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Five of the Most Famous Whistleblowers in American History

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College graduate, freelance writer, cooking aficionado. Political junkie by day and screenwriter by night.

Frank Serpico

Frank Serpico

What's a Whistleblower?

Secrets within the government are nothing new. And occasionally, there are people in powerful circles who decide to spill state (or business) secrets to the American public. These people are known as whistleblowers.

Here are five famous whistleblowers you need to know about!

1. Frank Serpico

Frank Serpico is a Korean War veteran, who ended up becoming a police officer with the New York Police Department. This is where he made a name for himself. As time progressed, he continued to rise in the ranks and expose racketeering that was going on within the department. Serpico took what he found to his superiors and showed them everything.

The cops behind the corruption did not take kindly to what Serpico was doing. Serpico felt like he was going to get discovered by those in the department who are dirty, so he took his findings and story to the New York Times. Serpico's bravery helped the NYPD clean up the department. However, this all came at a cost to Serpico.

Serpico was doing his job when he was shot in the face; his fellow officers refused to aid him because of what he did. Serpico ended up surviving the attack. He is retired and now lives somewhere in the Swiss mountains.

2. Chelsea Manning

One of the most well-known whistleblowers in modern America is Pfc. Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley Manning). Manning was an Army intelligence analyst who stole thousands of documents related to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. One of her best-known leaks was video footage of the American military firing down at innocent civilians as well as a reporter. The documents were later sent to Julian Assange, who published them on the Wikileaks site.

Chelsea Manning changed the face of whistleblowing, although currently, it's hard to see how the documents released have really impacted U.S. foreign policy. Manning had her sentence commuted by President Obama but was jailed again in March 2019 for fighting a grand jury subpoena. She was released in March 2020 but ordered to pay a $256,000 fine for defying the subpoena.

3. Daniel Ellsberg

Daniel Ellsberg was once a strong supporter of the Vietnam War, but eventually, he became disillusioned with it and was wanting to find a way to end the war. As a Pentagon official, he had access to a report ordered by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The report revealed how the White House lied to Congress and the American public about the Vietnam War.

Ellsberg was originally only planning on sharing the report with a few of his friends. He later ended up leaking it to multiple newspapers. Ellsberg eventually stood on trial for what he did. However, it was revealed that the same burglars from the Watergate incident also broke into Ellsberg's doctor's office looking for incriminating evidence. With that knowledge, he ended up being released. He's become a legend for those who believe democracy needs transparency.

4. Coleen Rowley

September 11, 2001, is a day nobody in America will ever forget. It was a day that changed the intelligence community forever. A small cell of terrorists ended up staging a massive attack on the East Coast. Thanks to FBI agent Coleen Rowley, we now know that the U.S. had some warning signs of a possible attack.

Prior to the attacks, a report was filed at the FBI office in Minneapolis, Minnesota suggesting that Zacarias Moussaoui was possibly involved in an airline hijacking of some kind. Rowley ended up requesting permission to search Moussaoui's home and belongings. Rowley was denied permission. As soon as 9/11 happened, she knew she had to speak to her superiors and even addressed the 9/11 Commission.

5. Mark Felt (Deep Throat)

One of the most legendary whistleblowers of all time was "Deep Throat," who spilled secrets to reporter Robert Woodward in a dark parking garage, as described in the book All the President's Men by Woodward and his co-worker Carl Bernstein. Unnamed for years, Deep Throat was revealed to have been Mark Felt, then the Associate Director of the FBI, as Felt confirmed in 2015. "Deep Throat" provided deep insight into the investigation of President Richard Nixon, who was allegedly involved in campaign violations, illegal break-ins, and other illegal activities. His revelations led to Woodward, and his colleague later published a number of articles that damaged the White House and led to the resignation of Richard Nixon.

People are still wondering why Felt did what he did. Some believe he leaked the info because he was angry that he was passed over for the FBI directorship when Hoover died. Felt's insight combined with Woodward and Bernstein's articles caused much of the American public to lose its trust in the government.