The 8 Top Whistleblowers: Assange, Serpico, and Brockovich
Now that the Twitterverse and Tumblr-sphere have exploded with adoration for 29 year-old Edward Snowden's devotion to transparency, civil liberties, and, er, his hotness , we decided to check in on a few of our favorite whistleblowers of years past. Some have sought seclusion as others – here's looking at you, Julian– just keep blowing. [Image: Getty Images]
Daniel Ellsberg: Haters Keep Hatin'
Whistleblower-of-whistleblowers Daniel Ellsberg used his high security clearance to photocopy the classified documents we now know as the Pentagon Papers, which revealed just how effed the U.S. government knew itself to be during the Vietnam War. Now, he’s busy supporting (and tweeting about!) the whistle-blowing next generation. As he told The Daily Beast, “I definitely have a new hero in Edward Snowden, the first one since Bradley Manning, and I’m glad it didn’t take another 40 years. People who respect or admire what I did, they may not realize it right now, but before this is over, they’ll recognize that he deserves great admiration. And people who hate what I did, can hate.” [Image: Getty Images]
Julian Assange: Senate Hopeful?
The Australian editor, publisher, transparency activist who founded WikiLeaks is wanted on charges of sexual assault in Sweden and espionage in the U.S. He lives under the protection of the Ecuadorian government and occasionally speaks from the safety of the Ecuador Embassy in London. Last week, he told CBS that NSA and FBI activities amount to “mass spying” on Americans. He also said that he is “rather concerned” about the fate of Bradley Manning, the Army Pfc. who helped him get ahold of classified documents, but doesn’t feel “guilty” about his plight. Assange has announced intentions to launch a political party in Australia, which he hopes will propel him to a Senate seat in the next round of elections. Probably needless to say: Australian political commentators have questioned his eligibility. [Image: Getty Images]
Frank Serpico: Looking Out for "Lamp Lighters"
Frank Serpico was the first cop in US history to come out against widespread, systemic corruption in the ranks of the NYPD. As a plainclothes police officer, Serpico contributed to an April 1970 New York Times expose on police bribery, revealing millions of dollars worth of payments from drug dealers, mobsters, and local crooks. In 1971, he was shot just before he was supposed to testify in front of the Knapp Panel on Police Corruption – and says his fellow officers didn’t respond to his cries for help. Serpico made it to the hearing anyway, fled to Europe, and went on to work with Al Pacino in a crime-thriller-drama about his life, in the 1973 blockbuster titled with his name. As he tells it: “Pacino played Serpico better than I did.” These days, he keeps himself secluded in Upstate New York, counseling younger police officers and occasionally lecturing at universities. [Image: Getty Images]
Erin Brockovich-Ellis: Changing her Environment
Spitfire environmental advocate Erin Brockovich brought litigation against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company of California as a legal clerk. After Julia Roberts won an Academy Award with the lead role in a movie about her life, she went on to found a consulting company and speak at numerous college commencements. She describes herself this way: “Say the name Erin Brockovich and you think, strong, tough, stubborn and sexy. Erin is all that and definitely more. She is a modern-day ‘David’ who loves a good brawl with today’s ‘Goliaths.’ She thrives on being the voice for those who don’t know how to yell. She is a rebel. She is a fighter. She is a mother. She is a woman.” According to USA Today, she is also in a bit of trouble: She was arrested last weekend “on suspicion of boating while intoxicated at Lake Mead near Las Vegas.” She was released on $1,000 bail. [Image: Getty Images]
Jeffrey S. Wigand: Smoke's Still No Joke
Tobacco insider turned tobacco-traitor Jeffrey S. Wigand spends his days encouraging kids to say no to cigarettes, after he told “60 Minutes” in 1996 that his former employers – Brown & Williamson – manipulated its tobacco blend to increase the amount of Nicotine in cigarette smoke. Wigand, who was then working as a high school teacher, says he was subsequently harassed by anonymous death threats. Russell Crowe played the part of this corporate executive turned high school teacher in the 1999 film “The Insider,” which also starred Christopher Plummer and Al Pacino (sensing a theme?). [Image: Getty Images]
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: Anti-Mining Activist
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo worked for the Environmental Protection Agency through the 90s, where she began filing complaints against a US company for mining vanadium in South Africa . Her superiors paid little attention, and, in her words, told her to focus on “decorating her office” instead. When she publicly protested, she faced with death threats, anonymous phone calls, and, in her words “acts being committed on the inside.” She sued on grounds of racial and gender discrimination. Today, she is best known as the instigator behind the first Civil Rights legislation of the 21st century, the Notification and Federal Employee Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (or, the No FEAR Act). She now serves on the board of the National Whistleblowers’ Association. [Image: Getty Images]
Coleen Rowley: 'Person Of The Year' Only Gets You So Far
Former FBI agent Coleen Rowley testified in front of the Senate and the 9/11 Commission about the mishandling of information related to the September 11, 2001 attacks. She spoke to huge structural problems within both the FBI and CIA, irritating quite a few coworkers in the process. Time magazine named her – along with Enron’s Sherron Watkins and World Com’s Cynthia Cooper – Person of the Year in 2002, in honor whistle-blowing bravery. This wasn’t enough to convince Minnesotans, however: Rowley lost her bid for the Senate in 2006 to Republican Jim Kline. [Image: Getty Images]
Mark Felt: Deep Throat Doubters
FBI Agent Mark Felt spent most of his life denying his role as legendary Watergate informant Deep Throat. Vanity Fair revealed his identity in a May 2005 web story by John D. O’Connor, an attorney acting on Felt’s behalf. At first, people didn’t believe it: They said his mind had gone foggy after a stroke years earlier. Once Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein confirmed that “My Friend” was actually “Mark Felt,” he got his book deal. Felt died in his sleep at the age of 95. [Image: Getty Images]