An interview with Mary Robinson, Member of Parliament (MP) and Baroness Susan Kramer, House of Lords in London, England on 11/11/21 by Whistleblower Network News writer and FBI Whistleblower Jane Turner.
Baroness Susan Kramer: It is absolutely key that we get this issue of whistleblowing up the priority list, and that is the problem, with Covid, economic recession, there is always something immediate. When you have a twenty-four-hour news cycle again, I think that sort of pushes the whistleblowing thinking out of the mainstream path of action. That is the biggest battle I think we have, getting people to understand that this [whistleblowing] is a real priority.
Mary Robinson: I totally agree with Susan, she is in the Lords, and I am in the Commons, and it is important that we do get that powerful voice of all politicians behind us. Very often, they do not get to see this issue until it crosses their path and then of course, they become very involved. It is vital that we keep those people who do see it as being a priority, get moved up the priority list. But also, we have to ensure we take members of the public with us, and they are able to see the importance of whistleblowing, recognizing and valuing the way that whistleblowers do, often unintentionally at the outset because they set off to really do the right thing. There is something intrinsic in people in society to value the right thing. I think we really need to make sure that it is prioritized in Parliament too.
Jane Turner: I wanted to mention to you that President Biden just signed a Memorandum of Understanding Against Corruption noting the importance of whistleblowers. Were you able to see that, and be able to comment something about it?
SK: So, I saw the Biden story yesterday, and I was absolutely thrilled because to have someone who is crucially important and at the center of global events and talking about something that we are trying to push here, Mary Robinson and I, which is the Office of the Whistleblower. He was talking about how the (U.S.) Office of the Whistleblower has been phenomenally successful in dealing with financial crime and fraud, but it has potential to be applied in so many other areas. You are looking at doing it in the international arena as well. That kind of message is a really important one, I think, for politicians here in the U.K. who tend to think of whistleblowing as the area of interest as a regulator, and to be fairly narrow in its application, whereas the Biden approach is a very different one that is identifying it as a fundamental mechanism for cleaning up all kinds of sectors within our society.
JT: And he puts it under national security which raises it to an incredible level.
SK: I think if you went to the public in the U.K., they would also say whistleblowing is crucially important. It exposes the rich and the powerful who normally could cover themselves up, and I think that is a message again that we need to get through. This is one of the ways that exposes the rich and powerful to the full weight of the law and what it does is deter the rich and powerful from what is probably many temptations. Because they think actually, if I do something, if I step out of line, someone is going to know and someone is going to talk.
MR: Absolutely, Susan is spot on, as always. I think it is important that we recognize it for people, all of this is about people, you know, ordinary people who are expecting to get the best out of their corporations, government and society. People have a feeling that there is corruption going on and things are not being done in the right way. But they often feel that it is just something nobody can do anything about and it strikes me when we start to legislate and when we start to think in terms of really tackling this, highlighting this, giving it the priority that it needs, people can then see, well actually whether there is corruption in government or in any area of public service or in businesses. Actually we can take action and it means something. So those are the priorities being answered if you like. That is the answer to this, we can prioritize it, but we have to put answers in place and that is the way we will be able to do it.
SK: Could I pick up something on the Office of the Whistleblower? I think it is important in the Biden administration discussion around the issue. It highlighted the fact that something like the Office of the Whistleblower both provides a clear and safe place for whistleblowers to go. Something that everybody could know without having to do special research in their sector and the powers of all the different fragmented pieces of administration. But also, that information is taken and used, and you have someone with that kind of authority to make sure that the information does not go into a drawer or just generally informs people, but there is action. Every whistleblower I have met wants that absolutely number one, they want action.
JT: Yes, yes, and don’t you find that most whistleblowers are only doing it because in the pursuit of their job or career, it is the right thing to do? They are not looking for the big buck, I have interviewed over forty whistleblowers, and everyone said, I was just trying to do my job.
SK: I think Mary Robinson here, made that point very clearly.
MR: It is really important as well, that we do recognize that for a lot of people they do not see themselves as being whistleblowers initially, and so the value of supporting them is immense. I think…we are having this conversation nowadays, to be here, to be talking to you Jane, and to hear about what is going on in the U.S. This is moving from a niche conversation to a mainstream conversation. It is really an opportunity for us all to make this happen.
