The label "whistleblower" has negative connotations for many: they think it means "snitch," "tattle tell," or "traitor." But these are meanings propagated by those afraid of being exposed, afraid of the truth. By telling people that they are disloyal to the team if they speak up, the wrongdoers hope to keep the truth pent up by conflicting loyalties. "I know this is wrong, but what would my boss, my co-workers think if I told others..."
This is not the way it should be. When higher loyalties call—namely, duty to the public—workers should always be free to communicate problems without fear of retaliation, be it ostracization, demotion, being fired, or worse. And they should not be threatened and physically attacked. But whistleblowers are truly the patriotic ones despite the myths, because they face metaphorical violence of all sorts—verbal, emotional, occupational—and, rarely, even "real" violence as well.
Which is what happened to Los Alamos National Laboratory auditor Tommy Hook this weekend.
On Saturday night Hook went to a Santa Fe bar to meet a person claiming to be a fellow Los Alamos whistleblower that called that night. When the person did not show, Hook left the bar after two drinks. In the parking lot he was pulled out of his car and beaten so badly by 3 or 4 men that he had to be taken to intensive care. Hook did not provoke these men. The men concentrated on kicking his head, and Hook's family thinks the men would have killed him if it hadn't been for the witness who had just walked out of the bar.
The men didn't try to take Hook's wallet, his watch or his car; they just told him to keep his mouth shut if he knows what's good for him. Tommy Hook was expected to testify before Congress this month (and talk to a congressional investigator this Tuesday--tomorrow) on possible fraud at Los Alamos. Welcome to the reality of whistleblowing.