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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  • thatcrab

    “Wage slaves and whistle-blowers? … who is the minority here? I have no idea how the numbers pan out, anyone have an idea how to find out?”

    I dont quite understand that question Moniker, but it would involve sampling i think, refining the question, psychology and statistics. Very subjective stuff. I see no definite measures, just ideas and philosophy, and law..

  • Duncan McFarlane

    Komodo wrote “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.”

    Seems to me he made the same calculation as every other leader of a major political party i.e if i do X then how many votes will it gain me and how many will it lose me. He calculated the jobs created would give him more votes than he would lose due to over-ruling a local council planning committee (chaired by a member of his own party); allowing the destruction of an irreplaceable SSSI full of endangered species; and allowing Trump to get police assistance to force residents out of their homes.

    This wasn’t a one off decision either – the police have helped Trump all the way through – and looked the other way when Trump’s people are breaking the law.

    The only conclusion you can come to from that is that Salmond is just a vote-calculating machine like all the other big party leaders, albeit a vigorous, charismatic and intelligent one. The only principle he’ll stand by is trying to get independence for Scotland (under Alec Salmond). Otherwise it’s whatever gets him and his party most votes, whether that’s opposing the Iraq war or dealing with Murdoch or letting billionaires and big firms do whatever they like as long as it brings some jobs and votes.

    I’ll still vote for independence because the Scottish parliament voting system is more proportional and so more democratic than the Westminster one ; and because the Scottish political spectrum is a bit to the left of the British one as a whole ; and because there’s the chance of getting other changes after independence. I’m pretty dubious about Alec Salmond though – not his intelligence or his ability, but his trustworthiness. I suppose if you want a chance of changing things you have to make compromises to get the power to do it – i’m just concerned at how far Salmond is willing to compromise and whether he might make more compromises too far like the one with Trump.

  • Bob R

    @ Suhayl Saadi; 22 Oct, 2012 – 7:16 am

    I highlighted that as a fundamental major difference; to point out that it is not just the oppressiveness of the U.K.’s defamation laws that created the difference.
    As to a more exhaustive explanation, sorry; I don’t know enough about U.S. law. My knowledge of the difference is based on U.K. cases which have referred to U.S. ones.
    The issue is related to U.S. free speech Constitutional Protections.
    As to costs in the U.S., I haven’t a clue about that. Remember, in the U.K. it is the threat of punitive costs against that puts many people off of defending a case. So, the variation in ratios will be affected by the potentiallly defendable cases that weren’t defended (due to the potential costs costs of losing (not the damages themselves)).

  • Anon for legal reasons

    My name is [name supplied] and I’m a whistleblower.

    I’ve spent the last 6 years trying to get ANYONE to respond seriously to my knowledge of an NHS practitioner’s exploitation of an At Risk child, and abuse of other vulnerable people.

    I’ve encountered almost unbelievable, almighty runarounds and deaf ears from police, social services, NHS, practitioner’s regulatory body, healthcare inspectorate bodies, ‘redirection’ back into this useless loop by gov departments…and the sheer, cowed toothlessness of any number of entirely ineffective ‘protective’ charities and third sector ‘support’ agencies.

    Britain today, in case anyone is still deluded as to the nation’s essential decency, is just about as deeply corrupt as it’s possible to be – without leaving physical injuries (though I fear that direct tactic is on its way too).

    This sickening Savile atrocity is indeed the tip of the iceberg. I am deeply upset by it as it mirrors the experiences I and many others I know have encountered when all we’re doing is simply standing up and doing the decent thing, the right thing.

    You’ve read all the mass baying for the blood of those who knew about Savile’s chronic abuse but said nothing. Well, I (and others) said something at the earliest opportunity. The authorities to a man or woman have done all they can to destroy me and fellow whistleblowers. The taxpayers’ money (YOUR hard earned cash – are you ok with that?) that’s been spent in these nefarious pursuits must far outweigh the actual cost of proper, timely investigations and simple, but genuine apologies.

    Where have all these baying masses been …? Why haven’t they been supporting us all along…?

    They’ve been hiding. They want someone else to do their dirty work. It’s always, always someone else’s responsibility. That and a complete failure of moral character.

    As another poster here concludes, it’s a massive, widespread deficiency of character and integrity which, from experience, infects every nook and cranny of our culture.

    Where is this deficiency taking us? Well, we’re already well down the route to permanent Milgramland, if not there already. We’re way past the help of inconsequential organisations that ‘champion’ Human Rights and Equality – and, de facto, without the protection of laws that we should be able to rely upon.

    Come on you guys, you silent majority, all those who post here and elsewhere under cover of pseudonyms but do nothing or not enough in the real world!

    Decide what you want. A maggotty Savile society where no vulnerable person is safe (and you too can so very easily be made vulnerable by TPTB, never doubt it)? Or do you want a society where you can trust more people and authorities than not, where honesty and compassion are virtues and not treated as crimes, where personal integrity is the primary requisite?

    It’s YOUR choice.

    If you’ve nothing to whistleblow about personally, then actively support whistleblowers – now. Not 10 or 30 years on when a new generation has finally held the commission of inquiry which upholds the hapless whistleblowers’ reports and does a peremptory mea culpa or two.

    Now. Get active now.

    (Btw, my anonymity here is for legal reasons: the only way I found to get anyone to listen to the reports of abuse was to take legal action. My lawyers have been told there is to be an out of court settlement in my favour. This is tantamount to winning the case, but in the twisted world of modern tort, the claimant is cautioned not to say that. I’m writing this before the apparently usual gagging clause is attempted which, of course, I should resist.)

  • Jemand

    @Anon for legal reasons

    Are you able to write your story, naming names, and publish it under a pseudonym on some other website that will preserve your story? You would then be able to post links to that story on various forums like Craig’s blog. It’s not the ideal way of prosecuting the matter but it would be a way of drawing public attention to it.

  • Ex-Kiwi

    Another organisation that should be investigated is St John International head office in London. St John International in London are currently pulling out all the stops in order to present awards to two known members of the St John New Zealand paedophile gang. The awards are to be presented by the Queen’s representative in NZ, the Governor General.

  • doug scorgie

    From Wall Street Journal 23/10/12:

    “Whistleblower who revealed CIA torture sentenced to prison
    Former CIA agent John Kiriakou pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to crimes related to blowing the whistle on the US government’s torture of suspected terrorists and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.”

    Initially, Kiriakou pleaded not guilty to the charge that he had outed two intelligence agents directly tied to the drowning-simulation method by going to the press with their identities.

    Had Kiriakou been convicted under the initial charges filed in court, he could have been sentenced to upwards of five decades behind bars.”

  • Burt

    If someone’s accused of something while they’re alive it’s just allegations. If they’re accused after they die they’re simply branded guilty. Jimmy Savile, perhaps, was a bad man. The rest of the “Great British Public” too.

  • Snap

    The pressures on and treatment of whistleblowers with bullying and harassment may have a lot to do with the psychology of group identity.

    A slightly different scenario plays out when it is an outsider pointing out some failing with security, for instance.

    Greenpeace recently sneaked 70 people into the restricted areas of two of Sweden’s nuclear power stations and some remained there for 27 to 38 hours while telling social and mainstream media about it. When told that they had not found them all, the police responded “Well have to look into it. Do they want us to find them? I dont suppose they will come out, in that case?”
    The Local (2012-10-10, 2012-10-12)

    Some have been charged and may be fined. Compare that also to the treatment of hacktivists who demonstrate the weakness in security of a computer system to show that personal information is not protected…

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