Whistleblowers Speak: Who’s Protecting Them and Who’s Listening?

Over the past few decades, whistleblowers have changed the course of history.

Press play to listen to Your Call with Rose Aguilar: “Whistleblowers Speak: Who’s Protecting Them and Who’s Listening?”:

Press play to listen to Your Call with Rose Aguilar: “Whistleblowers Speak: Who’s Protecting Them and Who’s Listening?”:

One of the country’s most famous corporate whistleblowers was tobacco executive Jeffrey Wigand. Thanks to his leaks in 1995 to CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Big Tobacco CEOs were exposed on Capitol Hill, their companies were successfully sued by the states, and the government began regulating tobacco advertising.

In 2002, Time Magazine honored whistle-blowers Cynthia Cooper of Worldcom, Sherron Watkins of Enron, and Colleen Rowley of the FBI as its “Person’s of the Year.”

In 2004, Army specialist Joseph Darby leaked thousands of photos showing widespread abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

One of the most famous government whistleblowers of our time is Daniel Ellsberg. In 1971, Ellsberg, a military analyst at the time, leaked thousands of top secret documents to the press, now known as the Pentagon Papers. They revealed lies about Vietnam. In addition to causing a national outcry, they led to the eventual downfall of the Nixon administration and the end of the Vietnam war.

For his actions, Ellsberg faced a criminal trial and 100 years in prison. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger told his staff that Ellsberg was “the most dangerous man in America.”

That is the title of the Oscar-nominated documentary profiling Ellsberg and the whistle-blowing years of the Pentagon Papers.

Has anything changed since Ellsberg exposed the truth? Who’s protecting whistleblowers? And who’s listening?

Just yesterday, Kenneth Abbott, a former BP document controls subcontractor, and the consumer advocacy group Food and Water Watch, filed a lawsuit to force the federal government to halt operations of BP’s massive Atlantis oil drilling platform until critical safety documents are produced. The Atlantis platform is also in the Gulf of Mexico and the lawsuit alleges another catastrophic explosion could “dwarf” the company’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Kenneth Abbot is no longer giving interviews because of the lawsuit, but we are joined by two long-time outspoken critics of the oil industry.

Dan Lawn is an environmental engineer who worked on design and construction of the Valdez Marine Terminal and then joined the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation as one of the first inspectors of terminal and tanker operations. He was the first regulator notified the night the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef. For over 10 years before the spill, Lawn documented the failures of the oil industry to follow-through on their commitments to prevent spills and to adequately prepare for clean-ups, and warned the state about the potential for a major disaster in Prince William Sound. He says he was harassed, intimidated, and wrongfully demoted by the state. Dan Lawn now works as a consultant for the Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility.

Scott West recently retired early from the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal investigations department after the federal government pulled the plug on his investigation into negligence by BP in Alaska in 2006. He says if he had been allowed to complete his investigation, the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico might not have happened. Scott West currently works for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a non-profit that works to end the destruction of habitat and the slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species. Sea Shepherd just announced a Gulf Rescue plan.