Frederic Whitehurst and other famous U.S.
whistleblowers are donating a book their lawyer wrote on how to do it
right to libraries across the country.
had no idea what being a whistleblower entailed. He simply became
outraged when he witnessed a colleague in the FBI laboratory giving
misleading testimony in a criminal case two decades ago. So the
supervisory agent decided to speak up, telling the defense experts about
cost him nearly a decade of his career, almost all his life savings,
severally emotionally draining internal investigations, the humiliation
of a psychiatric exam, and an epic legal fight with the bureau. But the
proudly stubborn Vietnam veteran persevered and ultimately prevailed in
forcing sweeping ethical and scientific reforms at the vaunted FBI crime
lab that began in the 1990s and still reverberate today.
And while he'd do it all again,
Whitehurst doesn't want future whistleblowers to make the same mistakes
he did. That's why he and 19 other of America's most famous corporate
and government muckrakers of the last quarter century have banded
together this month to donate thousands of copies of a book by their
lawyer, Stephen Kohn, to libraries across America.
Their goal is to give the next
generation of American whistleblowers a roadmap, a virtual how-to guide
to ensure they can call out wrongdoing successfully, be protected from
the customary retributions, and maybe even cash in on False Claim Act
awards that can reach into the millions of dollars.
"I was stupid," Whitehurst told Newsweek
in an interview last week. "I thought if you just spoke up about
something wrong, people would run to fix it. If you are going to do
this, you can't dump your allegation in someone else's lap. You have to
be right there and fight."
Whitehurst learned the lessons of
whistleblowing the hard way, waiting to get legal help until the FBI had
already asked him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation in an effort to
discredit him. By that time, he had tangled with his supervisors, became
persona non grata inside the bureau's crime lab, and been put under
investigation for various rules and regulations infractions.
"One of biggest things I did wrong
is lose my temper. My adversaries, they knew my buttons to push and they
pushed them," he says. "If you are going to blow the whistle you have
to have an attorney. You have to have mental, physical, and legal
support for what lies ahead of you. And you have to be surrounded by a
team. You can't do it by yourself."
Whitehurst's advice is echoed by
two dozen other famous whistleblowers, such as Bunnatine "Bunny"
Greenhouse, the former Army Corps of Engineers whistleblower who won a
$970,000 award in July, nearly a decade after exposing Pentagon
contracting irregularities involving Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, Halliburton, and Aaron Westrick, who brought to light the sale of defective bulletproof vests to police departments.
All are using their own money to buy copies of Kohn's book, The Whistleblower's Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What's Right and Protecting Yourself ,
and donating them to libraries around the country. They want to inspire
Americans to blow the whistle on the next Enron-sized corporate fraud, a
potentially devastating nuclear- or drug-safety issue, or the ethical
transgressions of a government leader-but to do it in a way that saves
them some of the heartache the original group endured.
"Employees need to know their
rights when they insist that powerful special interests follow the
laws," Greenhouse says. "I hope that employees of every defense
contractor use the book to ensure that taxpayers are not robbed by
The whistleblowers' common link is
Kohn, a scrappy lawyer who founded the National Whistleblower Center in
Washington in the 1980s, when the practice wasn't yet fashionable, and
pressed each of their cases to the maximum in the courts of law and
Today, Kohn is a feared litigator
in government and corporate circles, who wins three quarters of the
cases he brings on behalf of aggrieved whistleblowers. He has secured
millions of dollars in settlements for his clients, and his cases have
saved taxpayers at least $5 billion in waste, fraud, and abuse, while
prompting reforms in areas as diverse as Pentagon procurement and FBI
Kohn has reviewed thousands of
potential whistleblower claims and was struck by how many he rejected
over the years. "So many, by the time they are done telling their story,
I already know they lost their case," Kohn says. "They made some
technical blunder or let the statute of limitations expire or went to
the wrong office to report the wrongdoing."
So he decided to take his two
decades of experience and put it into a book. He didn't expect a
bestseller. He simply wanted to catch the attention of people aware of
wrongdoing who might be contemplating blowing the whistle and let them
know the dos and don'ts.
"With whistleblowers, if they lose
their case, they lose their credibility, and that means they can't fix
the wrong they want to right," he says. "So this really is about citizen
empowerment. Where do people go and what can they do to make change and
have a major impact when they know of something wrong."
Since the book was published this spring, Kohn has seen whistleblowing complaints to his center double to as many as 10 a day.
Their goal is to give the next generation of American whistleblowers a roadmap.
The book is filled with great
anecdotes from his and other epic whistleblowing cases, along with lots
of technical advice, such as reminding federal employees they can't
legally remove government documents from the office-but they can make a
diary of what documents prove wrongdoing, which can be handed later to
investigators or a court.
It also stresses that the new
Dodd-Franks financial-reform law gives whistleblowers new freedom to
submit allegations for investigation anonymously, protecting them from
initial retributions that so often discourage people from coming
forward. And it notes that there are upward of 50 laws under which
whistleblowers can bring claims, four of which offer potential cash
awards. Kohn makes no apologies for stressing the financial incentives.
"Whistleblowing is the No. 1 source
of fraud detection worldwide," Kohn says. "Exposing misconduct isn't
automatic. You have to have a program to get employees to step forward,
and that's what financial rewards can do."