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The whistleblowers that GAP brings to classrooms through our American Whistleblower Tour include high-profile whistleblowers across all types of industry. These truth-tellers have spoken out about gross wrongdoing regarding food and drug safety, nuclear facilities, international finance, and the growing national security state, just to name a few areas. Tour staff work with campus hosts to find speakers appropriate for each event, budget and academic interest.
Notable whistleblowers who have participated include:
Eric Ben-Artzi chose in 2012 to publicly come forward with his evidence of multi-billion dollar securities violations at Deutsche Bank, the Germany-based global investment bank. While working there, he discovered and internally reported such violations stemming from the Bank's failure to accurately report the value of its credit derivatives portfolio. When he pressed his concerns further, he was retaliated against in multiple ways, and was eventually fired. Ben-Artzi's story led to a series of front-page investigative pieces by the Financial Times. Reports have shown that the Bank hid up to $2 billion in losses, that German regulators were briefed years ago about the problematic fraudulent activities and did nothing while the SEC investigated, and that independent experts in economics have backed Ben-Artzi's allegations. Ben-Artzi is believed to be one of the first whistleblowers to make his concerns public while engaged in the SEC whistleblower process under the new 'Dodd-Frank' regulations.
Kathryn Bolkovac is a former Nebraska police investigator who served as an International Police Task Force human rights investigator in Bosnia. Working for a private contracting firm assigned to support the UN peacekeeping mission in that country, she headed the gender affairs unit. The lack of proper training provided contractors sounded the first alarm bell, but once she arrived in Sarajevo Bolkovac found that things were much worse. She discovered that officers were involved in gross misconduct, including human trafficking and forced prostitution, and had connections to private mercenary contractors, the UN, and the U.S. State Department. After bringing her findings to light, she was retaliated against and fired. Fearing for her safety, she was forced to flee the country. With evidence she collected, Bolkovac was able to expose the unfathomable, gross violations, eventually winning a lawsuit against her employers.
Frank Casey was an equity specialist manager at Ramparts Investments (after working more than 24 years in the investment industry) when he discovered a money manager, Bernie Madoff, was generating a suspect 12 percent return for his investors. He took his findings to Harry Markopolos, who brought them to the SEC in 1999. The SEC declined to investigate despite several attempts over nine years to prompt their involvement; when Madoff was finally publicly exposed, about $50 billion had been lost by hundreds of investors. Casey, Harry Markopolos and Neil Chelo formed the core “Fox Hounds” team whose whistle blowing to the SEC on Madoff’s Ponzi is detailed in his coauthored book No One Would Listen and the documentary Chasing Madoff. Casey currently serves as a Board Member at the International Center for Financial and Corporate Ethics and Responsibility.
Thomas Drake is a former senior official of the National Security Agency (NSA) who was prosecuted under the Espionage Act for retaining classified information about a data collection program that was costly, threatening to Americans' privacy rights, and wholly undeveloped, despite the availability of a cost-effective, functional alternative that respected Americans' privacy. Drake was facing 10 felony counts and 35 years in jail. In June 2011, he agreed to a plea bargain arrangement, which stipulates no jail time or fines shall be imposed on him. Drake is the recipient of the 2011 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, regarded as the nation's highest honor that a whistleblower can receive.
Daniel Ellsberg, a former United States military analyst and government contractor, leaked a classified government study about the Vietnam War that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers to the media. Ellsberg’s whistleblowing led to protests, contributed to movement to force the resignation of Richard Nixon, and emboldened the news media when the Supreme Court decided against prior restraint in the case New York Times Co. v. United States. The Pentagon Papers demonstrated, among other things, that several presidential administrations had directly lied to Congress and the public about their intentions and actions in the Vietnam War.
Cathy Harris, a former senior inspector for the U.S. Customs Service (USCS) at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta (the busiest in the world), disclosed to the media the USCS practice of discriminatory racial profiling. She verified her suspicions that women of African descent were wrongfully targeted for detention and strip searches as possible drug couriers. In fact, only three percent of those women were actually carrying drugs, whereas drugs were found on 30 percent of white travelers who were detained and searched. Harris’s revelations resulted in a damning GAO study of USCS profiling practices, and federal legislation to reform these unconstitutional practices.
Phyllis McKelvey is a retired USDA chicken inspector who spent 44 years working in the poultry sector. Phyllis witnessed firsthand the dangers of an agency inspection model that, among other risks, allows only 1/3 second inspections for each bird. Her concern led her to start a petition asking the USDA to halt its plans, which gained more than 180,000 signatures.
