The recent news that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gained political asylum in the London embassy of Ecuador (he faced extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges), refocused the spotlight once again on the battle between whistleblowing and the need to maintain governmental secrets. The originator of much of the classified information WikiLeaks broadcast to the world was Bradley Manning, whose military trial is slated to start in September.
Slightly built and 22 years old, U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning didn’t seem the type to commit the biggest breach of military security in American history. But breach he did: Manning leaked hundreds of thousands of classified documents and video from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars to WikiLeaks. His accusers cried treason; his champions credited him with exposing two wrongful wars and sparking the Arab Spring. Both sides of the story are told in Denver Nicks‘ new book, “Private: Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, and the Biggest Exposure of Official Secrets in American History.” It joins these other accounts of individuals who have stood up to the powers that be at great personal risk.
Worldcom: Multi-billion Dollar Fraud
In “Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower,” Cynthia Cooper, the former Chief Audit Executive of Worldcom, tells the story of how she and her team uncovered a multibillion-dollar accounting scandal—nearly $3.8 billion in expenses unaccounted for—that eventually led to the telecommunication giant’s bankruptcy, which was, at the time, the largest Chapter 11 filing in history.
Enron: The Smartest Woman in the Room
Sherron Watkins, former VP at Enron, joins forces with journalist Mimi Schwartz in “Power Failure” to chart the stunning fall of Enron, the gas and energy giant that was once the seventh largest corporation in America. Watkins provides a rare insider view of how the much-admired company showed off its “parking lots overflowing with BMWs and Boxsters” while hiding its “illusory profits [and] ballooning debt.” Watkins provided key information and testimony that led to the company’s bankruptcy filing and epic public shaming in 2001.
Pfizer: Corruption Behind the Counter
As a Vice President of Pfizer, Peter Rost witnessed myriad manipulations, coercions and criminal business dealings. In “The Whistleblower: Confessions of a Healthcare Hitman,” he surmounts the drug giant’s efforts to silence him and presents the first authoritative insider account of widespread pharmaceutical corruption.
Brown & Williamson: Tobacco Chief Unearths a Smoking Gun
While serving as the VP of Research & Development at Brown & Williamson, a major Big Tobacco player, in the early 1990s, Jeffrey Wigand discovered that executives were adding known carcinogens to their cigarettes—and manipulating nicotine levels to increase the likelihood of addiction. Wigand was fired for reporting his findings, but not silenced—his dramatic story made its way to the big screen in 1999’s “The Insider” (starring Russell Crowe as Wigand). He now travels the country lecturing on smoking risks and has started a non-profit to discourage children from picking up the habit. Michael Orey’s “Assuming the Risk: The Mavericks, the Lawyers, and the Whistleblowers Who Beat Big Tobacco,” tells Wigand’s and others’ stories of battling fraudulence in the industry.
NYPD: Cop, Uncorrupted
In riotous, crime-ridden 1960s New York, the NYPD was no paragon of uncompromised justice; the system was rife with gambling, payoffs and all-around crookedness. But one bearded, longhaired Brooklyn-born outlier couldn’t be bent: honest-to-the-core Frank Serpico (played by Al Pacino in the 1973 film “Serpico”). Peter Maas’s “Serpico” is the suspenseful story of a whistleblower up against the toughest kind of scandal: one orchestrated by the law itself.
Madoff: The Disastrous Ponzi Scheme That Could Have Been Stopped Sooner
When Harry Markopolos, an analyst from a Boston equity firm, uncovered Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme back in 2000, the alarm he raised fell on deaf ears. In his aptly-titled memoir, “No One Would Listen,” he tells the thriller-like story of his failed attempts to warn finance bigwigs of the $65 billion-dollar scam before it was too late.
[Correction: A previous edition of this post stated that Sean Penn played Frank Serpico in the 1973 film “Serpico.” The actor was Al Pacino.]