Whistleblowers are traitors. There is no question that this is what most corporations and government entities think. It doesn’t matter if the target is a private corporation, such as Enron with whistleblower Sherron Watkins, a government entity such as the FDA with whistleblower David Graham or an entire country, such as President Putin’s Russia, which former Russian KGB agent and whistleblower Alexander Litvinenko harshly criticized.
All these entities react the same way: Shut down the whistleblower. Fire him, silence him, or kill him, whatever it takes.
It is no secret that former Enron CEO Ken Lay immediately contacted his lawyers and tried to come up with a way to fire Sherron Watkins after she wrote an e-mail warning him that “I am incredibly nervous that we will implode in a wave of accounting scandals.”
It is also no secret that the FDA brass tried to shut down David Graham. Dr. Graham said, “Prior to my Senate testimony in mid-November of 2004, there was an orchestrated campaign by senior level FDA managers to intimidate me so that I would not testify before Congress.”
Dr. Graham explained that this intimidation took several forms. The FDA tried to stop an article he wrote for the Lancet; they contacted Senator Grassley’s office and attempted to prevent him from calling Dr. Graham as a witness and his superiors even posed as whistleblowers and contacted Dr. Graham’s attorney and attempted to convince him that he should not represent Dr. Graham.
And as far as the ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko goes, we all know by now that he was poisoned in the U.K. with deadly polonium-210, which is extremely hard to come by unless you own a nuclear reactor. In fact, Polonium 210 is highly radioactive and extremely toxic. By weight, it is 250 million times as toxic as cyanide. This means a particle smaller than a dust mote could be fatal if ingested or inhaled. Polonium 210 destroys the internal organs, and death is slow, painful and sure. There is no antidote. No one knows for sure if Russia did this, but most observers have concluded that another former spy, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin probably knows who did it.
And Putin certainly had the motive. Back in 1998 Litvinenko accused his security bosses of ordering the murder of Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky. The tycoon fled to Britain, where Litvinenko soon followed, supported by Berezovsky. It didn’t help Litvinenko that he continued to openly criticize Russia and started to investigate the death of Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who also had been very critical of Putin. And it doesn’t help Russian President Putin that his critics appear to die like flies around him. Not that this means Mr. Putin did anything. He may just be a lucky guy, who happens to have short-lived critics.
Most noticeable, however, is the Russian media’s reaction. The Putin-controlled Russian television networks reported that Mr. Litvinenko did not die of poison, but of "intrigues" in the Russian exile community in London. Mr. Litvinenko was, according to Russian television, "a pawn in a game that he did not understand."
Reality is that most people never get into a situation such as the one Sherron Watkins, David Graham or Alexander Livinenko found themselves in. Most people silently agree to do whatever their company bosses, party bosses or government tells them to do, and look the other way when things get ugly. Commit a few illegal accounting tricks, fine. Let the public die because drugs are unsafe, no problem. Kill a big-mouth oligarch, hey if you’re in the KGB, that’s what you do, right? This is a great strategy for survival but it is certainly not a path to bravery.
In fact, Senator Grassley has repeatedly stated, “Whistleblowers are American heroes.” I’d only add that they are heroes wherever they appear. And especially today, with more and more rampant corruption we need more such heroes.
Because, as Edmund Burke said, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”