The International Association of Whistle-blowers (IAW) is an organization formed in 2007, was founded by Michael McCray, Esq and Dr. James J. Murtagh MD and Zena Crenshaw, Esq. Advisors to the group include internationally known whistle-blowers including Jeffrey Wigand (aka “The Insider”) and Coleen Rowley, Time Magazine person of the year 2002. The initial meeting of the IAW took place the week of May 11-18 2008. Whistleblowers from all over the country gathered in Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress to pass stronger protections for both government and private sector workers. The IAW works closely with more than 40 public interest groups. The organizers have since decided to make it an annual event. The focus of the IAW is the individual truth-teller, and the hardships that whistleblowers face around the globe, regardless of ethnic origin, creed or nationality. A mentoring program and networking between whistle-blowers is strongly emphasized.
A whistle-blower is an employee or former employee who reports misconduct to people or entities that have the power and presumed willingness to take corrective action. Many whistleblowers have objected to the term “whistle-blower,” as being perjorative, and have suggested different terms, such as a “lamplighter” (Frank Serpico) or “truth teller” (Jeffrey Wigand). Generally, the whistle-blower reports a violation of law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health/safety violations, and corruption.
Ernest Fitzerald, the grandfather of modern whistle-blowers, has defined whistle-blowing as “committing the truth.” Senator Grassley often states that whistle-blowers are “about as welcome as a skunk as a picnic,” but vital to the nation’s security.
The first annual IAW meeting brought together whistle-blowers from around the globe. The individual whistleblowers, participated in a broad range of activities that included discussion panels, testimony, award ceremonies, a film night and book signing, and workshops in advocacy, stress management, whistle-blower law, and mentoring.
Paul Revere was recognized as America’s first whistleblower, and Ignaz Semmelweis was described as a pioneer who asked for “clean hands in medicine.”
Members of the IAW have been featured in articles published around the world, including in New Zealand, the Middle East, and in the American press New York Times, and in publications around the world.
International Solidarity: From Immunity to Impunity
Special sessions highlighted the global impact of whistleblowers, including:
- Mishka Zaman, Asia Program Director of the Bank Information Center. Zaman will discuss the transparency and accountability practices of the Asian Development Bank, identifying issues where the rhetoric and the reality diverge.
- Kunal Saha, M.D. An independent HIV/AIDS researcher, Dr. Saha served on the investigation team of the Department of Institutional Integrity of the World Bank and exposed corruption in the National AIDS Control Project II in India.
- Douglas Hartnett, Elitko and Hartnett at Law, LLC. Hartnett successfully challenged the immunity of an IFI in Vila v. the Inter-American Investment Corporation. A ruling in favor of the plaintiff was made by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in February, 2008.
- The group honored their advisors, including Jeffrey Wigand (aka “the Insider”) and Coleen Rowley. Ms. Rowley was named as one of Time Magazine’s Person’s of the Year.
Abraham Lincoln was honored as the author of America’s first whistleblower protection act, also known as the Qui tam statute, or the False Claims Act. Lincoln noted that corrupt defense contractors were endangering the American Civil War effort through fraud. Munitions manufacturers were defrauding the government with shoddy guns and sawdust in gunpowder. Lincoln offered bounties to encourage private citizens to come forward to report fraud, waste and corruption. Ronald Reagan updated the Lincoln law into the modern Qui tam act. Recently, defense contractors have paid huge fines and restored billions of dollars to the US treasury.
Judicial Accountability Whistle Blowers Demand Reform
- the Congress Against Racism and Corruption in Law Enforcement (CARCLE) and NJCDLP initiated a national Predatory Lending and Mortgage Fraud Taskforce. The Winecoff Mortgage Fraud Case is cited as a prime example of this national epidemic.
United Whistleblowers Demand Reform of Office of Special Counsel
Just before the conference began, The Wall Street Journal reported that “more than a dozen” FBI agents served grand jury subpoenas this morning while searching the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and the home of Special Counsel Scott Bloch. According to the Journal, OSC employees say the raid is in connection with allegations of obstruction of justice by Bloch, who in 2006 used a computer service, Geeks on Call, to completely erase his work computer’s hard drive. Bloch asked the company to eradicate his computer’s files as he was being investigated.
“The public demands better,” exclaimed Carson, a long-time veteran in the war against fraud at the OSC. “The public deserves better.” More than 100 federal whistleblowers agreed, and signed petitions to oust Bloch and clean the OSC department from top to bottom. Speakers at the conference included:
- David Nolan, Legal Advisor to OSC Watch Steering Committee.
- Carol Czarkowski, Former Department of Navy Contracting Officer.
