Cisco Systems apparently doesn't like whistleblowers. As in really doesn't like. A story emerged today (the Vancouver Sun first broke the story last month) that reads like an Alfred Hitchcock movie script: regular guy gets caught up in corporation's nefarious plots.
Our Cary Grant in this story is Peter Adekeye, a former executive for Cisco and founder of Multiven, an Internet infrastructure maintenance service, and Pingsta, a cloud software and services provider.
In 2008, Adekeye, a British citizen, had moved back to Britain and eventually to Zurich, Switzerland. Later that year, he filed a civil suit against Cisco, alleging that Cisco's forced maintenance contracts for Cisco products hurt competition and consumers. Essentially, these contracts forced customers to go back to Cisco for any repairs instead of being able to use outside servicing.
That's when all the trouble started. Adekeye wanted to return to the United States in order to participate in the case. He was denied entry. Several times. Finally, the two sides agreed to meet in Vancouver, Canada. Turns out that before they even met, Cisco had filed a criminal complaint against Adekeye, claiming he had illegally accessed their computer network. They convinced U.S Homeland Security authorities that he was "a 'sinister' Nigerian on the run from 97 charges of illegal computer hacking." Homeland Security, in turn, told the Canadian authorities.
Not only was Adekeye wrongfully arrested then (in Canada), he was arrested while giving a deposition in his civil case against Cisco. And it was filmed. Seriously. Watch:
The people insisting Adekeye's situation with the police stay on the record? That's Cisco's lawyers, obviously relishing their good luck. Too bad it was manufactured.
Two months after his arrest, Cisco settled with Adekeye's company, Multiven. Details of the settlement are unknown, but Adekeye won. Cisco stopped its harmful contract practices and dropped the illicit computer access charge against him.
Oddly, it wasn't until nine months later that a Canadian judge halted his extradition proceedings – a judge who was very angry at these abuses of the process (not unlike the recent Tom Drake sentencing). The judge was quite clear:
Here we have a man who has no criminal record, who made every possible effort to comply with US immigration laws and procedures, but who dared to take on a multinational giant, rewarded with criminal charges that have been so grotesquely inflated as to make the average well-informed member of the public blanche at the audacity of it all.
It bodes well that Adekeye won in the end, but how much of his life was ruined in the process?
Cisco settled and dropped charges, so they obviously felt going to trial would not be favorable for them in either case. The question remains, then, why do it in the first place? This whole mess (and PR disaster for Cisco) could have been easily avoided. If Cisco had just settled earlier, this case would not have garnered the attention it did. It sure seems that a top priority was to scare off future whistleblowers/litigants.
And still, some people decry the need for whistleblower protection. It boggles the mind.
Hannah Johnson is the Communications Fellow for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.