Whistleblower Number One

A Q&A with Fred Whitehurst, the first FBI whistleblower to go public

Whatever you do, wherever you turn, there's something you've done wrong. Travel, holding classes--they stuck a trainee at my desk and moved me to the other side of the building. Foolish little stuff. It gets to be sharks after shark bait. The shrink, opening OPR investigations against you--it's all there simply as a good old boy thing to quell dissension.

If someone launches an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint at the FBI, that's the end of their career. Bam, they're gone. They'll never get anywhere. If they speak up and have issues about management problems at the FBI, if they don't go along with the groupthink in a case--there's so many things. It's like walking on thin ice.

CP: Why hadn't any FBI whistleblowers emerged before you did in the late '90s?

Whitehurst: Because people are terrified. They're absolutely terrified. There's a culture of fear. Coleen Rowley spoke of it. But actually those were Jane Turner's original words. As I wrote to the Inspector General, I'm working with the bravest people I've ever worked with, and they're absolutely terrified out of their wits. Absolute terror. That [FBI HQ] building is close, uptight--it's like something out of an old movie about the Soviet Union. Everybody's terrified to breathe in and out if they aren't breathing in and out at the same time as the old man.

Everybody right now is covering, covering, covering.

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