JT: Yes, and we really want it to happen too. So, tell me, you’re kind of ahead of us in the area of the Office of Whistleblower…
SK: We are not ahead; we are playing catch up because you already have an Office of the Whistleblower within the SEC. We do not have an equivalent, what we are trying to go for is rather than an office per sector, to say that certainly within our system you could put it under the Cabinet office or whatever else. We need a centralized place, so people don’t have to sit and work out, ‘well let’s see, is there an Office of the Education whistleblower, is there an Office of the Health whistleblower, is there an Office of the Engineering whistleblower, or whatever else.’ But to make this as simple and easy as possible as well as making it safe. And again, that central authority with the power to drive action, it is what we are hoping to do, we have a long way to go if the honest truth were told.
JT: Yes, and you know, you are kind of a little ahead of us because this is what is being proposed is an overall Office of the Whistleblower like you’re aiming for, and what problems is that presenting to you as a politician?
MR: Well, let us not underestimate the fact that change is always difficult to make happen. And particularly when there are so many different interests across the sectors and so bringing this together was always going to be tough, but the momentum is with us now. Very often timing is all and I do feel we are at the right time now to start to make changes, which is why I see us now working together and pushing forward the Office of the Whistleblower here, and you know if we can get people thinking in terms of this being the right thing to do, we will be half way there because we are here doing this job because we have people behind us and wanting things to happen. So, there will be no ignoring the voices of people who call out to have this covered and to have this something they can just say, right, something is going wrong here, who do I go to? The Office of the Whistleblower.
JT: You know, I do believe the Baroness is correct, there is a momentum that is being built. I think with the FinCEN papers, Pandora papers, all these other things that have come out about smuggling, corruption…worldwide corruption. And all we need now is an Office of the Whistleblower overall, like you said. So, the problem we have with most whistleblowers is that they do not know. They start out in their own agency, and they may go to the wrong person, they do not make the right date by the timeline, and so an overarching Office of the Whistleblower would solve a lot of those problems, don’t you think?
SK: That is the reason why we have gone to the Office of the Whistleblower direction. It seemed to us, we got this not…not because we sat around in a circle and thought, well what do we think is the right answer. It is because we talked to whistleblower after whistleblower after whistleblower and it is out of those conversations that this particular proposal, in our case emerged. And I do think we have this wealth of knowledge and experience, from people who have blown the whistle, many whom have paid a terrible personal price. And going back to them, it seems to me, is the way in which to do this. To recognize that they bring so much to the table, and we can use that to shape the future.
JT: Excellent, excellent.
MR: Well, this is as you said, whistleblowers very often, do not…do not know that they are whistleblowers. And for very many people there is a terrible price to be extracted by highlighting some of the issues that they do highlight. And that directly points to the importance of getting this right because people should not feel it is a brave thing to blow the whistle. We should be in a place where the businesses and corporations, public services, whatever, has been cleaned up to the extent that people are no longer blowing the whistle, they’re just doing the regular thing, pointing out an issue, and getting it addressed.
JT: And not getting crucified, because they did.
SK: Sometimes people act as though there is something rather noble about the idea of the whistleblower as the sacrificial lamb. I think it is awful.
JT: It is awful.
SK: You know, it should be easy to raise these issues. People will, you know, raise issues that are not really issues because of personality issues, or jealousies or whatever else, well you shift those out of the way, that is the whole point, you have a decent triage system, but you can identify that. And I also really question the idea of trying to…of having you know, a whistleblower must be a person of extraordinary moral rectitude and nobility. As far as I am concerned, if something is going wrong, and someone tells us about it, we need that information, and we should act on it. We should not first require their sainthood…
SK: …this is information that we want, and we need to be able to use.
JT: I love that, you shouldn’t have to make them prove their sainthood, that is exactly right. Because they do, they are called crazy…
JT: But now in my particular case, they were using Fitness for Duty, and mine was a terrible toll for many, many years. But they used Fitness for Duty to get, you know, the crazy, especially among women…
JT: …emotional, crazy etc., but now, after my case, Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto was able to knock the FBI back. Now it has come out they are using security clearances to knock the whistleblowers out. So, you are absolutely right.
SK: Well, you’re pointing to something that I think really matters, and that is the inequality of arms. You’re usually an individual person and you’re facing a much more powerful and wealthy force. So, their ability to always find some other way of undermining what you’re saying is pretty endless, and again, it takes you back around the circuit to that Office of the Whistleblower, because then they are standing up to an institution that is as powerful as they are.
