While the jury is still out on whether it is a form of civil disobedience or act of espionage, whistleblowing continues to be a nightmare for public and private organizations as well as governments.
A whistleblower “is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization that is either private or public,” according to Wikipedia.
Faced with legal action, criminal charges, social stigma and termination from their position, office, or job, whistleblowers are made an example of as soon as their risky overtures start hurting special or national interests.
The following are brief summaries of famous whistleblowers who have dared to change the political landscape.
Born in 1971, Julian Assange is an Australian computer programmer, political asylum-seeker, fugitive from British arrest and the founder of WikiLeaks.
In 2006, Assange launched the Iceland-based website, which described him as its “heart and soul”, founder, philosopher, spokesperson, organizer and financier.
He has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012 in an effort to avoid arrest and possible extradition to the United States, where he is wanted for leaking secret government and military information.
Assange will face arrest if he steps out, as a Metropolitan Police arrest warrant is still in force after he absconded following his release on bail in 2010.
The U.S. Justice Department launched a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks and Assange after a leak in 2010 of diplomatic cables provided by then American serviceman Bradley Manning known as Cablegate.
During Cablegate, WikiLeaks released more than 250,000 classified cables that had been sent to the U.S. State Department by 274 U.S. consulates, embassies and diplomatic missions around the world from 1966 to 2010.
WikiLeaks also released emails and documents belonging to John Podesta, the manager of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
WikiLeaks is now considered a potential contributing factor to Clinton’s loss to current U.S. President Donald Trump, as this leak put a substantial dent in the former secretary of state’s election prospects.
In an attempt to allow Americans to see the inner workings of their government, 31-year-old Edward Snowden released classified material on top-secret U.S. National Security Agency programs to The Guardian and The Washington Post in 2013.
The U.S. government has charged Snowden with theft of government property and two other charges under the strict 1917 Espionage Act. Each charge carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Snowden was granted asylum by Russia in 2013.
According to various reports in the media, he now lives in an undisclosed location in Moscow.
Chelsea (Bradley) Manning
Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) was sentenced to 35 years in a military prison for leaking classified information to the public and served roughly seven years in military custody before former President Barack Obama commuted the remainder of her sentence shortly before he left office in 2017.
Manning was convicted of providing whistleblower website Wikileaks with hundreds of thousands of classified and unclassified but sensitive documents in 2010.
She was arrested that year and sentenced in 2013 to the longest prison term ever handed down for a leak conviction.
Manning was serving as an intelligence analyst in Iraq when she made the controversial disclosures.
On March 8, 2019, she was held in contempt of court for not testifying in a U.S. government case against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange and jailed in Alexandria, Virginia.
The judge conditioned her release on her testifying or the grand jury concluding its work.
Sgt. Frank “Greg” Ford
A retired counterintelligence agent with over 30 years of military service, Sgt. Frank Ford was stationed in Samarra, Iraq in June 2003.
He reported systematic abuse of Iraqi detainees at Samarra. But instead of launching an investigation into his reports, Sgt. Ford was judged mentally unstable by the U.S. Army and transferred to Landstuhl, Germany for psychological evaluation.
In all the psychiatric assessments that followed, Ford was determined to be of sound mind.
Katharine Gun, a British former translator for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a British intelligence agency, leaked top secret information to the press concerning “illegal” activities by the United States and the United Kingdom in their push for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In November 2003, she was charged with an offence under the Official Secrets Act. Her case came to court in February 2004 but was dropped because the prosecution declined to offer evidence.
Gun’s anti-war position and activism was hailed across the world, including by American actor Sean Penn, who called her “a hero of the human spirit”.