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Before You Blow the Whistle—Read This

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July 30 is National Whistleblower Day in the US


Washington, DC: Computer systems analyst and former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, unleashed an unprecedented volume of government secrets and became the world’s best-known whistleblower.

Some of the details of American security operations are simply embarrassing. In other cases, the activities are considered downright illegal.

Wikipedia defines a whistleblower as “a person who exposes misconduct, alleged dishonest or illegal activity occurring in an organization.” Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends. In some quarters, Snowden is considered a hero - in others, he’s a traitor in breach of trust.

“The Snowden situation is an aberration,” says Stephen Kohn, the Executive Director of the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) in Washington, DC, who probably knows more about whistleblowing than anyone on the planet.

“An employee like Snowden who goes outside his organization, and downloads all this information and takes it to the press, rather than going to a government agency,” says Kohn, “well, that’s an anomaly. That just doesn’t represent what usually happens in the US.”

Few canaries sing

Last year Congress voted to make July 30 National Whistleblower Day in the US.

Although some government officials would have preferred that Snowden kept the confidences he had access to, the fact is, in general, Congress does not like organizations, businesses and others that break the law.

The US government is keenly aware that most corporate wrongdoing goes unreported, and over the last 15 years, it deliberately strengthened the laws to protect and even encourage and reward whistleblowers.

According to statistics reviewed by the NWC, 70 percent of people who witness illegal activity in their organization either do nothing or report it only to a supervisor.

“If they are told to ‘do their job and shut up and just don’t get involved,’ the majority of employees back down at that point,” says Kohn.

“Only three percent will push on and go to the next level and the next level,” says Kohn. “Most try to get things resolved inside the country rather than taking it to the press or to a government entity.

“You have thousands of people every year who witness fraud and violations of the law and don’t report it,” says Kohn. “And if it doesn’t get reported, the bottom line becomes ‘crime pays.’ And that is a crisis in law enforcement.”

Whistleblowing is a risky business

Whistleblowing is a risky business, but Kohn and the NWC work hard to prepare and protect those who often say they simply feel compelled to the tell the truth.

“When a whistleblower comes to us at the NWC, we interview them and figure out what concern would offer them the most legal protection and precisely who you should tell,” says Kohn. “We can help the person make an educated decision about whether blowing the whistle is worth it.”

Kohn, an attorney who has been working with whistleblowers for decades, is the author of the Whistleblower’s Handbook, a project sponsored by 20 whistleblowers who wanted better resources for people who tell.

About 1,000 people a year contact the NWC and about 600 or 700 are then referred to the Center’s legal defense team.

“A lot of people just charge forward without understanding the tremendous implications of what they are putting at risk,” says Kohn, who is an attorney and has been working with whistleblowers for decades.

“The reward laws say that you can collect only if you win and there is a proven violation,” explains Kohn. “And it has to be so significant that the government stands to collect a significant amount of money. For example, in securities fraud cases, there must be a million-dollar sanction by the government before there is a payout to the whistleblower.

“Who you report to and how you express your concern become gigantic threshold issues,” says Kohn, who recommends that people contact the Center before they even contemplate singing like a canary.

Reward laws under attack

The laws that provide rewards to whistleblowers are relatively new. But already large business entities and business organizations like the American Chamber of Commerce are battling back.

The idea that the piper will likely have to be paid, plus the added pain of the loss of an organization’s reputation in the marketplace and with regulators, actually scares big organizations, unlike the previous set of laws that provided things like job re-instatement and back wages to legitimate informers.

“Under the reward laws, employees can make a lot of money by turning in wrongdoers. It is actually the best way for whistleblower law to alter the behavior of large institutions. They are afraid of the reward laws,” says Kohn.

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READER COMMENTS

Posted by

on
I am a Veteran and the VA screwed up my surgery and refused to help. I have Everything on Audio Tape. I filed a Tort claim and it was denied. The same people who ruined my life get to decide if they did anything wrong. That is the JOKE here. I can't find an Attorney to represent me because I didn't DIE. It is all about the money they all want the BIG cases with EASY money for them. Life isn't fair and he who does the SCREWING and has a big wallet wins. I wish a Comet would wipe out all HUMANS. WE are evil and greedy and all should not inhabit the earth.