JT: Do you agree with that?
MR: Let us not forget that when we fail to support whistleblowers, when whistleblowers are not heard, then we all suffer. Whether it is in policing or international health service, whether it is in a corporation or a big business, when they are not recognized, listened too, we all suffer, it costs us. It costs us in lives and in liberty and it costs us financially. So, we have to address this and the Office of the Whistleblower is the way we are trying to progress it here. I am sure with our combined forces, we will get to a successful place, but it is going to be a tough battle.
JT: Exactly, so let me ask you how many allies do you have?
SK: Well, Mary will be able to tell you more about this than I, but I think every MP you speak to who has ever dealt with a whistleblowing case is instantly on our side. As I say, I think our problem is less convincing people of the need for action, and more establishing it as a priority. Because you have to recog-…it is a big step. Setting up a new institution, changing the powers and relationships of the regulators, shifts in the law which means primary legislation. This is not a one morning speech. It requires action and to me we have won the argument, what we have to do is now make it clear that the urgency is there as well.
JT: Yes it is, yes it is. You guys are absolutely on the right track, and…
MR: Well, let us hope so…
JT: No, you are.
MR: It is certainly the case that when politicians and others see this in action, see the effect that whistleblowing has on people, but also the importance of the events the whistleblowing is about, they want to do something about it. So we have the opportunity to bring people in politics along with us but we have got to really highlight it and say that it has to be a priority but I do believe we need the call from the ground. People assume that people can blow the whistle and things will be fine, and it is a shock when it isn’t. But we need people to just realize that not everything is in place for them, that there are holes in this legislation, and they need to start calling for change too. In other words, we cannot do everything from the top, we need to have the public with us. I believe we are in that place now.
JT: Excellent, you know we had a Marist poll done in the United States and it showed, it was commissioned by Whistleblower Network News, and it was a very reputable polling business that did it, and it came out that 86% of the American public backed whistleblowers. That result has been taken up to Congress, taken up to Senator Grassley, there is a large push for this.
SK: Well, there is a suggestion. Anyone listening to this who thinks they could sponsor a poll that we could put forward? Contact the All Party Parliamentary Group on Whistleblowing and Mary Robinson, the MP. It seems to me that would add a great deal of muscle and heft to our work.
JT: It was just done in the States, a couple of months ago, and that is exactly what it did, it added a whole lot of muscle to the whole program. So what is your time table, what do you think?
MR: Well Susan has raised this in the House of Lords, so there is a Bill that she is going through, I am not sure what stage that is at now…
SK: Well mine is in… you have to understand that the legislative system in the U.K. is not obvious to anyone who is an outsider, in fact it is not obvious to most of the public, quite frankly. So mine is something called a Private Members Bill, so I bring it as a private..as an individual. It is not sponsored by the Government, and our successful legislation pretty much always needs the Government either as a sponsor or see a Private Members Bill and say, we will pick that up, we are going to rewrite it because we can bring in all legislative specialists, and that bill is one that we will give enough time in the Parliamentary Diary to have a chance of being properly debated and potentially passed. So, I have started a process, but the government may or may not choose to pick it up. One of our problems is we are in a very packed legislative diary and I can see someone in government offices going, actually it would be quite interesting to pick this up and do something with it but my goodness, you know, there is no spare time in the Lords, there is no spare time in the Commons, we have got all these priorities we have got to deal with and it ends getting shopped to the back burner as something to do when we next have a real gap in the Parliamentary Diary. That is a problem that we deal with, so that is why public pressure, as Mary says, is very useful.
JT: Let me ask you a question, I came from the FBI, twenty-five years, and I have a law enforcement background. You appear to have some very serious whistleblowers who are bringing up certain facts about your…I’m not making dispersions here…but some whistleblowers here have brought up some very troubling accusations against law enforcement, and they have been, at least the one I was made aware of, was destroyed. So is there any way you can see how something like in the future can be resolved without the whistleblower being destroyed, because I know you do not have a rewards program, to make people whole.
