The New Yorker uses the publication of Edward Snowden’s new memoir as an opportunity to explore the state of whistleblowing. Jill Lepore offers this take on what it means that more insiders are coming forwards with evidence of wrongdoing.

Whistle-blowing is very often an upstanding act of courage, undertaken at great personal cost, and resulting in great public good. But the presence of a lot of whistle-blowing—an age of whistle-blowing—isn’t a sign of a thriving democracy or a healthy business world; it’s a sign of a weak democracy and a sick business world. When institutions are working well, either they don’t engage in misconduct or their internal mechanisms discover, thwart, and punish it. Democracies have checks and balances, including investigations, ethics committees, and elections. Businesses have regulations, compliance departments, and inspections. Whistle-blowing is necessary when these safeguards fail. But to celebrate whistle-blowing as anything other than a last resort is to give up on institutions. Continue Reading The New Yorker on Snowden and what his case says about whistleblowing

Whistleblowers would be protected and rewarded for exposing accounting misdeeds under a bill scheduled for a vote in the House this week. The bill would attach a whistleblower protection provision to rules governing the the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) – often referred to as “Peekaboo.”

The PCAOB, according to the panels’website, “oversees the audits of public companies and SEC-registered brokers and dealers in order to protect investors and further the public interest in the preparation of informative, accurate, and independent audit reports.”

But, according to a recent investigation by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), it’s doing a terrible job. Could better protections for whistleblowers get the effort back on track? One of the recommendations in the POGO report notes that “whistleblowers could help make enforcement of the audit firm industry easier and more effective.”

Continue Reading Report: Whistleblowers could help expose auditing fraud at publicly traded companies

Margot Robbie plays a fictional character in the upcoming movie about sexual harassment at Fox News. In the trailer for “Bombshell,” her co-workers glance at her as she heads to the elevator. Her hand shakes as she presses the button for the second floor C-suite.

Then, Gretchen Carlson, played by Nicole Kidman, gets in, head high, but struggling to smile. Eventually, Carlson blew the whistle and sued Roger Ailes and Fox News for sexual harassment. But not before she collected evidence of the misbehavior and contacted a lawyer.

Insider the MIT Media lab. Tinker Ready photo
Media Lab

Women (and to a lesser extent, men) who speak out about sexual harassment or improprieties face the usual challenges as whistleblowers. They are fired, shunned by co-workers and personally attacked – very personally. Unlike IRS and SEC whistleblowers, they usually have no path to compensation unless they sue. It’s difficult to maintain anonymity.

This week, two cases emerged that highlight the nightmare of blowing the whistle on gropers, flashers, rapists, and pedophiles. The revelation of secret funding from Jeffrey Epstein has tarred the mighty MIT Media Lab and brought down its super-smart, well-respected director. And, a lawyer for Harvey Weinstein offered to “place” articles to cast accuser Rose McGowan as “unglued,” according to documents published in a new book.

Continue Reading The nightmare of blowing the whistle on gropers, flashers, rapists, and pedophiles

Melvin Goodwin makes that case on the lefty CounterPunch website. He notes that former FBI director Comey has been criticized for violating FBI guidelines.

He was pilloried for his handling of Hillary Clinton’s violations of security practices as secretary of state, and now for revealing Donald Trump’s efforts to obstruct justice.  Although Comey believed he was acting in the best interests of the nation on both occasions, there is no argument that Comey did violate the FBI’s internal regulations.  On both occasions, he was calling attention to illegal and possibly criminal behavior by Clinton and Trump.

… As a former whistleblower, I can testify to the fact that it becomes necessary to go public with charges of malfeasance when there are no political institutions willing to take up the cudgel in the name of oversight.

Goodwin is a former CIA analyst and author, most recently, of Whistleblower at the CIA: An Insider’s Account of the Politics of Intelligence. In the CounterPunch piece, he notes Comey’s history of standing up to presidents. He cites Comey’s opposition to George W. Bush’s NSA surveillance and CIA interrogation programs. Goodwin also defends the former FBI director’s handling of the Hilary Clinton email investigation.

Comey broke with tradition in his handling of the matter, but Clinton had been arrogant and deceitful in her efforts to skirt rules for the handling of sensitive classified information as well as rules for the safekeeping of government records.  

The “so-called liberals in the mainstream media maligned” Comey for his ego and questionable motives, Goodwin writes. He feels otherwise.

In my 42 years of federal service, I never encountered anyone more willing to challenge both presidents and cabinet officers than James Comey.  He was a public servant in the best sense of that term, challenging the unconscionable decision making of Presidents Bush and Trump… There is no better example of genuine ethical leadership than Comey’s in his role as whistleblower.

Resources

Melvin Goodwin on C-Span

FBI whistleblower Jane Turner

FBI whistleblower Frederic Whitehurst

NWC: Whistleblower legal assistance

 

A news round-up

The Atlantic
Whistleblower helps reveal solitary confinement practices for detained immigrants. 

Tax Whistleblower Receives $11.6 Million Dollar AwardContraband sugar packets, calling a border guard a “redneck,” menstruating on a prison uniform, kissing another detainee, identifying as gay, requesting an ankle brace—these are just some of the reasons Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have placed detained immigrants in solitary confinement.

ICE and Department of Homeland Security documents obtained by The Atlantic provide one of the clearest snapshots to date of what immigrant-rights advocates say is the agency’s excessive, arbitrary, and punitive use of this form of isolation

Anonymous IRS Whistleblower wins $11.5 million. 