Posted by

on
I suffered greatly. No one cared. I had an attorney that let me suffer. He sat back and did nothing while I was suspended, lowered my pay by thousands, after returning back, I was demoted, given a workload 3 times everyone else, my commissions were not paid to me, my sales were stolen by the group who was sabatoging my work, witnesses testified on my behalf, I was not paid on pay days,I was not paid my earned pay, i provided proof of the manipulated pay scale, I was put to work in inhumane conditions after returning, I lost my home I was renting for years due to no money, I knew nothing about whistleblowing until after the fact. I went to a lawyer who knew what I had yet sat it in a box for over 2 years. It has been over 3 years now, and I still cry almost every single day from what all of them did to me. I just wanted to work. I am a single mother who has struggled all her life. Thought God finally rewarded me with a great job, in my career that I went to school for while I was working two jobs, sacraficing my time away from my son. When it finally dawned on me what was going on, they figured out that I knew. My life became a living nightmare. I blew the whistle, and it was all down hill after that. I have not been able to over come everything they all did to me, I cry a lot. I don't go anywhere, I feel like I am being followed all the time, my financial life, that was finally starting to get better is now worse than before. I have nothing now. My son suffered right beside me. Sometimes I wish I was not here anymore. To think about all of them knowing what they were doing to me and they got away with it. There is no justice in justice. I think the whole world is corrupt. I am even starting to believe that even the agency who is to protect fraud is corrupt

Posted by

on
Hello,
my son was harrassed by 5 police officers in dothan al. They took turns dishing out illegal searches and harrassment tactics towards my son. I started recording all the interactions my son was having and took pictures on the scene. The police were searching his car and taking all his stuff out of the trunk. They ended up towing his vehicle and dented the front axle. I took pictures of these illegal searches. They had no warrant to enter his trunk. He gave no consent. My son suffered fines and mental agony and lost his job over this. I ended up telling the governor, attorney general and the law enforcement coordinator. We ended up getting retaliated over this. Yes We suffered emotional and mentally. So many people are be abused and harrassed by government officials that abuse their power. My son and I recieved no reward. He is still suffering the repercussions.

Posted by

on
As a whistle blower myself I can say the situation is so very complicated as to defy a simple solution. The entire corporate culture has taken covert steps to discourage any attempt for the whistle blower to survive economically. In my case I decided to leave the industry and start a farm. I was recalled when insurmountable problems at the corporation required participation, then fired AFTER my work was completed. Thinking my success would assure a successful job search I was disappointed when 5 years later I had NO replies from my 2000 resumes. Many years later I discovered my home was listed on the Megan's' law map as a convicted sex offender. NONSENSE. I have never had the slightest inclination for such activities and have never been arrested or even questioned for such an event. My letters/emails to the justice department to that effect, and even to my congressman Mike Thompson. have gone unanswered. all whistle blowers should be wary if no job offers are forthcoming,.

Posted by

on
I am a Whistle blower and have been for over 20 years. I have cost Corporations and Cities MILLIONS and my cost has been one hell of a price but I wouldn't change a thing because when you are right and you can prove you are right...and they know you are right...it is a good feeling changing that wrong to a right. I my case, the saving of human life and children from a environment that kills them has been my passion for the truth will save lives. Since 1999, when we the people of Libby Mt found out why we are all sick and dieing, 1200 were diagnosed with asbestos. In 2000, EPA came to town and declared Libby a Super Fund site and spent 17,000 to advertise Libby as a safe place to live and raise a family. A deadly lie. And since that day, I have been telling everyone who will listen to stay away from this death town as not is not safe to anything that breaths. Libby Mike Crill@ yahoo/Google is my site as a activist against those that did this to me and my family.We are fighting for our lives and the killing continues in the families they sell Libby to.Thank you and God Bless.

Posted by

on
Totally in support,, But we need an international whistleblower support system,, See if this one is the answer
http://www.tup.net.au/publications-new/In_the_Public_Interest.aspx

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