There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about President Donald Trump, Ukraine, and an unidentified whistleblower. A whistleblower is someone who “blows the whistle” or tells on someone for doing something wrong. An anonymous male CIA official reportedly has some information about a phone call between President Trump and the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. Reports suggest the whistleblower believes Trump illegally pressured the other leader to provide information by threatening the U.S. would withhold favors if the demands were not met. This claim by the secret source has led to the current impeachment process.
History of Whistleblowing
Whistleblowing has a long tradition, and the informant is usually kept anonymous for their protection. In America, none other than Benjamin Franklin was the first to use this process. In 1773, he claimed that the governor of Massachusetts had intentionally misled the British Parliament to promote a military buildup in the Colonies. As proof, Franklin exposed confidential letters showing the governor was royally appointed by the British crown.
Daniel Ellsberg leaked a classified government study about the Vietnam War that proved several officials had lied to Congress and the public about their intentions and actions in Vietnam. These documents became known as the Pentagon Papers. The release of this classified information led to protests and contributed to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Bradley/Chelsea Manning is a transgender soldier who was court-martialed in 2013 for documents provided to online outlet WikiLeaks. The U.S. Army intelligence analyst reportedly leaked 91,731 military reports about the war in Afghanistan, and 251,287 diplomatic cables from the State Department. Among the material was a classified airstrike video that showed U.S. gunfire killing 11 civilians in Baghdad, including two journalists.
Edward Snowden is a former federal contractor. He disclosed information about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance of U.S. citizens through a program that collects phone records, emails, and internet histories of people around the world.
Julian Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks, a website that collects and posts information provided by whistleblowers, such as Chelsea Manning. In 2012, he claimed political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in England and remained there until recently, when he was arrested. The website has published thousands of classified government documents online. He may soon be sent to the U.S. to face trial over his encouragement of other leakers to provide secret information.
Whistleblowers can face serious legal trouble for releasing private information, so they usually come forward only when they have something important to reveal to the public.