Journalist Mueller (Extra Virginity) explores “the nature of the whistleblowing act” and profiles insiders who have exposed fraud in America’s public and private institutions in this exhaustive account. His subjects include Franz Gayl, a civilian military adviser and former Marine who went public in 2008 with claims that the Department of Defense was preventing frontline soldiers from receiving lifesaving equipment. Florida hospital administrator Elin Baklid-Kunz filed a whistle-blower suit alleging that her bosses had overbilled Medicare and paid illegal kickbacks to doctors, some of whom were performing unnecessary procedures. Citigroup underwriter Richard Bowen’s warnings that 80% of the mortgages bought by the bank in 2007 were “defective” went unheeded until the 2008 financial collapse. Mueller chronicles the serious repercussions faced by these and other whistle-blowers and sketches similarities in their backgrounds (early life struggles; rural upbringings; “straightforward” temperaments) before concluding that there is no “whistleblower ‘type.’ ” He distinguishes between “anonymous leakers” in the Trump administration and “authentic whistleblowers” who buttress their claims with “professional gravitas” and “personal conviction.” Such broad characterizations occasionally mar Mueller’s analysis, but he efficiently synthesizes a vast amount of material. This exceptionally timely book is sure to strike a chord with readers paying close attention to the political landscape. (Oct.)
An unusually deep dive into whistleblowing.
"This is the age of the whistleblower," writes Mueller (Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, 2011). Beginning in the late 1960s, informants like Ralph Nader and Daniel Ellsberg "galvanized" America over wrongdoing, "from cybercrime to credit card scams to identity theft, from criminal college admissions conspiracies to systemic wrongdoing by automobile companies to wholesale money laundering and looting of national treasuries by banks." Drawing on interviews with more than 200 whistleblowers and many lawyers and experts, the author offers revealing human stories about numerous insiders and outsiders, both well- and little-known, who have engaged in this "vital crime-fighting paradigm" under federal laws that provide job protection and financial incentives (a percentage of money recovered by the government). "Since 1986," writes Mueller, "the False Claims Act has been used to recover some sixty billion stolen tax dollars, and has deterred an estimated $1 trillion more in fraud." Whether writing about drug companies that conceal unfavorable evidence, hospitals that engage in needless admissions, or nuclear facilities that waste public funds, the author engrossingly examines the ethics, mechanics, and reverberations of whistleblowing of all kinds, emphasizing how bitterly controversial the practice remains, posing a clash between group loyalty and individual conscience. "Even if we admire…the whistleblowers' devotion to justice, we may still mistrust them for their betrayal of coworkers, superiors, and the organization itself," he writes. Animus against whistleblowers—who generally undergo scrutiny and retribution and face considerable challenges finding new jobs—stems from "the instinctive aversion" that employees who choose to work for large, hierarchical organizations have for "people who question authority." Mueller also looks at conflicts of interest, societal changes, and the neuroscience of blowing the whistle. He harshly criticizes "national security mandarins" who abuse public trust for private gain. Begun before the rise of Donald Trump, the book deems the president the "incarnation" of the present era of corruption.
Superb reporting on brave people who decided, "It would have been criminal for me not to act."
Praise for Crisis of Conscience
“Tom Mueller’s authoritative and timely book reveals what drives a few brave souls to expose and denounce specific cases of corruption. He describes the structural decay that plagues many of our most powerful institutions, putting democracy itself in danger.” —George Soros
“A masterful, eye-opening account.” —Fast Company
“‘Unauthorized disclosures’ by whistleblowers are the life's blood of a republic. As many of Mueller's fascinating cases show, misplaced loyaltyexclusively to a boss or an organization or a presidentcan be betrayal: of the health of consumers, of an oath to the Constitution, or of a war's worth of lives.” —Daniel Ellsberg
“This trenchant examination of whistle-blowing is based on interviews with more than two hundred people who have exposed wrongdoing in areas such as national security, finance, and health care.” —The New Yorker
“An extraordinary book, both meticulously researched and a page-turner. Crisis of Conscienceis a call to arms and to action, for anyone with a conscience, anyone alarmed about the decline of our democracy.” —Wendell Potter, author of Deadly Spin and Nation on the Take
“Wide-ranging, detailed, compelling, and often alarming”—American Interest
“Ambitious…powerful.” —The Washington Post
“The definitive treatment of whistleblowing. Tom Mueller not only describes the ordeals and impact of those who change the course of history, but takes us on a journey through their souls.” —Tom Devine, Legal Director, Government Accountability Project
“A sweeping new chronicle of the nation’s whistleblowers, the difficulties they have faced and the wrongdoing they have exposed.”—Seattle Times
“An antidote to hopelessness and cynicism. . . . provides exactly what is needed to prevent the hopelessness and cynicism that gives the criminals their power.”—John Kostyack, Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center
“Every engaged American who genuinely cares about the country they will be leaving to their children and grandchildren should buy Mueller’s book and read it carefully” —Wall Street on Parade
“Mueller does a magnificent job of explaining how whistleblowing may be the only safety valve left against unfettered secrecy and fraud in a post-9/11 world. A powerful call to save our ailing democracies before it’s too late.”—Anna Myers, Executive Director, Whistleblowing International Network
“Engrossingly examines the ethics, mechanics, and reverberations of whistleblowing of all kinds, emphasizing how bitterly controversial the practice remains, posing a clash between group loyalty and individual conscience. . . . Superb reporting on brave people who decided, 'It would have been criminal for me not to act.’” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“This book should be taught in civics classes across the country.” —Nick Schwellenbach, Director of Investigations, Project on Government Oversight
“This exceptionally timely book is sure to strike a chord with readers paying close attention to the political landscape.” —Publishers Weekly
“Powerful … fully accessible to general readers and substantive enough for academic audiences; a must-read.” —Library Journal (starred)
“A fascinating history of the self-deputized referees who blow the whistle on illicit activities that put Americans' freedom, money, health, and lives at risk.” —Booklist
Whistleblowing is a vital weapon against organizational fraud according to former banker Mueller (contributor, The New Yorker; Extra Virginity), who begins this book by reviewing the federal False Claims Act, which gives citizens the right to sue on the behalf of the government, and its resulting recovery of some $60 billion since 1986. The author also considers cases involving hospital overbilling, toxic mortgages at Citigroup, the fraudulent marketing of psychotic drugs, the My Lai Massacre, Hanford Nuclear Reservation safety concerns, and others. Mueller profiles whistleblowers' backgrounds, motivations, and the retaliations they suffered, while interweaving personal accounts with a deep analysis of the meaning of whistleblowing in the context of organizational authoritarianism, greed, moral ambiguity, conflicts of interest, and secrecy. Government agencies are often apathetic or even hostile to whistleblowers, says Mueller, because of the revolving door between government service and private enterprise. VERDICT Mueller's powerful but disheartening story of pervasive fraud and a general collapse of ethical behavior with only glimmers of hope from the bravery of whistleblowers is fully accessible to general readers and substantive enough for academic audiences; a must-read.—Lawrence Maxted, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA