A Whistleblower on Why Whistleblowing Matters, and Why You Should Be One...No Matter the Price...
By Steve Heller on 4/15/2007, 5:22pm PT  

Guest Blogged by Stephen Heller

The truest act of patriotism is to protect the public from a corrupt and wasteful government.

The United States government and American corporations are counting on you to keep your mouth shut.

According to Transparency International's Peter Eigen, the World Bank estimates that every year corruption costs one trillion dollars. Here in the United States, billions of our tax dollars are stolen every year due to corruption, bribery, fraud, willful malfeasance and misfeasance, and plain old greed. And if you come across evidence of this fraud and corruption, you are expected to keep quiet about it.

The government and the corporations want you to shut up. Stay asleep, people. Nothing to see here, just move along. Go to work, earn your pay, watch TV so you'll know what products you should be buying, then go to the mall and buy them. Don't worry about what your government is doing, don't think about what the corporations are doing, just trust us and be good little "sheeple." Just. Shut. Up.

To hell with 'em.

Don't shut up. Don't let the bastards win. When you see something, say something. Take a deep breath, and blow that whistle HARD!

You should know that you'll probably get hammered for it. You'll likely lose your job, get harassed and threatened, you might even be charged with a crime.

I know whereof I speak...

I became known as the Diebold Whistleblower. While working as a temp word processor at the Los Angeles office of international corporate law firm Jones Day, I saw, in the course of my assigned duties, documents about Jones Day's client Diebold Election Systems, Inc., that caused me to fear for the integrity of our elections, and thus of our entire democracy. (You can read PDFs of some of the more important documents here.) These documents provided smoking-gun evidence that Diebold was breaking the law in California and lying to the state, the taxpayers, and the voters about their voting machines and the software therein.

I made the choice to steal and expose those documents, and as a result I was charged by the Los Angeles District Attorney with three felonies: unauthorized access to computer data, commercial burglary, and receiving stolen property. Long story short, Diebold got de-certified in the state of California due in part to the documents I exposed. I eventually pleaded guilty to one felony count of unauthorized access to a computer. I acknowledged in court that I committed a serious crime by stealing attorney-client privileged documents. I did not receive any jail time, and I am currently on felony probation. For the record, I do accept full responsibility for the crime I committed. After all, I did it; I did steal the documents, and they were clearly marked as attorney-client privileged. As I said, I committed a serious crime. And just as I warned in the previous paragraph, I lost my job, was harassed and threatened, experienced a financial meltdown, and was arrested.

There are countless other whistleblowers with more dramatic stories than mine. Think of people like Jeffrey Wigand. Sibel Edmunds. Daniel Ellsberg. Joseph Wilson. And people like Ron Ridenhour or Donald Vance; these two are superheroes. They served their nation in the military, and served their nation again by blowing the whistle on crimes against humanity. All of them faced terrible pressure, retaliation, threats, fear, financial hardship, and much more because they dared to speak truth to power, dared to make their voices heard in the interests of truth, justice, and the American way.

They dared to blow the whistle.

So with the examples above, and the example of my own story (three felony charges, fired from two good-paying jobs with full benefits, a double mortgage on our house to pay the legal bills, threats from the Jones Day law firm with a financial judgment that would have kept my wife and me impoverished for the rest of our lives, threatened by the District Attorney with a state prison sentence, and a lot of tension and fear), you might be thinking that no matter what, you'd never blow that whistle. It's just not worth it, right?


Why do it? Why risk everything to expose fraud and corruption?

Because our nation, our democracy, our way of life, depends on it. "In this era of increasingly secretive government and government contracting, whistleblowers are one of the only ways of finding out what our elected officials are doing to our rights," says Cindy Cohen of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Whistleblowers reveal crimes against our society. They expose and stop government and corporate misconduct. They save lives.

All of us, as citizens of this great democratic republic, have a responsibility to ourselves and our fellow citizens to see to it that the government and corporations conduct their affairs ethically and in compliance with all laws and regulations. If we fail in this duty as citizens, we fail our neighbors, our children, ourselves, and our nation.

Everyone claims to be a patriot. But patriotism is more than waving the flag and chanting "U.S.A.! We're Number 1!" True patriotism means, among other things, believing in and standing up for American justice. And American justice means that when (not if) the government or a corporation is lying, cheating, screwing you, your neighbors, your kids, your nation, and you see evidence of it, you stand up. You make your voice heard. You hold your head high. And, unfortunately, you get ready to fight the crooks in expensive suits and the government lackeys who will try to destroy you.

But you won't be alone. When news of my story went public, there was quite a response. People from all over the world contacted my wife and me with messages of support and donations to my legal defense fund. The Los Angeles District Attorney's office was flooded with calls, letters, and emails insisting that they stop prosecuting a whistleblower. Here in Los Angeles, a number of celebrities stepped forward to help me with publicity and donations. The blogs pitched in big time, especially our own Brad Friedman. We heard from people in all 50 states, as well as Guam and Puerto Rico. We heard from people in Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, the Netherlands, Holland, Germany, and France. We heard from people in the American military who applauded me for standing up for the integrity of our elections and our democracy. So if you blow that whistle, you'll have to take some hits for it, but others will be there to stand with you, encourage you, and maybe even assist you financially.

"Freedom isn't free." How many times do we all hear that? And it's the truth; freedom is most certainly not free. Usually "freedom isn't free" is referring to the terrible cost paid by soldiers to establish, defend, or expand freedom. But we citizens who aren't soldiers also have a duty to help pay the cost of freedom.

Those of us who live in this country and who aren't in the military get our freedom for free, for the most part. The cost of freedom is paid for us by others. But by becoming a whistleblower, you have a chance to repay some of that cost.

I never had to be in the military; when I turned 18 there was no more draft. I never had to pay anything for my freedom. Becoming a whistleblower changed that. Blowing the whistle on Diebold's dirty deeds, lifting up the pretty skirt Diebold wears before the world and exposing the filthy corruption underneath, led to some hard knocks for me and my wife. But it was an opportunity for me to pay a small part of the cost of freedom.

And let me tell you, it feels pretty good.

I was surprised to find within myself the courage to stand up and risk jail and financial ruin in the name of American democracy and clean elections. I exposed, at great risk to myself, information that threatened the integrity of our republic. I am now a convicted felon, but my head is held high. I am a patriot, an American, and a man. No one - not Diebold, not Jones Day, not the District Attorney - can take that away from me.

So for those of you who have seen or someday will see evidence of government or corporate corruption, join me. Expose it. You'll help pay the cost of freedom. You'll feel like a true American patriot. That's a feeling that can't be bought, and it can't be beat.

Blow that whistle, and blow it hard.