A whistleblower is like a tall oak tree. Retaliation against a whistleblower is pouring poison on the roots of that oak tree. The tree’s ecosystem is shocked and deeply affected by the poison, and it spreads slowly, inexorably, to surrounding plants. A whistleblower has family, relatives, friends, coworkers, and society itself that interacts with them. The poison poured on a whistleblower can do long-term damage not only to the whistleblower but to their network as well.
“She was gone for years,” said one member of a whistleblower’s family. “After she blew the whistle, her whole personality changed. She was no longer the happy-go-lucky adult that we used to know. Communication was limited, and she seemed very depressed.”
A whistleblower’s daughter said she has “gaps in her memory” of the period her father blew the whistle. Her father told her that she had been sent to therapy during the first few years of his whistleblower saga, but she cannot remember any of it. Her father also told her that the therapist said she had bottled up her emotions because she saw her parents’ unhappiness and was afraid to add to their burden.
Another whistleblower stated that his kids had to go without for several years because there was no measurable income coming into the household. Stories of financial ruin are common for whistleblowers. Once retaliated against, the whistleblower’s agency or company will disseminate false narratives about the whistleblower in order to discredit and marginalize them, making finding employment difficult.
One whistleblower lives with her mother, sick and broken from an illness she contracted at an overseas duty station. The whistleblower’s agency allegedly fired her after she blew the whistle on malfeasance and corruption with federal agents stationed at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. She says her agency also denied her medical benefits. Now, deathly ill with Rat-bite fever with complications that stem from her time on duty in Cuba, she is tended to by her older mother, who is brokenhearted to see her daughter treated so poorly for doing the right thing. The whistleblower is now dependent on her mother for survival.
Another whistleblower’s daughter expresses that living with a whistleblower is frustrating. “You have to grow up much earlier than you should because you have to deal with grown-up issues,” she said. “You are expected to deal with things outside your grasp.” She states she felt like she had to “fix things,” and she could not do so. It is “confusing and frustrating,” she said. She also has lapses in memory and feels it is due to “dealing with a parent who is a whistleblower suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), and at some point, “her brain that is being traumatized,” took over and blocked her memories. She feels she did not have a normal childhood, either in school or socially, because adult problems took up most of her childhood. Currently, she advised that she has suffered permanent damage because “being scared of raised voices and having to walk on eggshells” is one residual effect of living with a whistleblower.
Another whistleblower says that after losing his job, he developed PTSD and became withdrawn after engaging in a civil action against his federal agency. The multiyear battle against the federal government eventually cost him his wife and kids. The pressure that is felt by family members is wide-ranging, and some families cannot provide the support that a whistleblower needs or wants.
A wife of another whistleblower said that when she married her husband, he was a different individual. The stress he underwent as a whistleblower changed his personality, and he became consumed by anger at the injustice of a system that covered up criminal activity in law enforcement. He refused therapy, telling her “that he could not be seen as weak.” She can no longer live with him.
Whistleblowing is a noble action, but it comes at a high cost to the whistleblower, family and friends, and the community. It carries a moral burden and often results in disillusionment, as your trusted organization proves itself to be untrustworthy and detrimental to the truth. The whistleblowers believe in an organizational structure that provides a process for speaking out against corruption, malfeasance, and criminal acts, but instead, find betrayal. It is no wonder that whistleblowers are disillusioned, as trust in a process, system, or organization is broken. A whistleblower is subjected to ostracism, humiliation, isolation, retribution, and loss of social and peer support. But it is not just the whistleblower who suffers it is also society. When the truth is hidden, society suffers.
An informant for a federal intelligence agency advises that they worked with a Special Agent, and both had successfully covered sensitive cases together. One of these cases allegedly involved the gang known as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and young girls’ transported between the United States and Mexico. According to the informant, the information concerning MS-13 was relevant, current, and important enough that the federal agency was paying the informant for highly-detailed information on a regular basis. The Special Agent the informant worked with became a whistleblower, reporting on misconduct and corruption in the agency. The Special Agent was removed from the federal office.
When the informant called the federal office to provide important information concerning a crime, they were advised the Special Agent would no longer be working with them. In fact, no one was going to be assigned to the informant. The federal agency did not want to take information from the credible, vetted source, and kept money the informant was owed for prior information concerning abducted children. The informant also discovered that information previously given on a federal case, which resulted in the apprehension of a federal offender, had been falsely attributed to a Special Agent and not the informant. It was all a lie. The federal agency buried the federal whistleblower and buried all informants dealing with the whistleblower. The terminated Special Agent whistleblower backed up the informant concerning all facts regarding lost payment and information the informant provided.
Retaliation against whistleblowers not only hurts the whistleblower but hurts society in many ways, big and small. When the truth is hidden or covered up, it affects not only the whistleblower but all of us. The rot that occurs after retaliation against a whistleblower spreads in many different directions and many different ways, poisoning civil discourse, changing the direction that truth would have exposed, and breaking the arc bending toward justice.