• Transparency Networks

Some consider them heroes. Others see them as self-seeking traitors. No matter which side of the fence you stand, the courage of whistleblowers is an undeniable truth.

It takes a person of extraordinary character to speak up against wrongdoing for the greater good while going head-to-head with powerful public and private institutions in the process. Long before Edward Snowden came along, many whistleblowers have been helping topple governments, armies, and corporations around the world.

As iconic whistleblowers go, arguably nobody has been able to capture public imagination quite like Deep Throat. The story started in 1972 when five men were arrested for breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Convention in Washington DC’s Watergate office complex. The men were caught red-handed wiretapping phones and stealing documents inside the complex. The incident turned into an international scandal that would go down in history as Watergate.

Then-President Richard Nixon denied any involvement or knowledge of the incident, but evidence emerged of his participation in an extensive cover-up. On June 19, 1972, Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein received information from a high-level government official, who eventually earned the moniker 'Deep Throat.' Throughout the 1972 election campaign and beyond, Deep Throat disclosed a steady flow of information exposing Nixon’s knowledge and participation in the scandal. All evidence led back to President Nixon and his staff, resulting in his resignation in August 1974.

Who was Deep Throat?

Deep Throat’s identity remained a mystery long after Nixon's resignation. In a 2005 Vanity Fair issue, an article finally revealed that Deep Throat was Mark Felt – second-in-command at the FBI during Watergate. After his retirement in 1973, Felt went on to live with his daughter, Joan, keeping a low profile during this time. Curiosities around Deep Throat’s identity peaked particularly with the premiere of the classic film 'All the President’s Men'– but not a whiff still of who it could be.

During this time, Felt suffered a stroke followed by several bouts of serious illnesses. As time went by, his daughter, Joan, persuaded him to go public with his secret, resulting in Felt revealing his identity in the 31st of May 2005 issue of Vanity Fair. Journalists Woodward and Bernstein later confirmed this to be fact.

Mark Felt’s tips gave journalists the leverage needed for a widespread investigation of the White House's activities, significantly speeding up what could have turned into a lengthy trial and justice delayed. The televised trials in 1973 revealed multiple criminal acts such as campaign fraud, political espionage, breaking and entering, and illegal wiretapping. On December 18th 2008, Felt passed away in his sleep after suffering from congestive heart failure.

  • Transparency Networks

Whether in public or private institutions, whistleblowers play a vital role in disclosing crimes related to fraud, security, malpractice, or willful negligence. As individuals with a moral compass, their efforts deserve more recognition but are often met with mistrust instead.

Systems of power protect wrongdoers while vilifying people who speak up against wrong doing. For this reason, many hesitate to come forward since cases of whistleblowers facing retaliation are sadly too common.

Due to efforts by concerned groups and individuals across the world, whistleblowing laws today are comprehensive and ensure the safety and rights of individuals who speak truth to power. The assurance of the law is a great thing. However, it is also imperative that whistleblowers know additional facts and procedures. Here is a list of factors to consider if you are thinking of reporting an employer or organization for wrong-doing.

The Validity and Scope of a Case

Ensure you have a valid case. Familiarize yourself with whistleblowing laws and their purview. Whistleblowers report cases that work against the public interest, namely, cover-ups, criminal offenses, regulatory breaches, and health and environmental safety breaches. If your case involves one or more of these things, the law will protect you. Besides reports in the present day, you can report other cases at any time, irrespective of when events took place or are likely to in the future.

Whistleblowing Laws

Speaking of the law, remember that it protects you. The road is not easy and can deter anyone from reporting a crime. Whistleblowing laws exist for a reason and ensure protection from unfair treatment or retaliation. If you have a valid reason to suspect a crime, the law mandates it be taken seriously and handled with confidentiality and sensitivity.

Whistleblowing vs. Personal Grievances

Ensure your case is not a personal grievance such as termination, workload complaints, or issues with colleagues and third parties. Such cases do not qualify as whistleblowing since they are not in the realm of public interest. Exceptions to the rule take place if a personal grievance case is in the public interest.

Approved Channels

Find out which are the correct channels to raise your concerns. Company handbooks typically contain details of how to make a report and to whom. While the first level of reporting is usually to your manager, company guidelines also have provisions to skip this level and report cases to HR, senior management, the board, Compliance, or Legal.

Do not go directly to the press with your information or publish it online. Doing so can backfire and risks undermining your credibility and reputation.


If there is no action even after following the proper channels, you are within your rights to escalate concerns - especially if you suspect a cover-up or if lives are at stake. Depending on the situation, take up your concerns with the police, a regulator, or the press if required.

Take Prompt Action

Justice delayed is often justice denied. If you know of wrong-doing, report it immediately. It is but natural to seek more evidence, but that is the job of investigators. Remain a witness to the crimes and leave the evidence gathering to the authorities. Digging up more information by yourself could tip off the suspects and derail the investigation.

Altruism or Financial Gain?

Consider why you want to blow the whistle. Is it a moral obligation? Are you looking to get rich? Often, the moral implications far outweigh any financial gains one can hope to make. Get excellent legal help and familiarize yourself with various whistleblower provisions. Additionally, some countries offer reward programs for whistleblowers while others do not.

It is not to say the rewards cannot be significant. However, such cases have statutes of limitation, various conditions, and involve hefty lawyers’ fees. Many times, it is not easy money either.

Becoming a whistleblower is a courageous step. You have the facts and the evidence. If you’re going to report a crime, it is imperative to do it well! By following the correct procedures, the law will protect you from victimization and ensure authorities thoroughly investigate the matter.