A Brief History Of Whistleblowers From Way Back

The scales of history tipped because these people decided to stand up and talk. Injustice was much more difficult to expose in times without today’s lightning-quick technology, but it still laid the important groundwork for today’s digitally driven community of information seekers. Learn about the rise and fall of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks having the same effect in The Fifth Estate – in theaters October 18.

1. 1773 - Benjamin Franklin

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WHO: An American Founding Father and scientific innovator
THE CAUSE: As the nation crawled towards stability, Franklin needed to resolve the growing rebellion in Massachusetts where citizens believed Parliament across the pond was to blame for an increased military presence on their new turf
THE VEHICLE: Releasing a series of confidential letters later known as “The Colonist’s Advocate” that unveiled Massachusetts governor, Thomas Hutchinson, misled Parliament into believing additional force was needed in the area
THE RESULT: Hutchinson was dishonorably discharged from office and was forced into exile for his actions

2. 1872 - Julius Chambers

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WHO: One of America’s first investigative journalists
THE CAUSE: Proving that New York’s Bloomingdale Insane Asylum was abusing its patients
THE VEHICLE: Chambers admitted himself to the hospital to live within its alleged practices, and published his accounts in the New-York Tribune
THE RESULT: 12 patients free of mental illness were released from the hospital, and laws regarding admittance to mental institutions in New York were amended

3. 1876 - George Custer

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WHO: A military commander during the Civil War and the Indian Wars
THE CAUSE: William Belknap, the United States Secretary of War, had supposedly received kickbacks after an arms trade put faulty weapons in the hands of soldiers, weakening their force and deepening the conflict
THE VEHICLE: Rumors swirled that Custer had ties to an anonymous article published in the New York Herald that implied many of the guilty parties, including family members of President Ulysses S. Grant
THE RESULT: Belknap was impeached, and Custer was stripped of his high command vindictively by President Grant

4. 1917 - Stewart Menzies

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WHO: A British soldier that eventually became the head of MI6 Secret Intelligence during and after World War II
THE CAUSE: Menzies observed that Intelligence Chief Brigadier John Charteris, second in command, was fudging intelligence estimates while serving directly under Commander Douglas Haig
THE VEHICLE: A discreet report to the higher-ups
THE RESULT: Menzies was promoted to to Major before war’s end, and Charteris was removed from the unit

5. 1933 - Smedley Butler

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WHO: A retired Marine Corps Major General
THE CAUSE: Butler wanted to expose harmful corruption within the government that favored facism and financial interests engineered to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency - a conspiracy known as “The Business Plot”
THE VEHICLE: Secret Congressional testimony; a speech and book entitled War Is A Racket
THE RESULT: The media initially ridiculed Butler’s allegations, then found evidence to support his claims upon further investigation

6. 1962 - Rachel Carson

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WHO: Marine biologist and conservationist
THE CAUSE: Exposing how truly detrimental pesticides were to wildlife and disproving positively presented public information about those chemicals
THE VEHICLE: Silent Spring – a literary work compiling years of on-site research on the residual effects of DDT chemicals on animals and humans
THE RESULT: The book became a New York Times bestseller and inspired the widespread ban on DDT chemicals which went into effect in 1972

7. 1971 - Daniel Ellsberg

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WHO: Former State Department Military Analyst turned think tank member
THE CAUSE: Exposing the grounds on which the U.S. decided to go to war in Vietnam
THE VEHICLE: Preparing and releasing “The Pentagon Papers” – a 7,000-page compilation of classified documents – to major publications like The New York Times
THE RESULT: Dismissed charges after a series of trials which only generated activism for freedom of speech; the eventual dissipation of the public’s support of the war

8. 1971 - Perry Fellwock

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WHO: A young intelligence analyst better known as the first Edward Snowden
THE CAUSE: Exposing the existence of the NSA, its budget, and secret surveillance practices
THE VEHICLE: An interview with Ramparts magazine under the pseudonym Winslow Peck
THE RESULT: A 1973 piece of legislation that would stop the NSA from spying on American citizens that went ignored by future administrations

9. 1972 - W. Mark Felt

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WHO: An FBI agent ranking second to J. Edgar Hoover after his retirement
THE CAUSE: Exposing the White House’s involvement in the Watergate scandal
THE VEHICLE: Secret meetings with Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as “Deep Throat” – the secret identity he did not reveal until 2005
THE RESULT: Nixon’s resignation and jail time for multiple members of his administration

10. 1972 - Frank Serpico

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WHO: A New York City police officer
THE CAUSE: Corruption and abuse of power within the department
THE VEHICLE: Contributing to a New York Times article in 1970 and eventually testifying on record against his colleagues to expose various unsound practices citing off-the-record meetings and bribery as widespread problems, including a supposed drug bust setup where he was the target instead of an actual incident
THE RESULT: Retirement with a Medal of Honor as the first police officer to publicly speak out about the broken system

11. 1973 - Karen Silkwood

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WHO: A chemical technician turned labor activist in Oklahoma – the first woman to serve as chief negotiator of her specific union
THE CAUSE: Health and safety issues among her colleagues from poor practices that promoted contamination outside of the workplace
THE VEHICLE: Silkwood was about to tell her story to a New York Times reporter with another member of her union when all three tragically, mysteriously perished in a car accident
THE RESULT: Silkwood’s family sued the plant she worked for on her behalf and were awarded damages in a settlement, even as the case circulated through the Supreme Court by 1979

12. 1973 - A. Ernest Fitzgerald

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WHO: A financial executive within the U.S. Department of Defense
THE CAUSE: Unveiling that the Nixon administration had gathered an excessive amount of money to build out new cargo planes
THE VEHICLE: Audits that confirmed fraud and overrun costs to the tune of $2.3 billion
THE RESULT: A long career that continued to expose financial fraud within military spending, up until other claims in the 1980s that included $400 hammers

13. 1996 - Jeffrey Wigand

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WHO: A biochemical doctor turned research executive
THE CAUSE: While serving as Vice President of Research and Development at tobacco titan Brown & Williamson, he discovered that the company’s tobacco blend had excessive additives and higher portions of nicotine, making the product “impact boosting” and scientifically more addictive
THE VEHICLE: After disputing with his CEO on keeping the revelation a secret, Wigand took to 60 Minutes to tell his side of the story, but the full interview ended up airing years after the ongoing internal conflict and controversy
THE RESULT: 46 states still went onto file a multimillion-dollar suit against “Big Tobacco” for health damages

Unlike these bygone whistleblowers, inciting a revolution today could be as easy as a click away. Check out the true story of contemporary justice-seeker Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate – in theaters October 18.

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