Robert MacLean, a former Federal Air Marshal (FAM), successfully warned the media, the public and congressional officials of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plans to cancel FAM coverage amid confirmed warnings of an imminent al Qaeda hijacking plot in 2003. In 2006, when it learned that MacLean was the anonymous whistleblower, the TSA fired him for disclosing "Sensitive Security Information" (SSI), a pseudo-secrecy category issued at congressional direction. Through administrative appeals at the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), however, MacLean lost his contention that the WPA trumps agency gag rules for free speech rights – the law's basic principle for over 30 years. In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit restored the strength of the WPA by unanimously overturning the Board. The Supreme Court has accepted review of the case.
John Munsell, a small-business owner and meat grinder, reported that a giant packing company (ConAgra) was the source of E. coli-tainted meat at his plant. The USDA refused to investigate his claims, shutting down his grinder for four months instead, forcing him into near-bankruptcy. Munsell continued to spread the word about the tainted beef. His disclosures, along with deaths from the E. coli-tainted beef, spurred the recall of 19 million pounds of beef by ConAgra, one of the largest recalls in history (up to 80 percent of the potentially tainted shipment had already been consumed).
Scott Noble is a former investment adviser for Samex Capital Advisors and hedge fund general partner who was employed by Mr. Keenan Hauke, a frequent guest on Fox Business News, CNBC and Bloomberg Radio as an expert on investment issues. Over the course of his work, Noble discovered accounting irregularities amounting to more than $7 million in fraud, and in April of 2011, Noble reported his findings to the SEC and Indiana’s Secretary of State Securities Division. Noble’s disclosures resulted in Mr. Hauke being convicted of securities fraud, for which he was ordered to pay $7.1 million in restitution and sentenced to ten years in federal prison. After making his disclosures, Noble suffered financially and found himself unable to continue a career in finance. Noble has since returned to his prior area of expertise, software engineering.
Jon Oberg, while working at the Department of Education as a researcher in 2003, discovered that student loan lenders were fraudulently exploiting a generous government subsidy on certain loans that would guarantee a return rate of 9.5 percent. When he raised the issue with department officials, he was instructed to not investigate the issue further. On his own time, he researched the payments and reported them to Congress, which in 2004 ended the payments prospectively, saving taxpayers billions of dollars. In 2007, Dr. Oberg sued the loan companies under the False Claims Act after the Department of Education failed to seek compensation for the illegal excess subsidies. Three years later, the Department of Justice announced it had settled four of the cases brought by Dr. Oberg for over $57 million.
Jesselyn Radack served as an Ethics Advisor in the Department of Justice. In 2001, she learned that FBI agents sought to interrogate “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh. Because Lindh was represented by counsel, she advised the agents they could not conduct the interrogation. They did so anyway. As a result, she correctly advised them that the Lindh testimony was inadmissible in a legal proceeding. When Attorney General John Ashcroft erroneously maintained in public that the seriously injured Lindh had waived his right to legal counsel before speaking with the FBI, Radack’s advice was reported in the news media. Currently, Radack is GAP’s National Security & Human Rights Director.
Dr. Kunal Saha, an internationally recognized HIV/AIDS researcher and patients-rights advocate, in 2007 called attention to the use of defective blood testing equipment by a World Bank-funded health care project designed to combat HIV/AIDS in India. Dr. Saha discovered that corporate, Indian government and World Bank authorities had been advised as early as 2004 that the kits produced “false negative” results, meaning that HIV-infected blood was often approved for use in hospitals.
Frank Serpico joined the New York City Police Department in 1959 at the age of 23. He was a police officer for 12 years, and during his last several years on the force, his attempts to report police corruption to his superiors in the department fell on deaf ears. Serpico ultimately decided to go to The New York Times, which published an exposé on police corruption in the NYPD. Serpico was shot in the face during a "buy and bust” operation in 1971, and nearly died. Many people believe that Serpico was set up by the police in order to silence him. Later that year, he testified in front of the Knapp Commission, which was appointed by Mayor John Lindsey to investigate pervasive police corruption. His story was the subject of the film Serpico, starring Al Pacino.
