Writer Tom Mueller joins the “Unauthorized Disclosure” weekly podcast to discuss his book, Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing In An Age Of Fraud, which was released in October.
During the interview, Mueller describes how he came to work on this book, which over 500-plus pages documents and explores whistleblowing in many different arenas—corporate, institutional, government, etc. He highlights common threads he sees in various whistleblower cases, such as what leads one to become a whistleblower.
He talks about the Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington state and the incredible dangers the site poses to humanity. According to Mueller, more whistleblowers than any other site on Earth come from Hanford. Yet, very few citizens know about Hanford.
Later in the interview, Tom outlines how corporate executives responsible for waste, fraud, abuse, and illegality use universities and philanthropy to launder their reputations. He shares a whistleblower case related to this practice.
The interview concludes with some conversation on national security whistleblowing, what is at stake with President Donald Trump’s administration, and how President Barack Obama’s administration gave Trump many of the tools he has available for continuing a war on whistleblowers. That includes prosecuting truth-tellers with the Espionage Act.
To listen to the interview, click on the above player or go here.
Mueller’s book grew from his interest in the False Claims Act, a tool for whistleblowers to challenge corporate fraud. He interviewed whistleblowers and their counsel, as well as other experts on “group behavior.” He noticed the same dynamics happening over and over again.
“Someone in an increasingly toxic group that realizes wait this is fraud, stands up and says so thinking they’re doing the group a favor and actually discovers by the reaction of their team and their bosses. This fraud wasn’t a bug but a feature of the group,” Mueller recalled.
He noted the personality types of people, who blew the whistle across industries, public and private, had a lot in common. The patterns of retaliation, “whether you’re talking about the Pentagon or a local hospital in Florida or Big Pharma or nuclear waste cleanup,” were often the same too.
For the most part, the whistleblowers he profiled never thought they would be “resisted with fixed bayonets by their team and by their leadership.”
According to Mueller, “They think they are saving their company from a horrible PR nightmare, or worse, serious human harm. So, they think of a higher loyalty to their company or to society and a higher obedience, not just to their individual boss but to their board and to their country.
“They are soon disabused of this because it turns out they are rapidly retaliated against, systematically denigrated in their workplace, demoted, their five-star performance ratings rapidly become no stars. Overnight this changes, when they come out as a whistleblower. Rapidly the pink slip arrives,” Mueller adds.
“Often people who have been the most successful whistleblowers had no idea they were blowing the whistle when they came forward. They thought they were doing their job.”
Mueller argues that the level of secrecy at an institution is one of the predictors of whistleblowing. A prime example is the Hanford nuclear waste site. “It should be a household name in America today.”
On one hand, there are “extreme dangers having to highly unstable nuclear materials, but we also have a team of highly-trained nuclear engineers.” Preventing a massive mushroom cloud from appearing—preserving the public good is their number one priority, Mueller contends.
The consciences of these scientists and engineers do not permit them to take any shortcuts. They have to speak up, and invariably, they find they are “blackballed in their industry,” all because they warn against the risks of lethal nuclear waste contaminating the environment.
Mueller theorizes that Trump is the “logical conclusion of 50 years of creeping institutional corruption and normalization of fraud.”
“Go back to the deregulation of the economy under the Clintons, which laid the groundwork for the 2008 crash. Then, you have 9/11 and our going to the dark side and the systematic hijacking of our civil liberties.”
Mueller raises U.S. misconduct in international politics and two illegitimate wars that bled the economy. Then, Obama was elected and promised “change you can believe in.” But what happened? There were eight years of normalization of fraud and corruption, including some that had been baked in for decades.
Voters turned to Trump out of desperation. They were sick of the “unhealthy melding of public and private, the acceptance of conflicts of interest and the revolving door as good business practices, the cults of secrecy that we talk about a lot, [and] the cults of money.”
In spite of his posturing as an outsider who would clean up the “swamp,” Mueller said Trump embodies all of this corruption. That reality only exacerbates the climate, guaranteeing crises of conscience persist throughout all arenas of society and government.