety standards and regulations were imposed industry wide that undoubtedly saved lives by creating a safer wording place in atomic power facilities.
Jeffrey Wigand – 1996
Wigand was the vice president of Research and Development for Brown & Williamson, a large tobacco and cigarette company. He was fired when he voiced his concern over the link between smoking and lung cancer that the company knew about but never revealed to smokers. After his termination, Wigand appeared on 60 Minutes, the CBS news show, and told how the company had hidden the negative effects of smoking and the addictive qualities of nicotine from the public.
Result – His testimony rocked the entire cigarette industry and resulted in numerous multi-million dollar lawsuits by individuals and government agencies that the tobacco companies eventually lost. Warnings on cigarette packs today are a direct result of Wigand’s reports.
Sherron Watkins – 2002
Watkins was Vice President of Corporate Development for the Enron Corporation, a multi-billion dollar energy company. Finally fed up with the fraud being conducted against company stockholders and investors by Enron and its CEO Kenneth Lay, Watkins went before committees of the House of Representative and revealed all of Enron’s accounting irregularities and fraudulent financial reports.
Result – Enron was forced into bankruptcy, and several company executives including Kenneth Lay himself were convicted of criminal fraud and served various prison sentences.
Watkins was granted immunity from prosecution and hailed as a hero by the general public. In 2002, she was selected as one of three “Persons of the Year” by Time Magazine for her role in revealing the Enron fraud.
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