Jack Spadaro has dedicated 40 years of his professional life to mine safety, and today he is among the nation's leading experts on coal waste safety and disposal. Spadaro headed the National Mine Safety and Health Academy when the Martin County Coal Slurry Spill occurred in October 2000, spilling 300 million gallons of coal slurry into 100 miles of streams in Kentucky and West Virginia. The disaster polluted waterways and the drinking supply, killed all life forms in the streams for 100 miles, and affected 27,000 people. Spadaro participated in the federal investigation of that disaster and found evidence that Massey Energy – the owner and operator of the impoundment dam – had prior knowledge of problems with the mine. When the George W. Bush administration took office in January 2001, however, Spadaro's team was told to stop, and repeated interference weakened the report. Spadaro refused to sign off on the erroneous report and resigned his position before going public with his evidence of gross wrongdoing.
Wilma Subra received a MacArthur Genius Award in 1999 and has nearly 50 years of experience in the fields of chemistry, toxicology and microbiology. Immediately following the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010, Subra found evidence of serious health risks for clean-up workers and Gulf Coast residents from crude oil, aerosol forms of oil, and the dispersant used on the spill. Subra also found grossly inadequate training for workers and warning of residents by the government and BP about the risks. After the courts ordered BP to provide cleanup workers with adequate protection and training – orders BP failed to respect – she secured proper equipment for the workers to use themselves. Subra's work has contributed to the public’s knowledge of problems concerning the clean-up. Specifically, she has chronicled the devastating long-term effects on human health and the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico stemming from the widespread use of a toxic dispersant named Corexit.
Thomas M. Tamm was a well-regarded Justice Department attorney in the Capital Cases Unit who, in 2003, transferred to the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), perhaps the most sensitive unit within the Justice Department. While working there, Tamm became aware of a program that bypassed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court in an arrangement where only the Attorney General would sign certain wiretap requests, without review by the 11-member court. After Tamm’s inquiries about the program repeatedly ran into walls of silence, he contacted The New York Times, which in 2005 ran an explosive Pulitzer Prize- winning cover story about the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The program was in fact part of wide-ranging covert surveillance activities authorized by President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. Although the law creating the FISA court made it a federal crime for any official to engage in such surveillance without following strict rules, including court approval, it was Tamm who became a target of law enforcement officials. In August of 2007, Tamm’s home was raided by 18 FBI agents, executing a search warrant looking for the source of leaks to The New York Times. He was the subject of a federal criminal investigation that lasted over six years. As the result of these events, he received the 2009 Ridenour Truth-Telling Award.
Walt Tamosaitis was the Deputy Chief Process Engineer and Research & Technology Manager for the Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Eastern Washington. He was terminated from the project in July 2010 by Bechtel after he raised safety concerns about issues that would impact the overall safety and operation of the plant. The WTP, being built by the Bechtel and URS Corporations for the Department of Energy-owned Hanford site, is a $2.2 billion project intended to process much of the 50+ million gallons of toxic and radioactive waste at Hanford for permanent disposal. Tamosaitis was removed from the project and reassigned to an office in a basement copy room after raising technical concerns about safety and operations. Numerous investigations by independent federal agencies have found that safety culture problems are widespread at Hanford and that employees are afraid to raise technical and safety concerns about the project. The project was originally to cost $4.6B and start up in 2008. Current estimates indicate a cost of over $20B and start up in 2022. Tamosaitis has filed both State and Federal law suits.
Sherron Watkins was Vice President of Corporate Development at Enron. She is considered by many to be the whistleblower who helped to uncover the Enron scandal in 2001, as she alerted then-CEO Ken Lay to accounting irregularities within the company, warning him that Enron ‘might implode in a wave of accounting scandals.’ She later testified before congressional committees investigating Enron’s demise. Watkins was named one of Time Magazine's 2002 Persons of the Year.
Michael Winston was a high-level executive at Countrywide Financial tasked with helping it develop better managers to grow the company. When Moody's Investors Services, a credit rating company, expressed concern about Countrywide's succession planning and other governance issues, Winston was asked to write a report to allay Moody's concerns. However, Winston had seen no succession plan, nor knew if one even existed. He refused to write the report and soon afterward his budget was frozen and his duties severely curtailed. When Bank of America took over Countrywide in 2008, he was fired. His story was detailed in a New York Times story.
Dr. Susan Wood served as FDA Assistant Commissioner for Women’s Health for five years. When she concluded in 2005 that Bush administration politics was tying up the approval of Plan-B, not the safety or efficacy of this “morning-after pill,” she resigned and spoke our forcefully that FDA science was being held captive by the “pro-life movement.” Following her resignation, Wood traveled around the country, sharing her story and voicing her concerns over the state of public health policy. Currently, Wood is a Research Professor at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services.