BRADENTON -- They have been labeled traitors, informants and more often dismissed as disgruntled employees; what they are is "whistleblowers." Once seen as a moral act, which also provided cost-saving scrutiny, whistleblowers now live in a shoot the messenger culture that sees bad news as taboo. The price of that abasement will forever haunt our freedom and our wallets.
Not Just Whistling Dixie
The False Claims Act, also known as the "Lincoln Law," was enacted during the Civil War to prevent fraud by companies who were willingly supplying the Union Army with damaged goods. The statute, passed by Congress in 1863, contained the "qui tam" provision (he who brings an action for the king as well as for himself), allowing private citizens to sue on the government's behalf.
Under the False Claims Act, "realtors," now known as whistleblowers, were entitled to receive 50 percent of the monetary penalty the government imposed for each Lincoln Law violation. In 1943, Congress revised the qui tam provision, reducing the reward, which in turn reduced the number of fraud reports.
In 1986, the False Claim Act was amended, allowing private attorneys to assist whistleblowers and redeem 15 to 30 percent of the settlement as a recovery award. Since then, qui tam cases have climbed to over 6,000 while yielding record penalties.
As the country grew, so did its government and the corporations they did business with. There was no problem going after someone who sold guns to the army that were missing the firing pins, or pushing bogus bonds to the elderly, but as the saying goes, don't bite the hand that feeds you. Consequently, felony charges have become selective.
Corporate officers that engage in fraud and profiteering seldom see a pair of handcuffs, but that's not the case for those that blow the whistle on them. Even though legal recourse is in place for someone who has information about felony crimes, quite often the accuser is the one who ends up in jail.
Too Big to Arrest
When big pharma, big banks or military contractors commit crimes, whistleblowers are often the reason we find out about it. Yet, revealing information is frequently met with an arrest and the threat of a long prison term. Law enforcement has thrown the little guy under the bus too often, rather than attempt the prosecution of a powerful corporate executive.
In the case of Julia Davis, she filed a lawsuit against her employer, the Department of Homeland Security, after the DHS falsely imprisoned her twice, conducted numerous investigations against her and performed a Blackhawk helicopter raid on her home. All of this occurred because she reported a breach of national security that exposed southern California's vulnerability for attack at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the largest land border crossing in the world.
After first assaulting Davis' creditability, DHS finally settled the suit brought against them by Davis and her family in 2010. CBS later reported that information found in Bin Laden's compound revealed a 4th of July plan to attack Los Angeles, N.Y., Chicago and D.C., which lent some credence to Davis' concerns.
Brad Birkenfeld worked for Switzerland's largest bank, UBS. He exposed a multi-billion dollar international tax fraud scandal shortly after registering as an IRS whistleblower. It involved hundreds of billions of dollars (over 17,000 accounts) being hidden from IRS detection, largely by corporations and very wealthy individuals in the U.S. and U.K.
Birkenfeld was arrested for violating banking laws and was sentenced to 40 months at a federal prison in Pennsylvania. He is the only U.S. citizen to be sentenced for the scandal. At first, it was a secret to which wealthy Americans benefited from these tax evasion tactics, possibly because an unspecified number of the account holders were found to be U.S. Congressional leaders and other politicians.
Shortly before Eric Holder accepted President Obama's offer to head the office of the Attorney General, he was legal council for UBS. It is also important to know that UBS's President, Robert Wolf, is not only one of Obama's golfing buddies, but one of his largest campaign contributors. Birkenfeld is scheduled to be released November 29, 2012.
Karen Silkwood discovered numerous health violations, including exposure to high levels of nuclear contamination, while working at the Kerr-McGee nuclear power plant. She was considered to be America's first nuclear power whistleblower. After much industry and government harassment, Silkwood died in a mysterious automobile accident on the way to provide documentation of safety violations to a New York Times reporter. Her case was highlighted in the movie Silkwood.
Paul Jayko lost his position at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency after exposing that public schools were being built on contaminated land and causing a high occurrence of cancer. Following a highly-contested trial that paraded Jayko's actions as criminal, he finally won his job back, but lost plenty in the process.
Cutting off the knows to save face.
