According to wordnet the definition of whistle-blower is an informant who exposes wrongdoing within an organization in the hope of stopping it.
Common sense tells us this is a good thing. So can anyone explain to me why whistle-blowers in the United States who've helped uncover fraud, wrongdoing and other heinous crimes are being prosecuted and imprisoned?
The latest, and possibly most abhorrent example of the despicable treatment of someone coming forward for the right reasons came to a head today, when Bradley Birkenfeld reported to a federal prison to begin serving a 40-month sentence!
Birkenfeld was an international banker working for the Swiss banking giant UBS. In 2007, he came forward to US authorities with information on how thousands of Americans were hiding assets in secret Swiss bank accounts.
Due to Birkenfeld's information, UBS pleaded guilty last February, paid a $780 million fine, and agreed to turn over the names of nearly 4500 of it's American clients (out of an estimated 19,000 they claim have secret accounts with them).
Federal prosecutors have admitted that this fraud scheme would likely have never been uncovered if not for Birkenfeld, yet he's the only one connected with UBS to serve time!
According to the National Whistleblowers Center,
The facts of the case are clear:
Why are whistle-blowers being persecuted and prosecuted?
- Mr. Birkenfeld repeatedly tried to correct the illegal UBS tax fraud scheme internally.
- Mr. Birkenfeld resigned from UBS when they failed to correct the problem internally.
- Mr. Birkenfeld voluntarily approached the U.S. government with his allegations.
- Mr. Birkenfeld made full disclosures to the Department of Justice, Internal Revenue Service, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
- Every UBS tax cheat that has been prosecuted has received probation, fines, and/or community service - NO jail time.
- Mr. Birkenfeld is the ONLY person connected with UBS to receive a prison sentence.
Tonight, I'll speak with another whistle-blower, who was recognized as such by being named one of Time Magazine's Whistleblower 2002 Persons of the Year. Coleen Rowley began her career as a special agent with the FBI in 1981. In May of 2002, Rowley brought some of the pre 9/11 lapses in the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui to light. According to Time,
Coleen Rowley is the FBI staff attorney who caused a sensation in May with a memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller about how the bureau brushed off pleas from her Minneapolis, Minn., field office that Zacarias Moussaoui, who is now indicted as a Sept. 11 co-conspirator, was a man who must be investigated.The 9/11 Commission subsequently described Moussaoui as an "Al Qaeda mistake and missed opportunity," the investigation of whom may have led to the center of the Al Qaeda plot if it had been pursued in a timely and effective manner.
In June of 2002, Coleen testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about some of the endemic problems faced by the FBI and the intelligence community. In April of 2003, following an unsuccessful attempt to warn the Director and other administration officials about the dangers of launching the invasion of Iraq, she "stepped down" from her legal position and returned to being an FBI Special Agent.
It's another sad indictment of the way things work in America. Honest people trying to do the write thing are ostracized and prosecuted while the people they're blowing the whistle on are whistling all the way to the bank.
Tonight, Coleen Rowley will join me on Air America radio to discuss her story and what's happening now to Bradley Birkenfeld. Listen live beginning at 11pm ET.