The Extraordinary Rarity of Whistleblowing 370

The outpouring of evidence about Jimmy Savile shows that scores of people working in the BBC, Hospitals, childrens’ homes and even the police knew – not had heard gossip, really knew – about Savile’s paedophilia, but did not blow the whistle.

To me this correlates with the fact that scores of people in the FCO, MI6, MI5, Cabinet Office and other government agencies knew about extraordinary rendition, but did not blow – indeed still have have not blown – the whistle.

Savile had come to be seen as a big and peculiarly “Establishment” figure. The extreme rarity of whistleblowing in society is a strange phenomenon it is worth taking a few minutes to consider. Why did none of those now coming forward with their stories – not the victims, but the eye-witnesses – come forward at the time? Fear is probably the main answer, in particular fear of losing your job if you rock the boat. One problem in modern society is that people’s job is too central to their identity – most people when asked who they are, will reply what work they do. It is not just the need to earn money; your social status and personal relationships are often dependent on your position at work. To lose your job, or to become a social pariah within the organisation where you work, is too much for most people to contemplate.

That is why BBC producers who knew about Savile, saw him at it, did not blow the whistle on one of the Corporation’s biggest stars. It is why so few whistleblowers spontaneously come forward who have seen corruption in local government planning departments or defence procurement, to give an example. For most white collar crime there are people who are not directly involved bu see it and keep quiet. There is also the deterrent of self-incrimination – after a time silence becomes complicity.

In my own case of blowing the whistle on the international torture network, I know for certain that many other Ambassadors and diplomats knew just what was happening, most of them didn’t like it, but nobody but me blew the whistle. One Ambassador sent me a cheery “Rather you than me!” Some were actively complicit by being involved in rendition arrangements, others passively by not trying to stop it. This is why the Gibsom Inquiry into Complicity in Torture was shelved – it could not have proceeded without revealing that scores, possibly hundreds, are guilty, many of them still high-ranking civil servants. It was to protect them and the institutions in which they work, rather than to protect the high profile war criminals like Blair, Straw and Campbell, that the Establishment closes ranks. I always knew I would never be allowed to testify before an Inquiry into Complicity in Torture.

Whistleblowers are not just thrown out of their jobs. They almost never find new employment, as the one quality every employer values above any other quality is loyalty to the employer, right or wrong. Nobody wants a “disloyal” employee, whatever their motives. And if your whistleblowing involves the world of war and spying, they will try to set you up on false charges, like me, like Julian Assange, and not just sack you but destroy you.

Whistleblowers are rare because it is a near suicidal vocation, and everyone else is too scared to help. The Savile case teaches us far more important lessons than the prurient detail of a lurid life. Think about it.

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370 thoughts on “The Extraordinary Rarity of Whistleblowing

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  • Mark Golding - Children of Conflict

    Thatcrab – not at all a diversion or a passing motion – no- it will be a decent undertaking to show how deception, the basis of mass murder and wars, entered the human consciousness.

    Some material relates to some primary testament around 3500 BC.

    And of course we must prepare ourselves for the enlightenment, a refinement that changes the path of human advancement.

  • Bob R

    @ Suhayl Saadi 19, Oct 2012 – 8.10 pm

    In the U.K., if a ‘defamee’ launches a suit, it is for the ‘defamer’ to prove the substantive truth of the allegations. In the U.S., it is for the ‘defamee’ to prove the substantive untruth of the allegations.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Trowbridge, thanks for providing detail on these cases and on the whole saga – so, it would seem that the FBI are still up to their dirty tricks (and much worse).

    Jives, thanks. Yes, Putin – while he has made Russia ‘a player’ again in the world, aided of course by high oil and gas process during this period – has basically run the massive state as a KGB officer would run a state. During the Yeltsin years, it was a free-for-all, ideological neoliberalism and massive greed reigned. Now, some of my Russian pals tell me it’s something of a gangster state. Independent media sources have been closed/forcibly bought by the state or its agents, journalists, killed or intimidated into silence and ‘ex’-FSB officers placed in most major positions of power. Medvedev was Putin’s (the intelligence and security services’) front man, of course, and in 2008, the presidential term was extended from four, to six, years beginning in 2012, so in the end, it is likely that Putin will have been in power for quarter of a century (4+4+4+6+6). His third term is now his ‘first’ term again, due to the useful, four-year instrument of Medvedev. Putin = vlast.

