In Hollywood, everyone loves a whistleblower. Actress Meryl Streep played one early in her career in Silkwood, and she plays one again in The Laundromat. The film offers a goofy take on what became known as The Panama Papers, an international expose of the offshore finance industry.

During the publicity tours for the film, Streep speaks in support of whistleblowers. At the opening, Streep said:

The reason this, the Panama Papers, was exported to the world was because of the work of over 300 investigative journalists who got the word of John Doe, the whistleblower … out into the world,” Streep said. “Some people died for it … And people die still to get the word out. This movie is fun, it’s funny, but it’s really, really, really important.


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first amendment government employeesBack in the day, a reporter could call someone at an institution or government agency, do an interview and write a story. Those days are long gone. All inquiries now get sent straight to the press office. Frequently, the response is an anemic written statement.

Understandably, organizations want to control their message. But what rights do government employees have to speak publicly – to the press or otherwise? And how do whistleblowers protection rules dictate what an employee can disclose to the public?

Two pieces out this week talk about free speech rights for government employees. The Poynter Institute, a journalism training center, highlights a new report from the University of Florida on the first amendment and public employees right to speak to the media.

Note that whistleblowers protection rules sometime sometimes dictate whether it is wise for a whistleblower.
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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.


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Dennis Gentilin of Macquarie University writes that whistleblowing will always take a toll, but it need not be career suicide. From The Conversation, which promises “academic rigor, journalistic flair.” 

As strange as it might sound, whistleblowers in Australia have reason to rejoice – so long as they are in the private sector.

Thanks to new laws that came into effect this month, private-sector whistleblowers have a range of new protections. This includes, in certain prescribed circumstances, the prospect of being compensated if they experience adverse outcomes after taking their concerns to the the media.

The timing is ironic, given last month Australia’s federal police launched raids on journalists and media outlets who received and published disclosures from public-sector whistleblowers. If identified and prosecuted, those whistleblowers could face lengthy prison sentences.
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Do not underestimate Army Corp of Engineers whistleblower Bunny Greenhouse. A stern, elegant woman who favors sprawling floral lapel pins, she could be mistaken for the schoolteacher she once was. And, don’t think that time and retirement have tempered Greenhouse. The woman who objected to no-bid contracts for Iraq War contractors still has something to say.

Tonight, Friday June 28, the CBS show “Whistleblowers” includes a segment on her story as part of the last episode of the season. The program also includes an interview with Michael D. Kohn, a board member of the National Whistleblower Center and one of Greenhouse’s lawyers.

Bunny Greenhouse

“I never considered myself as a whistleblower,” she tells host Alex Ferrer. “I was doing the work I had taken the oath of office to do. But I still became the skunk in the park.”

Bunnatine Greenhouse was in charge of procurement for the Army Corps of Engineers and she took her job seriously. In 2003, she objected to a secret, no-bid contract guaranteeing Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root, billions of dollars for services related to the invasion of Iraq. Unsatisfied with the response to questions she raised, she took her concerns to Congress in 2005. Thus began a long battle between Greenhouse and the Corps. She was demoted, her glowing job evaluations turned sour and she was sidelined.

Still, she tells Ferrer: “I learned to not let fear paralyze me.”
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Four years after the Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed take steps to streamline the FBI whistleblower program, the agency has not taken action, according to a program review.

The Government Accountability Office issued recommendations in 2015 to make improvements like shortening the time it takes to process whistleblower complaints.

So far, the agency has not:
  • Clarified regulations
  • Given complainants timeframes for returning decisions
  • Developed an oversight mechanism to ensure compliance with requirements
  • Assessed the impact of efforts to reduce the duration of complaints or requirements


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The New York Times was blunt in its series on crime at sea: “Few places on the planet are as lawless as the high seas, where egregious crimes are routinely committed with impunity.”

Whistleblowers are key to exposing those crimes, including illegal dumping from ships, according speakers at a Tuesday webinar broadcast from Washington. The panel looked at the role private citizens and whistleblowers play in the detecting off-shore crimes, including those that violate a law known as the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS).

“Enforcing, let alone detecting violations on the open ocean– with how vast it is — is just inherently difficult,” said Anton DeStefano, Lieutenant Commander of the U.S Coast Guard’s environmental law division. He noted that he was speaking for himself, not the agency.


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Estonian Financial Supervision Authority logo
Seal of the Estonian EBFS

Danske Bank has been ordered to close its troubled Estonian branch before the end of 2019.  Estonian regulators noted on February 19 that the bank violated anti-money laundering regulations for many years by allowing high-risk money-laundering clients to make suspicious transactions through the bank.

In addition, they stated that Danske Bank misled the Estonian public authorities by providing them with inadequate information and thus actually hampered their investigation, according to a statement from the Estonian Board of Financial Supervision.

Danske Bank announced the same day that it is also closing banks in Latvia and Lithuania and Russia.

In a related move, the European Union Banking Authority has opened a formal investigation “into a possible breach of Union law by the Estonian Financial Services Authority and the Danish Financial Services Authority in connection with money laundering activities linked to Danske Bank and its Estonian branch in particular.”

Here’s a roundup of reaction and reporting:

“This is a lesson to corporate banks. Danske Bank made a grave error when it forced Mr. Wilkinson to sign a restrictive non-disclosure agreement, instead of working with Mr. Wilkinson in trying to fix the problems,” according to a statement from Kohn.
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On January 17, 2017, the SEC issued its latest sanction, a $340,000 penalty against BlackRock Inc., (NYSE: BLK — the world’s largest investment management firm) for interfering with the right of its employees to obtain whistleblower rewards under the SEC’s Dodd-Frank Act whistleblower reward program. SEC Rule 21F-17 was adopted in response to the whistleblower reward provisions found in the Dodd-Frank Act. Rule 21F-17 forbids a covered employer from taking “any action to impede an individual from communicating directly with the Commission staff about a possible securities law violation.”
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