The whistleblower provided information that led to the government collecting over $44.4 million in taxes, penalties, and interest in the case, according to a statement from Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto. Partner Stephen M. Kohn is the chair of the National Whistleblower Center.

Continue Reading Mistreated detainees, tax cheats, kickbacks and more whistleblower news of the week

Sen. Chuck Grassley believes the Department of Justice has moved to dismiss false claims cases without considering the merits or conducting cost-benefit analyses.

In a September 4 letter to Attorney General William Barr, Grassley writes that he is concerned about the DOJ’s “efforts to dismiss greater numbers of qui tam  (false claims) cases for reasons that appear primarily unrelated to the merits of individual cases. Those efforts rely at least in part on vague and at times questionable concerns over prerogatives or limited government resources to handle the cases.”

The Iowa Republican notes that such actions “could undermine the purpose of the False Claims Act by discouraging whistleblowers and dismissing potentially serious fraud on the taxpayers.”

Grassley and others have raised concerns about the increase in the DOJ’s motions dismiss cases brought on the government’s behalf. The change follows the emergence of the 2018 Granston memo, which recommended government dismissal of whistleblower cases that were costly or lacked merit. Continue Reading Grassley: Why is the Justice Department seeking dismissal of whistleblower lawsuits?

Search .edu sites for “whistleblower” and you get links to whistleblower reporting offices at universities. Search the academic literature and a robust body of whistleblower scholarship emerges.

For academics who want to add whistleblowing into their teaching, an Irish research team has set up a site to help. Led by Kate Kenny from NUI Galway, Ireland, the team offers videos, cases and slide shows. From their “Whistleblowing Impact” site.

We aim to change the terms of public debate on whistleblowing. There exists a persistent contradiction in how whistleblowers are perceived; on the one hand, they are acknowledged as a vital way in which corruption comes to light and yet, society does little to support the real-life struggles of the many whistleblowers who find themselves without a source of income and little prospect of finding work in their chosen career.

Our results provide empirical evidence that invites rethinking how we see and value whistleblowers, and how we can support them. Specific research questions included: 1) What are the costs of whistleblowing for those who leave their organization, both tangible and intangible? 2) What interventions can be developed that will provide support?, and 3) How can whistleblowing be reconceptualized in ways that emphasize the necessity of material and symbolic supports from society?

 

Continue Reading Whistleblower school: New data, videos and more for teachers

After losing a round in state Supreme Court, the Idaho State Police has reached a $1.3 million settlement with a whistleblower. From the Idaho Press:

Idaho State Police

It’s been almost four-and-a-half years since Brandon Eller, one of the state police’s crash reconstructionists, filed a lawsuit against the Idaho State Police in January 2015. Eller claimed the agency had retaliated against him after he testified against a Payette County Sheriff’s deputy, who was involved in a 2011 fatal crash while responding to a 911 call.

The deputy, for a time, faced a charge of felony vehicular manslaughter. Eller also took issue with a policy the agency had at the time, directing its troopers to destroy all but final versions of crash reconstruction reports.

Eller sued under whistleblower statutes, claiming the agency retaliated against him. In 2017, a jury awarded him $30,000 in economic damages under the state’s Protections of Public Employees Act. While ruled not eligible for non-economic damages under the whistleblower law, he was awarded $1.5 million for emotional distress. The court reduced that to claim to $1,000,000 because Idaho Tort Claims Act caps damages at $500,000 for each incident. In May, the justices rejected the lower court’s decision.

The Press reports that Eller still works for the ISP.

“I am thankful that my family and I can finally focus on our future with this case behind us,” Eller said in the press release. “Although this has been an extremely stressful undertaking, I close this chapter knowing that the jury’s verdict vindicated not just my rights, but the rights of every government employee in Idaho.”

The National Whistleblower Center was one of the groups filing an amicus curiae brief in the case.

The Boise News story on the case includes a response from the ISP, noting that while disappointed,  “we respect the legal process and the rights of our employees to pursue their legal rights.”

Resources:

While working as a translator for the a British spy agency, Katherine Gun leaked a government memo to the press. In doing so, she violated the country’s Official Secrets Act. The memo detailed a request for damaging information the UK and US wanted to use as leverage with UN Security Council members reluctant to vote for the 2003 Iraq war. “Official Secrets,”a movie documenting the case, opens today. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Knightly said they looked to the film “All the President’s Men” for inspiration. It shows, in a good way. While one of the more tense moments in that Watergate film involves a confusing phone conversation, in this one, drama emerges from a spell check error.

Below find comment from some of the players and reviews of the film.

Katherine Gun recalls her reaction to the memo in a Q&A with Salon:

This was literally right before Colin Powell’s speech at the UN [alleging that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction]. I got an email on the 31st of January, it was a Friday. The email was basically forwarded down to a whole group of analysts, and that was approximately 100 people or so, and I happened to be one of them. So it was an email from a guy called Frank Koza, he was the head of regional targets at NSA. It was basically a request from the NSA to GCHQ, it just said, “We want all the information you can gather on the personal or the domestic or office communications of the six delegates that were sitting on the UN Security Council, the swing nations.”…They wanted any information on these diplomats, and it said specifically, this is a quote, “the whole gamut of information that would give U.S. policymakers an edge in achieving goals favorable to the U.S.” So I was just stunned by this, you know? I was appalled and I was shocked.

Continue Reading “Official Secrets” opens today. Good reviews for Hollywood take on UK whistleblower