    Bob R, thanks very much – I didn’t know, or else had known and since forgotten, that. So, I assume the apparent opposite ratio of outcomes wrt US and UK libel cases is at least in part because, as a defamee in the USA having to prove the untruth of the allegations, one would have to be pretty sure of one’s case before bringing it to court in the first place and therefore, cases where there is some truth to the allegations come to court less often than they would in the UK where the onus is on the defamer. Am I correct?

  • Nextus

    Reminder: Ian Cobain, the author of Cruel Britannia: The Secret History Of Torture will be participating in a live Q&A chat on today (Mon 22 Oct 2012) at 1-2pm. You can put questions to him from midday.

    The official line is that the British don’t “do” torture, but by drawing on previously unseen official documents and accounts of witnesses, victims and experts, Ian Cobain reveals a very different story.

  • N_

    @Mary – on retired Lt Gen Richard Applegate. Given his sensitive knowledge, does he have to report to British security on contacts he has with foreigners? Oh no, wait a minute, former MI5 chief Stella Rimington went to Marks and Spencer as a ‘non-executive director’ after leaving MI5.

    Is there a pattern?

  • N_


    thanks for this link

    I think if you say what it’s about, though, more people will click on it. (London’s Metropolitan Police, who had ~700 plastic bullers before last year’s London riots, began stockpiling them in larger quantities, and now have ~10000, as revealed after a FOI request.)

  • Mary

    An update on the Trump (what a horrible name) development. It is writ large in black letters on his private jet seen arriving in the film.

    Anthony Baxter slams the lack of progress at Donald Trump’s Menie Estate development in new documentary
    21 Oct 2012 00:01

    DIRECTOR Anthony Baxter reviews the lack of promises and progress made to Donald Trump’s Menie Estate development in his TV documentary, You’ve Been Trumped.

    ‘It is too late to save the Site of Special Scientific Interest on the Menie Estate, but Susan thinks as the years pass, the ancient shifting dunes will reap their quiet vengeance on Trump’s golf course.’

    I do hope that this comes true.

    PS Thanks for correcting my homework earlier Duncan McFarlane. It made me feel quite young again as if I was back at school!

    The actions of the Trump outfit described were the actions of fascists. Security jeeps with flashing orange light displays on their roofs, constantly circling the Forbes’ home, the frequent arrival of the Trump entourages in range rovers with blacked out windows up against the boundaries of the residents was menacing in the extreme as was the cutting off of the water supply to the Forbes home. The Grampian police arrived instantly on call from these security goons after the filming had been noticed, asking for names. One of the pair then attacked the cameraman without provocation, arrested him and took the camera and footage. Goons as per Tonton Macoute style. Only the sunglasses were missing.

    And please don’t tell me what I can say and not say.

  • N_

    From the ‘Ship to Gaza’ aid mission:”aiding-enemy-knowingly”

    Dror Feiler accused of ”aiding the enemy knowingly”

    Publiceringsdatum: 2012-10-21

    Dror Feiler, one of the spokespersons of Ship to Gaza, Sweden, was on Sunday separated from the other Swedish passengers with the motivation that he is an Israeli citizen and should be held accountable as such.

    As the Israeli authorities of course know, this is not true. Feiler, although born and raised in Israel, left the country forty years ago, partly in protest against its policy of occupation. He is since many years a Swedish citizen and no longer has any Israeli citizenship. What the Israeli authorities aim at with their obviously false claims is unclear.

    The Swedish passengers have along with the majority of the rest of the crew/passengers chosen not to sign the document containing a confession of that they have entered Israel illegally. Nine of the other passengers – one Italian, three Spanish, and five Greek, have chosen to sign the document and have then been deported to their respective home countries.