SK: Treasury has a marginal reward program but on the whole, there is a sense that in British culture you don’t reward people for doing the right thing. I think you may find many people support a much more active program and indeed an Office of the Whistleblower, who find this quite a thorny issue. In a sense what we have tried to do is slightly set it aside because it is a secondary issue to getting institutional change that we need. But my personal view is that there is going to be no way you can manage to make whistleblowing such that peoples careers are not compromised for the rest of their working life. I mean, you know as well as I do, even if you say, this person won’t be disadvantaged because they’ve blown the whistle, somebody who is mad about it, you know, giving a reference, suggest to their friend in the industry that this person is a potential troublemaker. You know how this racket works…
JT: I do know how it works.
SK: …and I think there is an interesting approach that says, if you were in an accident and you were physically injured for the rest of your life, compromising your ability to earn an income, you would be compensated. You could take that same thinking and apply that to being a whistleblower. So, there are ways in which we can do this, but there are many people who basically feel that you shouldn’t be…the incentive of money should not be there.
JT: Our Treasury has done extremely well…
SK: I know.
JT: …you know that. I know I am speaking to the choir.
SK: What I find frustrating is that many people do not realize that the money that is paid out to whistleblowers is a pittance compared to the money that…first of all Treasury…all government can bring in because it is prosecuting people who have behaved very badly but secondly, there is a huge amount of savings because of the deterrence effect of bringing successful cases and then you save industries thousands in losses, you save people from being defrauded, you save people from being injured, etc. etc., so to me, an awards scheme is a tiny little investment with a huge award. But I do understand that I am running against the cultural norms when I say that.
JT: Could you put that in your poll?
SK: I think you would have to think very carefully how you worded it. Because you do not want to have the whole issue of…this is the first issue to resolve and everything else we do come after. I think it is probably the other way around. Let’s go for the changes that are absolutely critical but let’s make sure this stays on the table.
JT: Yes For every Bradley Birkenfeld there are hundreds of whistleblowers who get nothing, or a pittance…
JT: …like you said. And ours is capped. Mine was capped. Anytime you go after the government it’s capped at three fifty, you can’t get any more than that even though jury trials, which have proven to be extremely valuable, would say give them millions of dollars, it is capped. So maybe that would help people feel better.
SK: I think there are all kinds of strategies that you can use. I hope for us it is important to keep the focus, let’s get the change in the legislation, I think Mary and I agree, and the All Party Parliamentary group agree…
SK: …that the Office of the Whistleblower type of structure is the breakthrough that we need. And it is important that we keep the focus on that. Indeed, people who are opposed to us will try and bring in all of these other issues. And basically, oh no wait a minute, this is what the real secret agenda is etc., etc. It is keeping your eye on the prize and the prize is the system that makes it easy for people to blow the whistle, it makes it safe for people to blow the whistle, and it leads to action when they blow the whistle.
MR: Absolutely, and I think it is important that we don’t conflate the changes we need to bring about in terms of the Office of the Whistleblower and addressing this issue around whistleblowing and valuing whistleblowers and rewards. I think that would, as Susan says, allow the opportunities for people who would not support the entirety of this, to find fault. So, to have those two key elements separate is going to be vital for us, but they are conversations that should nevertheless be taking place at the same time.
JT: Excellent. And as you know, Senator Grassley is known as the Patron Saint of Whistleblowers, what are you known as?
SK: (Laughter) Me? I am just regular old Susan. Thank you.
JT: Well that comes later, I guess. Have they given you any kind of titles with your passionate pursuit for whistleblowers?
MR: Well, I think we would say we are both proud to be standing under the header of the APPG, that is the All-Party Parliamentary Group for whistleblowing, so I think we’d be proud to be under that mantle and where we can take this forward to be able to say we have delivered on the priorities of the group. I think that would be great, but we are doing it for the wide purpose of having a better society and having one that works well.
JT: I have to ask real quick, what can the United States, Senator Grassley, National Whistleblower Center, Whistleblower Network News, what can they do to help you?
SK: To me, framing this as an international issue is really important. The U.K. sees itself as a global leader, therefore becomes something to pay much more attention to. It is also the experience you have had in the United States, where you have used this Office of the Whistleblower, admittedly by sector, but that experience is an important one. And to understand how many more whistleblowers that has brought forward, what the impact has been, and where you built a very different culture. I was very taken by a senior prosecutor that I talked to who said whistleblowers are a citizen’s army, and I thought that was a very good way to capture it. But that is a very American piece of thinking that we could use, everything that backs that up is very, very helpful to us.
MR: The informed insider is the most valuable person we have.
JT: Excellent, excellent. I really thank you for your time.