Over the weekend, Ed Snowden confessed to leaking NSA documents proving that the agency had been wiretapping millions of innocent Americans. But he's hardly the first American to risk everything by leaking evidence of secret abuses. Here are some whistleblowers who changed U.S. history.
Kathryn Bolkovac, early 2000s
Pictured above, Boklovac was a police officer whose company worked with the U.N. in Bosnia in the early 2000s. There she discovered that members of the peacekeeping forces were involved in sex trafficking, exploiting local women and often coercing them into prostitution. She risked everything to come forward and reveal the abuses in court, by suing her employer.
Ed Snowden, 2013
NSA technologist Ed Snowden confessed that he was responsible for the leaked documents showing that the NSA had put millions of innocent Americans under surveillance, mapping their locations, tracking their friendships, and keeping logs of who they called. Already, Snowden has transformed public understanding of how surveillance functions in the U.S. It's unclear what the outcome will be of his actions.
Daniel Ellsberg, 1971
After serving many years in the military, Ellsberg released the "Pentagon Papers" to the New York Times in 1971. This classified document revealed that the Johnson Administration had lied to the public and congress about the extent of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, starting in the mid-1950s. The papers revealed secret bombing missions in Cambodia and Laos, as well as coastal regions of Vietnam. As a result, there was a tidal shift in the public's view of the war as justified, and public sentiment against it grew until the last US troops were pulled out a few years later.
Karen Silkwood, early 1970s
Silkwood told the Atomic Energy Commission in 1974 that there were grave dangers for worker safety at the nuclear power plant where she worked. After her mysterious death, a federal investigation was conducted into nuclear power plant safety, resulting in plant closures and better procedures for workplace safety.
Deep Throat, 1972 (as depicted in the movie All the President's Men, 1976)
"Deep Throat" was the nickname given to the mysterious government informant who tipped off Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about the connection between the Watergate break-in and President Nixon's efforts to place his political enemies under surveillance. Ultimately, his leaks led to the resignation of President Nixon.
Mark Felt, 1976
In 2005, former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt revealed that he had been Deep Throat.
Linda Peeno, 1996
Peeno revealed in a Congressional hearing how "managed care" in the healthcare industry worked by depriving patients of the treatments they needed. Her whistleblowing put the managed care industry under scrutiny and led to reforms that laid the groundwork for today's Obamacare system.
Coleen Rowley, 2011
FBI Agent Rowley came forward in 2002 to reveal the government's lack of interest in crucial intel the Minnesota branch of the FBI had provided about terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. Her testimony before the Senate and 9/11 Commission ultimately led to a drastic reorganization of the FBI's structure.
Julian Assange (2011) and Bradley Manning (2012)
Wikileaks founder Assange worked together with Army soldier Manning to release thousands of classified diplomatic cables that Manning had downloaded from military servers. It was likely the biggest leak of classified documents in US history, and completely transformed our understanding of whistleblowing. In his statement about why he became a whistleblower, Ed Snowden explictly distanced himself from Manning and Assange's tactics, saying that he chose only to release a select handful of documents rather than do a massive datadump of everything he could get.