Whistleblowers are courageous individuals who have risked their careers, and sometimes even their freedom and their lives, to report corruption, fraud, and other wrongs they have witnessed. Whistleblowers appear in politics, exposing corruption on different levels of government. They can be also be found in large businesses, prompting corporate investigation services to look into any embezzlements or corruptions.

Some people consider them heroes, while others regard them as traitors. No matter how you feel about whistleblowers, you can’t deny that some of them have played an important part in transforming the world we live in.

Here are seven of the most famous whistleblowers you might have already heard of:

Whistleblower #1: Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden is one of the most famous whistleblowers of our generation. He is a former computer intelligence consultant who was working for the CIA when he decided, in 2013, to copy and leak highly classified information. He wanted the public to learn about the details of surveillance programs ran by the NSA, so people could be aware of what their government was doing against them.

His actions have sparked several debates about mass surveillance, national security, and information privacy.

Although Snowden has called himself a whistleblower, he is not considered to be one according to the Whistleblower Protection Act. He is now living in Russia, as a political refugee.


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Whistleblower #2: Chelsea Manning

Chelsea Manning, born Bradley Manning, used to be a US Army Intelligence analyst. In 2010, she leaked classified information to WikiLeaks, the website of the non-profit organization that publishes news leaks and classified documents.

The leaks concerned secret military documents that became known as the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War diaries, as well as the Guantanamo Bay files. She felt many of the things her government was doing were wrong, and that she had a responsibility to inform the public.

Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but her sentence was commuted in 2017.


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Whistleblower #3: Linda Tripp

Linda Tripp was a former White House and Pentagon employee who has played an important part in uncovering the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal in 1998.

She was aware of the relationship between president Bill Clinton and White House employee Monica Lewinsky, but refused to commit perjury by concealing evidence. She recorded and shared some confidential phone calls.

As a result, Clinton was charged with perjury and impeached, but was finally acquitted.

Tripp was fired from her job in 2001. She claimed it was vindictive, but all political appointees were expected to resign at the end of the Clinton administration.


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Whistleblower #4: Peter Buxtun

Peter Buxtun was working as a venereal-disease investigator for the United States Public Health Service when he learned about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

This abusive study was conducted between 1932 and 1972, on poor African-American men who had syphilis. They were made to believe they were receiving free healthcare, while investigators simply wanted to observe what happened when the sexually transmitted infection was left untreated.

Buxtun first filed a protest, which was ignored. In 1972, he leaked information to a journalist of the Associated Press, which led to the termination of this appalling experiment.

Whistleblower #5: Daniel Ellsberg

Daniel Ellsberg is a former US military analyst. He is known for his studies on nuclear weapons, but also for becoming a whistleblower when, in 1971, he leaked the Pentagon Papers to different newspapers.

These secret documents contained information about the involvement of the US in the Vietnam War. Ellsberg’s motivation for leaking the Pentagon Papers was trying to put an end to what he coinsidered a wrongful war.

He was sentenced to 115 years in prison in 1973. The charges were dismissed, and he went on to receive different prizes and awards.

Whistleblower #6: Karen Silkwood

Karen Silkwood was a chemical technician working at a nuclear fuel production facility based in Oklahoma. A union member, she was investigating health and safety issues when she discovered several violations of health regulations.

After she reported her findings, her body and her home were mysteriously contaminated with plutonium.

In 1974, she decided to show the evidence she had collected to newspapers, but she unfortunately never had a chance to do it. As she was on her way to submit documents to a New York Times journalist, she died in a suspicious car accident.

Her documents had disappeared from her car.


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Whistleblower #7: Jeffrey Wigand

Jeffrey Wigand used to be vice-president of research and development at Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation.

He became a whistleblower when, in 1996, he appeared on a CBC news program to reveal that Brown & Williamson had intentionally added dangerous additives to their cigarettes. He received many anonymous death threats.

He kept fighting, and eventually consulted with different countries around the world to help improve their tobacco control policies.

As you can see from the examples of these famous whistleblowers, blowing the whistle on some unfair, unethical or illegal situations can be dangerous. But many whistleblowers are motivated to take action because they are hoping to see a positive change happen, regardless of the possible negative consequences on their lives.


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