Who is a whistleblower ?

A whistleblower is an individual who bravely steps forward to report on misconduct—be it fraud, corruption, or any threat to public integrity, including health and safety concerns. Often an insider, a whistleblower isn't limited to working within the organization where the wrongdoing occurs. Their disclosures are crucial, shining a light on breaches that might otherwise remain in the dark.

It's essential to differentiate between personal grievances and issues of public interest; the latter, under whistleblower status, must align with organizational or legal complaint policies to ensure the right attention and action.

History's Brave Voices

Celebrating Famous Whistleblowers

Some treat them as traitors, and for the vast majority, they are heroes. All of these whistleblowers have in common the extraordinary courage with which they resist the prevailing corruption or violations in their own organisation.

What are the most famous whistleblowers who have helped bring down governments and shocked the whole world?

William Mark Felt: Unraveling the Watergate Scandal

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

As the enigmatic "Deep Throat," William Mark Felt, the associate director of the FBI, changed the course of American history. His secret revelations to the Washington Post about the Watergate break-in and the Nixon administration's illicit activities led to the Watergate scandal and President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974. Felt's true identity as Deep Throat remained a mystery for over three decades until he unveiled himself in a 2005 Vanity Fair article, famously stating, "I'm the guy they called Deep Throat."

Peter Buxtun: Unmasking the Tuskegee Experiment

United States Public Health Service

Peter Buxtun, a conscientious employee of the United States Public Health Service, brought to light the inhumane Tuskegee syphilis experiment. His revelations in the 1970s exposed the four-decade-long study in which poor, afflicted individuals were deliberately left untreated. Buxtun's whistleblowing efforts ended one of the most unethical medical studies in history, marking a significant moment in medical ethics reform.

Frank Serpico: A Lone Crusader Against Police Corruption

New York Police Department (NYPD)

Frank Serpico, a courageous NYPD officer, broke the silence in 1971 by exposing deep-rooted corruption within the police force. As the first NYPD officer to report and testify openly about systemic bribery and corruption, involving millions of dollars, Serpico's actions reshaped the police department. For his bravery, he was awarded the NYPD's highest accolade, the Medal of Honor. Serpico received the highest honor of the NYPD, the Medal of Honor.

Daniel Ellsberg: The Catalyst of Truth in the Vietnam War

United States State Department

Daniel Ellsberg, a former U.S. military analyst, made headlines by leaking the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. These top-secret documents revealed the grim forecast of defeat in the Vietnam War, exposing the Johnson administration's deception in continuing the conflict despite dire predictions. Initially facing espionage and conspiracy charges that amounted to 115 years in prison, Ellsberg's case was later dismissed due to government misconduct. His daring act of truth-telling is credited with significantly influencing the eventual end of the Vietnam War.

Karen Silkwood: Challenging Nuclear Safety

Kerr-McGee Corporation (USA)

Karen Silkwood, an American chemical technician and labor union activist, exposed critical safety violations at the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant in Oklahoma in 1974. Her efforts to reveal lapses in health and safety procedures, including contamination issues, brought significant attention to nuclear safety concerns. Tragically, Silkwood died in a car accident under mysterious circumstances, which further fueled public interest in her allegations and the broader issue of nuclear safety.

Jeffrey Wigand: Exposing Tobacco Industry Secrets

Brown & Williamson

Jeffrey Wigand, a former vice president of research at Brown & Williamson, became famous in the 1990s for his whistleblowing on the tobacco industry. He revealed that executives knew and approved the addictive nature of cigarettes, contradicting their public statements. His testimony in various lawsuits against tobacco companies was pivotal in changing public perceptions about smoking and led to stricter regulations on tobacco products.

Mark Whitacre: The Corporate Whistleblower

Archer Daniels Midland

Mark Whitacre, while serving as an executive at Archer Daniels Midland, courageously exposed the illegal price-fixing practices within the food industry. His undercover work with the FBI led to substantial fines for his company but also brought to light his own complex entanglements, including embezzlement. Whitacre's story, immortalized in the film "The Informant!," showcases the multifaceted nature of whistleblowing in the corporate world.

Chelsea Manning: Unveiling Military Secrets

United States Army (USA)

Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, disclosed a trove of classified military documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. These documents, including videos of airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan and diplomatic cables, highlighted civilian casualties and controversial military tactics. Manning's disclosures sparked global discussions about military ethics, transparency, and freedom of information. She was convicted under the Espionage Act and later had her sentence commuted by President Barack Obama. Manning's actions have been both praised for their transparency and criticized for their potential impact on national security.

Edward Snowden: Exposing Global Surveillance

National Security Agency (NSA)

Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, catapulted into the global spotlight in 2013 when he disclosed thousands of classified documents to journalists. His revelations exposed widespread global surveillance programs run by the NSA and its international partners. This act ignited a global debate on privacy and surveillance, leading to significant policy changes in the U.S. and abroad. Snowden, who sought asylum in Russia, remains a polarizing figure - hailed as a hero by privacy advocates and considered a traitor by others.