    The three Israeli citizens – Reut Mor, Elik Elhanan and Yonatan Shapira – were on trial in a preparatory hearing during Sunday morning. The judge decided against their request that the trial should be made public. They are accused of:

    – aiding the enemy knowingly,
    – incitement to rebellion,
    – and acting in contravention, breaching of a legal order provision, i.e. the closure of Gaza.

    Their detention has therefore been extended by 48 hours within which a new hearing will be held.

    The same accusations have now been directed against the Swedish citizen Dror Feiler.

    Unfortunately the people involved with the mission do not seem to have organised their communications very well, so the following comes from Zionist sources (!!):

    Lawyer Gaby Lasky says the Israeli soldiers used taser weaponry against the members of the aid mission, and that they stole all their electronic equipment. (Or ‘confiscated’, as the Zionist ‘Jerusalem Post’ puts it! This newspaper does not say anything about wheether or not the soldiers also stole bank cards, as they did after the Mavi Marmara massacre.)

    Lasky is also quoted as saying that “she hoped that it would be possible to provide documentation soon, because activists were able to attach SIM and camera cards to homing pigeons who had been on the ship.”

    (Great! Presumably the pigeons were brought by the 10 activists who boarded from Greece, and will return to Greece rather than the longer distance to Naples.)

  • doug scorgie

    “The US says it will help to investigate the car bomb which killed a top intelligence official in Lebanon.”

    So it was a false flag then!

  • Komodo

    Skimming through this –
    Thanks to Clark for his support, and sorry I wasn’t around to respond in person. We lizards, like progressives and liberals (thanks also to Ben) carry a fair amount of baggage. Komodos are generally regarded as nasty (can’t think why) but we have thick skins, and we struggle on somehow. We are also independent. It is rare to find one in a zoo. I am not “Clark’s lizard” and he is not my human. We have even been known to disagree. We share an interest in science and an appreciation of its methodology, however.

    Re. Wiki, sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s not so good. So it’s down to specific entries. What was wrong with the entry I cited and why? Dissing the whole enterprise is not a valid argument. Should I have disbelieved an entry by one of the authors I was disrespecting? Well, no actually, if it contained citations to reputable academic work demonstrating statistically that his theory worked better than the mainstream one?

    As to who I am working for, o Karel/o, but you’re up there somewhere, who the hell are you working for? Whether you know it or not?

    /Koch Bros?

  • Komodo

    ^ The grammar stinks, but it’s just about understandable…moral, read through twice before hitting Submit…

  • Golden Oldies

    “The US says it will help to investigate the car bomb which killed a top intelligence official in Lebanon.”

    So it was a false flag then!

    I think the pathetic antics of the West have become so blatant that calling them ‘flase flags’ is actually an insult to my intelligence.

  • nevermind

    I’ll second you comments Komodo, who is Karel/o, here today and gone tomorrow, a mere snack for a dragon of repute.

    As for blackmailers trying to defunct this site’s excellent moderation with their pathetic threats of releasing private emails, I’m sure that these will not be allowed to pass moderation.

    To the thread Another of today’s ace whistleblower’s is Prof. Nutt who once sat on the ACMD. Then sacked by the Government of deniers, playing footie with people’s life’s, he has seen his profile raised and his private laboratory being given the relevant accolade to speak up for the reform of the misuse of drugs act.

    well done!

  • Abe Rene

    It would appear that whistleblowers need the ability to set up their own business, so as to be beholden to no one. If I understand correctly that you have done this successfully in Ghana, maybe it’s time to do this in the UK, and provide employment for whistleblowers generally, the way that some people might employ ex-cons. A first for the UK, maybe!

  • nevermind

    Thanks for bringing up the trunmping mistake that could cost the SNP their Independence vote.
    I also watched the SNP monster of the deep, let loose to destroy an SSSI and take on Scottish landowners, by allowing Donald to recruit policemen and edyucate them in his ways, how to become lawless rabble.

    a mass Golf lesson is in order. lets each take 150 balls, set up the T’s with another hundred golf virgins and let the balls fly, all those diggers are well protected and after all, that’s what these landowners have to look forward to in future, smashed windows and roof tiles.

