I'm attending three days of whistleblower conferences and activities. Why? Because a few years ago, when I was naive about the state of whistle blowing in the U.S., Opednews.com received a flurry of article submissions by whistleblower Jim Murtagh, M.D..
I checked in with him and ended up inviting him to become the Opednews.com whistleblower editor. Since then, Opednews has become the go-to place for whistleblowers. That started ME on a road to learning a lot more about whistleblowers.
i learned what it takes to become a whistleblower. You see something wrong, dishonest, corrupt, criminal, unjust. You go to your supervisor. He or she ignores you. Maybe one out of two or four would do that. After you are ignored you go back a second time. Maybe one out of five would do that. You're still ignored, or worse, are told to mind your own business, that you could lose your job.
Maybe one out of a hundred, by then, will go to a higher level supervisor. The same process happens again-- ignored, rebuffed, threatened. Maybe one in a thousand, maybe 10,000 finally go all the way down the road of the whistleblower to blow the whistle to a level where waves are really made.
Becoming a whistleblower is often, perhaps usually a life devastating decision and experience. Once you take the big step, the powers that be align their forces against you. They try to ruin your life, threaten you and your family, do all they can to destroy you, your future ability to work, to hold a job, to have credit. I have heard accounts of this experience again and again from the whistleblowers I've met.
Yesterday, a panel at the International Whistleblowers Association meeting (one of the few organizations run and operated by whistleblowers,) had four empty chairs. They represented whistleblowers who were dead or jailed, who could not appear themselves.
Four Empty Chairs, with whistleblower Martin Salazar, under House arrest, on Skype.
One chair had a computer screen with a skyped in speaker, Department of Energy former employee, Martin Salazar, who is under house arrest. He told his story, which he alleged, as so often happens to whistleblowers, involved betrayal, (by the federal government) witness perjury, breaking deals.
Salazar told the story of discovering that the US had equipment used for manufacturing of nuclear weapons that was on loan to other countries... and it was unaccounted for, missing.
He reported that he was asked to retire, was given an offer to stay on the books for a year and a half so he could retire with full benefits. The week after he received his first retirement check, he was arrested. The government used perjured testimony, withheld vital evidence, he claimed.
Salazar cited fellow whistleblower Don Soekken, in bodily attendance at the meeting (remember Salazar was skyped in) who said that he was a "political prisoner. "
Salazar also gave his take on judges: " We all think the constituents are the people of the US but they really are the people who help them get jobs after they leave their positions in the court."
The next empty chair was dedicated to Bradley Birkenhead. He was represented in the meeting by Richard Renner, legal director for the National Whistleblower Center. He told the story:
Brad Birkenfeld-- was working for UBS-- and he became aware bank managers were helping people in the US evade taxes. He discovered top UBS managers wanted the program to continue because they were making money on it. Brad became the first international banker to break the secrets of Swiss banking. His whistle blowing brought an end to UBS tax fraud scheme. Some tax evaders were put in jail for a few months. But Brad was sentenced to over 40 months in jail and he's now spent more time than all the people who were convicted based on his whistle blowing."
The next empty chair represented Mordechai Vanunu. There was no-one to speak for him so I stood up. I've gotten to know about his story since opednews.com writer Eileen Fleming has been writing about and advocating for Vanunu for at least four years. Vanunu was the whistleblower who exposed the fact that the Israelis had build nuclear weapons. He's been jailed or under house arrest for at least two decades. I'm sure Eileen will add more about him in the comments.
The final empty chair represented Karen Silkwood, made famous by a movie starring Meryl Streep. Silkwood blew the whistle on dangers in a nuclear energy facility. She paid with her life. T om Devine, legal director, Government Accountability Project (GAP) talked about Silkwood, observing " She paid the price (death) that is common for whistleblowers in other nations. They have their houses burned down, people attacking them, members of their families threatened, many of them are people who are killed."
I was on the next panel, on social media, with one of Opednews' managing editors Joan Brunwasser, who has interviewed many whistleblowers, Jesselyn Radack, a whistleblower who is also a blogger, and Shanna Devine, communications director for GAP. We discussed how to use blogging, twitter, the new media to get the word out-- a great challenge to whistleblowers who are often ignored by the mainstream media, or worse, maligned and mistreated because the MSM only tells the side of the organizations they are blowing the whistle against.
One whistleblower told me that he discovered, through review of records that came out in court, that millions had been spent to defame his reputation and destroy his ability to get a job. Apparently, this is not an uncommon tactic.
The meeting, organized by James Murtagh, was aimed at establishing an organization of, by and for whistleblowers. At the end of the meeting several motions to plan future meetings and related plans were voted on.
Today, I'll be attending a meeting organized by GAP.
One last thing. Back before I got to know the whistleblower community I assumed that whistleblowers were waiting to report on the corruption of the Bush administration. Eventually I learned that thousands of whistleblowers had indeed filed reports with the Department of Justice but the DOJ had sandbagged them, failing to act on almost all of them.
Since Obama has taken office, most whistleblowers say his administration and his DOJ treat whistleblowers worse than any previous president. I mentioned this in a diary I posted yesterday and reasonably, one commenter, Fannie, challenged me on it.
I asked two OEN writers to respond-- Jesselyn Raddack happened to be sitting next to me at the conference when I saw the comment, so I asked her to respond. Here's what she wrote; " Obama has brought more prosecutions against whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than any previous president and ALL PRESIDENTS combined."
And Jerry Policoff, the person who'd given me that statistic in the first place, commented, titling his comment, Obama's War on Whistleblowers:
I am Rob's "source" for his statement that "Obama administration has been harder on whistleblowers than all the previous presidents combined."
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Rob Kall is executive editor, publisher and website architect of OpEdNews.com, Host of the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show (WNJC 1360 AM), and publisher of Storycon.org, President of Futurehealth, Inc, and an inventor . He is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com
Listen to over 200 of Rob's Podcast interviews here.
Rob is, with Opednews.com the first media winner of the Pillar Award for supporting Whistleblowers and the first amendment.
With his experience as architect and founder of a technorati top 100 blog, he is also a new media / social media consultant and trainer for corporations, non-profits, entrepreneurs and authors.
Rob is a frequent Speaker on the bottom-up revolution, politics, The art, science and power of story, heroes and the hero's journey and Positive Psychology. He is a campaign consultant specializing in tapping the power of stories for issue positioning, stump speeches and debates, and optimizing tapping the power of new media. Watch me speaking on Bottom up economics at the Occupy G8 Economic Summit, here.
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