- Sandalio “Sandy” Gonzalez, Former Special Agent Officer in charge of DEA.
Mr. Devine revealed his letter to Congressional oversight committees: “The OSC’s sharply deteriorating record must be nipped in the bud, before the agency becomes more dangerous. Already GAP has received a pattern of complaints from employees who filed OSC whistleblowing disclosures that they were subsequently retaliated against for going to the Special Counsel, after which the OSC declined to investigate. If this controversy follows the 1980′s pattern, the next steps will be far worse. Empathetic OSC staff will be replaced with those hostile to whistleblowers, and the agency will start to become a resource to help agencies retaliate. See confirmation Hearinhgs on Federal Appointments before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 99th Cong., 2d Sess. (1986). All of us have a responsibility to insure that unacceptable disaster for the merit system does not recur.”
Later that day, OSC watch joined with the IAW and other coalitions honoring the “grandfather” of modern watchdogs, Ernest Fitzerald, who initiated the modern whistleblower movement while blowing the whistle on pentagon procurement.
Medical Whistle Blowers Demand Reform
Doctors have become active in whistleblower cases, and 80% of fraud is now reported in hospital related Qui Tam suits. Doctors noted that they were often subjected to “sham peer reviews” and their careers were jeopardized if they stood up for their patients or reported corruption within HMOs. Dr. Larry Poliner was noted as an outstanding example of a doctor who stood up for his patients, and suffered massive retaliation, leading a jury to eventually award a $366,000,000 verdict.
Dr. Chalifoux pointed out that sham peer review resulted in doctor shortages, lack of access to care, decreased competition, decreased safety, and protected “Big Medicine” HMOs from the consequences of medical errors and corruption. Dr. Helen Salisbury testified that she had been subjected to retaliation for decreasing the C-section rate in her community from 50% to 10%. Doctors also presented the consensus that sham peer review was typically used to silence some of America’s best doctors, and needed to be recognized as a prohibited retaliation. Other Doctors testified that minority physicians are singled out for particularly brutal retaliations when they stand up for quality patient care. Evidence was presented that a doctor exposed to sham peer review had a 80% chance of never returning to work. A 20% rate of suicide was found in the group of doctors falsely accused of peer review violations.
Steve Twedt, the ground breaking investigative journalist, was quoted as the definitive source documenting the harm of sham peer review. He wrote a series of articles that concluded, “physicians who are wrongly or maliciously accused may be pulled into a hearing where they have no legal representation and no opportunity to face their accusers. Or, in some cases, their accusers sit on the panel investigating them.”
“The assumption that peer review is always only about quality and not about economic or intra-professional political struggles is less and less realistic as the economics of the health care industry become more competitive,” said Sallyanne Payton, a University of Michigan health law professor
Members of the Veterans Affairs Whistleblowers Coalition, presented sobering data showing the failure of governmental agencies to protect whistleblowers’ rights. The doctors asserted that the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to “discourage the reporting of poor quality care by harassing” healthcare workers who provide quality care for veterans.
Truth-Tellers promote Scientific Freedom & the Public Good
The Bush administration has interfered with federal scientists on a level never seen before in the history of the United States. The nation was founded on the enlightenment premise that good government can only be based on truth, the scientific method, and the unfettered exploration of nature and humanity.
The emergency of federal censorship of science was explored by the International Association of Whistleblowers (IAW) at its second annual meeting of whistleblowers, May 11- 18, 2008. The kick-off panel, co-sponsored by the IAW, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, addresses the effects of scientific censorship across a wide range of issues, including prescription drug safety, climate change, and mercury emission levels. Panelists include:
- Celia Wexler (Facilitator), Washington Representative, Union of Concerned Scientists
- Rick Piltz, Former Senior Associate, U.S. Climate Change Science Program and Director of GAP’s Climate Science Watch Program
- David Ross, FDA drug safety whistleblower
- Tim Donaghy, Researcher/Analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists
Each panelist discussed issues of suppression of science, dissemination of inaccurate information and manipulation of scientific advice under the Bush administration.
” usually talk about federal employees exposing waste, fraud and abuse of authority,” said the whistleblower panel’s host Celia Wexler of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “But those terms don’t really cover what scientists tend to experience,” she said. Wexler went on to say that scientists worry about findings being altered and the inability to publish their work, speak at conferences and talk to the media because of political pressures.
Former federal scientists, including David Ross, of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Rick Piltz, formerly of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program discussed political interference in the approval processes for prescription drugs, the editing of climate change documents and the formulation of mercury emissions standards.
Rick Piltz exposed the oil industry’s fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming.
