Many people consider whistleblowers as heroes while others look at them as traitors. The truth of the matter is, no matter what the context of the truths these whistleblowers expose, it is one of the riskiest and bravest actions any person can take. While some whistleblowers went on to be promoted and have high-paying careers, many of them went to jail or were ostracized or even forced to live in anonymity.
If a whistleblower is lucky, history will consider them a hero like a modern day David attempting to bring down a Goliath. But most of the time, they are seen as traitors whose future is bleak and sees a long prison sentence. Here we will look back on some of our history’s most notorious whistleblowers and the different destinies each of them faced because of their courageous acts.
12. Chelsea Manning: Iraq War Logs
Chelsea Elizabeth Manning is an American Army soldier who was convicted by the court-martial in July 2013, of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses, after revealing to WikiLeaks nearly three-quarters of a million classified, or unclassified but sensitive, military and diplomatic documents and military intelligence.
Chelsea was born Bradley Edward Manning, who was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, was an intelligence analyst who published the information to WikiLeaks in 2010. The leaks included videos of the 2012 airstrike in Baghdad, a 2009 Granai airstrike in Afghanistan, over 251,000 diplomatic cables, and over 480,000 Army reports known as the Iraq War Logs. Manning was sentenced to a 35-year term in a maximum security prison although her sentence was commuted by President Obama on January 17, 2017.
11. Linda Tripp: Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal
Linda Tripp is a former U.S. civil servant who earned national fame when she blew the whistle on the perjury of Monica Lewinsky and the misconduct of Bill Clinton during the Paula Jones civil rights lawsuit.
The Clinton Administration countered against Linda Tripp, which turned into a successful lawsuit against the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice, who released information from her security and employment files to the news media. The action was done in strict violation of the Privacy Act of 1974, and Linda settled with the government in 2003. She received back pay, as well as a retroactive promotion, and was finally cleared to become an employee of the federal government again.
10. Daniel Ellsberg: The Pentagon Papers
Daniel Ellsberg is an activist and a former military analyst who was an employed by the RAND Corporation and became famous for the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The reports contained valuable information about a top-secret Pentagon study of U.S. government decision-making about the Vietnam War, to The New York Times and other newspapers.
He was charged under the Espionage Act of 1917 in addition to other charges of theft and conspiracy with a possible maximum sentence of 115 years. Luckily, due to misconduct and the illegal obtainment of information, all charges were dismissed on May 11, 1973. He continues his political activism to this day giving lectures all over the country.
9. Frank Serpico: NYPD Corruption
Frank Serpico is a retired New York officer who became the first NYPD officer to expose and speak out against police corruption back in the 1960s and 1970s that urged Mayor John V. Lindsay to designate the landmark Knapp Commission to investigate the NYPD. The act amounted to payoffs totaling in millions of dollars.
He was well-known for his testimony before the Knapp Commission saying, “I was made to feel that I had burdened them with an unwanted task. The problem is that the atmosphere does not yet exist… in which an honest police officer can act… without fear of ridicule or reprisal from fellow officers.” Frank Serpico’s story was turned into a movie in 1973 starring Al Pacino.