What was going through Edward Snowden’s mind as he boarded the plane that took him away from his home, his girlfriend, and his life forever? Former whistleblower Peter van Buren offers this heart-pounding glimpse into the mind of a man who sacrificed everything to follow his conscience.

Here are our picks for the Top Five Whistleblowers of the Last Fifty Years (including links to recommended reads):

1. Edward Snowden

A former Booz Allen contractor, leaked documents exposing a huge electronic spying apparatus of the United States and Great Britain, which included electronic mail and phone records of private citizens.

AGE: 29 years old.

STATUS: Offered asylum in Venezuela after being trapped in an airport in Russia and denied asylum by many of the twenty-one countries to which he applied. Though some have called him a hero, including famously acquitted whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg (see #4), the United States is attempting extradition to bring him to trial.

2. Bradley Manning

A United States army solider and intelligence analyst who leaked documents exposing U.S. atrocities against civilians in the Iraq and Afghan wars. His leaks constituted the largest selection of classified documents ever made public. Considered a catalyst for Arab Spring and suggested as a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize by former recipient Mairead Corrigan-Maguire.

AGE: 25 years old. Arrested in 2010 at age 23.

STATUS: Arrested in 2010 upon suspicion of leaking documents to WikiLeaks. Held in solitary confinement for extensive periods while awaiting trial in a move Amnesty International decried as inhumane. Has pled guilty to 10 of the 22 counts against him. Trial has yet to reach a verdict.

3. Peter Buxtun

Employee for the US Public Health Service, he leaked information about the Tuskegee syphilis experiment in 1972 after filing multiple ethical complaints with supervisors that were promptly ignored on various grounds. The story, leaked to the Washington Star and published on July 25, 1972, succeeding in shocking the nation and ending the inhumane experiment, which had been running for over 40 years. The study, which enrolled nearly 400 black men, consisted of monitoring the progression of the disease without offering any medical treatment then autopsying the corpses. The men were not told they had syphilis and during the course of the experiment many wives and children were also infected.

AGE: 27 years old at time of leak.

STATUS: Widely recognized for his heroic efforts in ending one of the most inhumane medical experiments commissioned by the United States government. Though a nine million dollar settlement was awarded to victims and survivors in 1973, a formal apology for the Tuskegee syphilis study was not issued until 1997.

4. Daniel Ellsberg

Analyst at RAND, he released the Pentagon Papers, a Department of Defense-issued history of U.S. involved in Vietnam from 1945-1967. These documents, published on the front pages of the New York Times in 1971, were instrumental in demonstrating to the public that Johnson lied to both Congress and the public about the scope and extent of the war.

AGE: 40 years old at time of release of Pentagon Papers.

STATUS: Daniel Ellsberg surrendered to the US Attorney’s Office in June of 1971 and subsequently faced charges under the Espionage Act of 1917. On May 11, 1973, all charges against Ellsberg were dismissed, due primarily to governmental misconduct and illegal evidence gathering by the prosecution. After his acquittal, Ellsberg became an activist on the urgent need for patriotic whistleblowing. It has been pointed out that his fame as a patriot as well as his acquittal were partly influenced by his senior status at the time of the release of the Pentagon papers: he was a Senior Military Analyst, a graduate of Cranbrook, Harvard and Cambridge, as well as a fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows.

5. Mark Felt

Associate Director of the FBI, he gave information to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that launched the Watergate scandal and led to Nixon’s resignation.

AGE: 59 years old at time of leaks to Washington Post. Died in 2008.

STATUS: Incredibly, Mark Felt was able to avoid detection as the infamous source Deep Throat for over thirty years, admitting his identity only in 2005, three years before he passed away. He was possibly the most effective whistleblower as his information led to the only resignation of an American president. By remaining anonymous for so long he successfully avoided the legal repercussions that dogged many other whistleblowers.

Image credit: The Guardian

About The Author

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Anna Redmond is the author of The Golden Arrow, a fantasy political thriller which draws on historical traditions of holy sex to create a society where women use sex for magic and power. She is also curator and co-founder of Hippo Reads.