Mr. Piltz,resigned in March as a senior associate in the office that coordinates government climate research. That office, now called the Climate Change Science Program, issued the documents that Mr. Cooney edited.
EPA scientists surveyed by the UCS last month expressed similar concerns. Nearly 900 scientists responded to the survey saying that they personally experienced political interference over the last five years.
Doctors and scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Veterans Affairs Administration echoed the statements of the panel.
Eleven-year federal scientist and doctor and IAW co-founder, Dr. James Murtagh, agreed there is a crisis.
The IAW meeting coincided with whistleblower legislation currently in conference, where House and Senate versions of the bill are being hashed out.
Blue Ribbon Panel Speaks out against Domestic Survelliance
“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” — Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis
An IAW blue-ribbon panel highlighted the extraordinary dangers of domestic surveillance, programs that were designed to protect citizens, but which in fact have had the opposite effect and made America less secure.
Linda Lewis, an organizer of the conference , formerly an emergency planning specialist with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), spoke about an FSIS training program that urged agency employees to spy on activists, even going in person to the homes and offices where activists live and work. The training labeled peaceful protest groups and even pie-throwers as “terrorists.” Groups like Greenpeace and PETA were lumped in the same category as Al Qaeda, said Lewis, who objected to the agency. The agency ignored Lewis’ objection and instead directed employees to instal computer software provided for sharing surveillance information on home, not office, computers. Lewis noted that the policy sidestepped transparency and accountability.
Lewis was part of the kick-off panel for the whistleblower week,a panel on domestic intelligence, including the National Security Agency (NSA) eavesdropping program and a USDA program that authorized spying on activists. Jesselyn Radack, Government Accountability (GAP) Homeland Security Director moderated the panel. Radack is the noted author of “The Canary in the Coalmine”.
Radack’s book was described by the New York Times as “riveting — and chilling — account of how far the Bush Administration’s Justice Department will go to destroy a critic.”
Daniel Ehlsberg, of the Pentagon Papers, described Radack as ” the person on duty when John Walker Lindh was taken in. With all this talk about torture you should know that the first person tortured was an American citizen and he was tortured mercilessly for the first few days of his internment and denied medical care. She raised holy hell. She was tossed out of the Justice Department and blacklisted. That’s the kind of guts Jesselyn had. Jesselyn had tremendous guts and now she’s written a really terrific book.
Radack’s convened panel discussed the implications of the National Security Agency (NSA) eavesdropping program on the First Amendment. It will also address warrant-less wiretapping in the context of attorney-client communications, terrorism investigations, the “state secrets privilege,” and consider the implications for pending congressional showdowns such as telecom immunity in FISA legislation. In addition to Radack and Lewis, other panelists include:
- Babak Pasdar, telecommunications whistleblower whose disclosure is credited with turning the tide in the House of Representatives denying corporate immunity in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
- Eric Lichtblau, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist who broke the government’s secret surveillance program.
Michelle Richardson, Legislative Counsel, ACLU helped to design the presentation. Coleen Rowley was not present on this panel, but acted as advisor to the IAW in designing the week’s events. Rowley exposed FBI negligence preceding the September 11 terrorist attack, was named as one of Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year, along with Enron-whistleblower Sherron Watkins and Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom.
IAW secretary Betsy Combier declared the event was a “Win for all of us.” Ms. Combier, Editor of Parentadvocates.org and a paralegal, is an advocate for open government, equal opportunity in education for all kids, and putting children first.
What do all these people have in common? The commitment to oppose hazardous, illegal and unsafe conditions, to decrease waste, fraud and abuse of authority in United States government operations, to support the fundamental concepts embedded in our Open Society, to support our troops and our veterans, and to protect the rights of U.S. citizens to speak without reprisal on matters securing the general welfare and defense of our nation.
Simply stated, America’s truth-tellers want to make America’s promise work. They present gripping human, personal stories, and ask for protections that would make our nation safer. The IAW promises an opportunity to explore the deep and searching questions as a society that cannot afford to lose important freedoms.
Sunlight really is the best disinfectant. These soldiers for the truth are asking for clean hands in medicine, in government, and in corporations. To protect our security, we need the best policeman of all: the truth.
History of Whistle-Blowing seen through Movies and in Popular Culture
Dr. Murtagh presented a history of Whistleblowing, and illustrated that films such as Mr. Smith goes to Washington, Serpico and Silkwood have shaped the national consciousness of truth telling worldwide. –
Mr. McCray echoed Dr. Murtagh’s presentation, stating “The really great leaders of the world were great whistleblowers.They spoke truth to power.”