Daniel Ellsberg blew the whistle on U.S. Government misconduct in the Vietnam War by leaking the "Pentagon Papers." His disclosures are credited as a major factor in ending the war. But not until he was charged with espionage, browbeaten through a trial as a traitor and made to live in constant fear of a prison sentence.
Ellsberg set the benchmark for how far and to what ends government would go to protect their Military Industrial Complex (MIC). Ellsberg worked for the RAND Corporation, a paramount player in defense contracting. His conscience wouldn't allow him to sit back and watch the MIC design further war operations, while RAND and other contractors secretly admitted the U.S would not win the war.
The Pentagon Papers exposed the blueprints of the war; not for victory but for profit. Ellsberg saw the real currency of the war being the tens of thousands of our kids that were coming back in a box.
Nixon's Attorney General John Mitchell got a court order to stop the publication of the Pentagon Papers, and sued the NYT for doing so. The Supreme Court decision on New York Times Co. v. United States permitted the NYT to resume publishing the Pentagon Papers. That order was the first time the government stopped a publication of a major newspaper since the presidency of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblower website, WikiLeaks, fears the same retribution. He is now a pawn in an international pursuit to reign in control over information. WikiLeaks is under attack.
Private First Class Bradley Manning, used the WikiLeaks website to post his disclosures of questionable war crimes and other malfeasance by the U.S. Government officials. Manning is now sitting in a military jail cell awaiting the outcome of charges that he is a traitor and maybe guilty of espionage -- a capital crime.
Manning released a video of a U.S. helicopter gunner crew mowing down more than a dozen Iraqi citizens and a Reuter's photographer, without provocation. The gunner then continued to shoot the unarmed wounded. Minutes later, a van passing by, full of family members, noticed a man riddled with bullets crawling to the curb. Two men and a woman exited the van to assist the wounded man. The video clearly revealed two children in the front seat, leaning on the dash looking out the windshield. The gunner blew the van apart with bullets and heavy artillery.
The audio that accompanied the video was as equally disturbing. After the smoke settled, one of the unidentified soldiers' comments about the children was, "It's their fault for bringing kids to a war," and later, when support soldiers moved in with military vehicles, another soldier chuckled, saying, "Look, that tank just ran over one of the bodies."
The WikiLeaks website has yet to release any secret information that has consequently harmed U.S. soldiers. To the contrary, WikiLeaks released a 2009 recording that had Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking, off the record, on how she felt about Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. Clinton said he was a criminal and a thief and she didn't trust him. But on network television she led the American people to believe that he was trustworthy and a reliable partner for the U.S. war efforts.
Had Clinton's back room version aired instead of the -- let's tell them what we want them to hear so we can continue with this war -- speech, perhaps we wouldn't be faced with so many friendly Afghan soldiers that keep gaining the confidence of the American soldiers, then turning around and killing them.
Had we really listened to whistleblower U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who warned us there wasn't any "yellowcake uranium," in Niger, ready for delivery to Saddam Hussein, or any of the other lies that drove America into that devastating trillion dollar war, we might have saved many of the thousands of our children lost and the tens of thousands maimed.
When Eisenhower warned us of the Military Industrial Complex, he was alarming us to the tactics and methods by which defense contractors would remain on our speed-dial and in our pockets. Anyone who questions their arrangement will get the systematic response: shoot the messenger, and you will be paraded as a Benedict Arnold.
Who doesn't want to know?
If there is a vaccine containing high levels of mercury, a toy with high levels of lead, or arsenic in the playground dirt, do you want to know? What if the water supply to the town also delivers eight times the level of liver cancer to its residents, or how about the local investment bank half-way through the town's savings buying worthless instruments designed to fail? When is the best time to find out?
In Part 2 of Not Just Whistling Dixie, we'll look at how big-biz farms the arm of the Justice Department, calculating punitive damages that hit all of our wallets. It is a cat and mouse game that makes a lot of cheese. The whistleblower program has become a derivative industry worth tens of billions of dollars to corporations and government alike. It is no longer what it is.
"Give me control of the nation's money and I care not who makes its laws." - Mayer Amschel Rothschild
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