12 Greatest whistle-blowers of all times

Although they are typically treated as traitors by the political establishment, public support for whistle-blowers is often high. Without whistle-blowers, the public would never have found out about various shocking facts and activities that were most definitely in the public interest. Whistle-blowing is not a recent pursuit either, with a host of people responsible for revealing one scandal after another over the years.

Smedley Butler

At the time a retired US marine, formerly a Major General, in the 1930s Smedley Butler sent shock waves across America and beyond by revealing a secret plot to overthrow the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt via the creation of Fascist organisations. Known as "The Business Plot," the plan was hatched by powerful businessmen. In spite of Butler's efforts, contemporaneous newspapers dismissed the plot, labelling it a "gigantic hoax."

Silent Spring

In the early 1950s, biologist Rachel Carson unveiled the real impact of pesticide use in agriculture, which had been hidden by its producers. In Silent Spring, she published extensive study evidence detailing the severity of the damage being wreaked on the environment by pesticide use. Although initially resisted, the legacy of her work was the eventual banning of DDT in the 1970s.

Pentagon Papers

Like Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg was an analyst for the American military. In the early 1970s, Ellsberg leaked the "Pentagon Papers" to print media outlets including the New York Times. The leaks included details of the US plans for Vietman, and ultimately played a role in turning the tide of public opinion against the war.

Frank Serpico and the NYPD

Immortalised by Al Pacino in the film of his name, Frank Serpico was a police officer for the New York City Police Department who spoke out about various questionable practices within the organisation. Exposing widespread corruption among the force, Serpico's revelations included details on bribery, violence, harassment and drug use perpetrated by his fellow officers.

Karen Silkwood

Karen Silkwood was employed as a technician in a US nuclear plant. As a prominent union activist, she continually spoke up about the Health & Safety practices within the workplace, which were putting not only the staff members at risk, but also the wider community. Her death in a car accident just as she was preparing to go public with claims about the contamination prompted many suspicions.


Arguably the greatest corruption story in the United States or possibly even Western history, the Watergate scandal shook many Americans to the core. The revelations which engulfed the Nixon administration, were published in the New York Post by journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The source of the information was known for a long time as "Deep Throat," later revealed as former associate FBI director Mark Felt.

Mordechai Vanunu

Former Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu leaked information regarding Israel's nuclear defence plans to the Sunday Times newspaper in the 1980s. Convicted in a trial that was held behind closed doors, Vanunu was imprisoned for 18 years. Although released from jail, he faces extreme restrictions on his freedom, prompting many to view him as a political prisoner.

Mark Whitacre

Another whistle-blower whose story made it to the big screen, Mark Whitacre was played by Matt Damon in the "The Informant". Whitacre was an FBI informant who disclosed information about price fixing at the Archer Daniels Midland corporation. After losing immunity as a whistle-blower, Whitacre was eventually imprisoned for 8 years.

Jeffrey Wigand

Tobacco executive, research and development president at Brown & Williamson, Jeffrey Wigand leaked the fact that the company was deliberately making its tobacco more addictive by manipulating the nicotine content, a revelation of particular interest to people with a case against the tobacco industry. Another whistle-blower who made it into film, Russell Crowe played Wigand in "The Insider" in 1999.

Coleen Rowley

Former FBI agent Coleen Rowley raised concerns about FBI failings to act on information about a suspected terrorist in the 1990s. Rowley's concerns became the focus of public interest following the attacks on September 11th 2001, as the failings she identified were suspected as having left the United States vulnerable to attack.

US Private First Class Manning

Now known as Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley, this US soldier leaked huge amounts of military data to the whistle-blowing organisation Wikileaks. An intelligence analyst in Iraq, Manning was able to provide classified details of US military operations. Sentenced to 35 years in 2013, Manning's revelations included details of air-strikes, diplomatic cables and war logs.

Edward Snowden

The most recent and already one of the most famous, or notorious, whistle-blowers has to be Edward Snowden. Having been employed as a contractor for the NSA and CIA, Snowden released thousands of classified documents to the press. The scale of mass surveillance engaged in by the US and UK governments shocked many around the globe. A fugitive from the US, this whistle-blower was forced to flee, eventually receiving temporary asylum in Russia.

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About the Author

Sue Smith started writing in 2000. She has produced tutorials for companies including Apex Computer Training Software and articles on computing topics for various websites. Smith has a Master of Arts in English language and literature, as well as a Master of Science in information technology, both from the University of Glasgow.