    I hope that the SNP will reel this man in before he devastates any more of your beautiful country.

  • guest

    I think the SNP should change their name to NEW SNP. I can see little difference between them and NEW Labour, like NEW Labour they are are just a bunch of opportunists.

  • Moniker

    Re various points in the comments about whether whistleblowers are rare or not – they’re rare near the centre.

    Think about it, Cragi says. I have thought about it at every point in my career where I noticed I was on the slide again, and would soon be saying goodbye to another job. At age 45, after a particularly nasty showdown with a school that was failing its students and its teachers and didn’t want to know that it was, I remembered Robert Graves’ comment after his stint as an officer in the war. Never again, he said, would he put himself in a position where he was contracted to obey someone. So I went self-employed, and have been so ever since – not running a company – they can go bankrupt in hard times and rip off all their suppliers and clients on the way. As a happily insignificant sole trader.

    There are armies of people like me. People who are weeded out of organisations and companies before they hit executive level – not as a conscious HR strategy, they’re weeded out by their own actions and attitudes. I believe that’s the true reason our country’s in such a bad way and can’t seem to find its way out. There is no shortage of confident, decent people but hardly any of them get to be decision-makers because middle management people see them as a bit… er…

    There’s a fantastic scene in Paul Scott’s Raj quartet where a couple of officers’ wives are talking about their families and the subject of a rather difficult young woman comes up. One says to the other, “you don’t think she’s *unsound*, do you?” Neither woman says what this means. Perhaps, the audience suspect, they would not be capable of articulating the meaning but it’s clear – to be “unsound” is to be that most dangerous of beasts, one who can’t be relied upon to go blind and deaf when “our side” do something wrong.

    Wage slaves and whistle-blowers? – there are many reasons for finding yourself on one side or the other. Clearly, recessions and dangerous times make risking your job scarier. But who is the minority here? I have no idea how the numbers pan out, anyone have an idea how to find out?

  • Komodo

    Salmond is a brilliant politician, and I am surprised he backed Trump, particularly as Trump is such an unapologetically nasty piece of work, personally as well as in the line of business. I can understand Salmond’s insouciance regarding his pact with Murdoch as he needed mass media to get his message across. But Trump baffles me. Maybe Salmond thought he could get away with it just this once: maybe legal advisors swayed his judgement; but giving that site the go-ahead was unforgivable.
    (I heard “Lord” Mandelson of Slime describing Salmond as “a star” yesterday, as a prelude to exuding mucus all over the SNP. With friends like that, who needs enemies?)

  • Harry Morris

    UK PM David Cameron to the United Jewish Israel Appeal:

    “With me, you have a Prime Minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable and whose commitment to Israel’s security is non-negotiable.

    Er, what if it conflicts with Britain’s security?

    “And it is humbling to be here tonight and to be called a friend.”

    Why’s that?

    First, Iran. Let’s be clear about the facts. Iran is flouting six United Nations resolutions (…) Iran is not just a threat to Israel. It is a threat to the world.”

    Nothing like staying on message!

    Now there are some who say nothing will work – and that we have to learn to live with a nuclear armed Iran. I say we don’t and we shouldn’t.

    Then this man goes on to boast about the effects of the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran to help the Zionists. Inflation has soared to 50%. Mmm, lovely. What a nasty ‘regime’ in Iran, eh?

    It’s now seven years since Palestinians voted for a President and six since parliamentary elections. The Palestinian leadership needs to refresh its mandate

    What??? The last parliamentary election was won by Hamas.

    The main reason Hamas got such strong support in the population was that almost the entire Fatah leadership (with the exception of Yasser Arafat) were exposed as lining their corrupt pockets from the shipments of cement from Egypt which were the Zionists used to build the apartheid wall.

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