Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 13, Issue 11;   March 13, 2013: Before You Blow the Whistle: II

Before You Blow the Whistle: II

by

When organizations become aware of negligence, miscalculations, failures, wrongdoing, or legal infractions, they often try to conceal the bad news. People who disagree with the concealment activity sometimes decide to reveal what the organization is trying to hide. Here's Part II of our catalog of methods used to suppress the truth.
Professor Brian Kelley, retired CIA officer, speaking at The Institute of World Politics

Professor Brian Kelley, retired CIA officer, speaking at The Institute of World Politics to students, faculty, and friends, on the "story behind the story" of the investigation of former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who spied for the Soviet and Russian intelligence services from 1979 to 2001. For years, Prof. Kelley himself had been the prime suspect in a series of incidents that were actually the work of Hanssen's espionage. In November of 1998, investigators attempted to trap Kelley using a disinformation tactic. They had a man with a foreign accent come to Kelley's door and warn him that the FBI knew he was a spy. The man told him to go to a specific Metro station the next day to escape. The strategy was designed to prove Kelley's guilt by trapping him into trying to escape. Kelley instead reported the incident to the FBI, but that didn't ease the investigators' suspicions. Kelley and his family were interrogated and he was put on administrative leave for almost two years, ending only with Hanssen's arrest based on evidence obtained elsewhere. Photo courtesy The Institute of World Politics.

Shredding documents, destroying or recycling hard drives, and altering records are examples of destroying evidence of what the organization is concealing. Even when evidence destruction is the primary concealment strategy, it's effective only if all evidence is destroyed or rendered unobtainable.

The testimony of witnesses is one kind of evidence that cannot be destroyed as long as the witnesses are able to bear witness. Testimony can be prevented by intimidation, brutality, bribery, and other means, but if prevention fails, what then? From the concealer's perspective, two techniques can be effective even if the whistleblower blows the whistle.

Indirect personal attacks
Most whistleblowers anticipate direct personal attacks, but personal attacks can be directed at loved ones, too. Children, spouses, parents, siblings — all are potential targets. Spouses can be seduced. Legal, emotional, financial, marital, or other difficulties of close family members can be exposed and used to discredit or apply pressure to whistleblowers.
If you already know of vulnerabilities of this kind, consider carefully how to protect yourself. Finding employment elsewhere is not protection from those who fear exposure. If the organization or its employees believe that you might someday become a problem, they might preemptively destroy your credibility in advance of any action you might take, no matter where you go for your next job or assignment. Effective protection usually involves convincing them of your ability to do more damage to them than they can do to you. That strategy often requires assembling evidence and seeking professional assistance.
Direct disinformation
Employees not directly implicated Finding employment elsewhere
is not protection from
those who fear exposure
in the concealed activity (or inactivity) are potential candidate whistleblowers, because they often feel — justifiably or not — that they haven't themselves transgressed. From the perspective of those directly involved, even candidate whistleblowers constitute risk. To limit risk, false information of a seemingly incriminating nature is sometimes made available to them. Passing along this disinformation to investigators or media could then damage the whistleblower's credibility.
Don't assume that everything you think you know about the concealed activity is actually true. Be especially careful about material that came to you too easily, or uncorroborated, or which had a "stage-managed" feel. If you suspect that you've received disinformation, interpret it as an indicator that you're being targeted proactively as a potential whistleblower. That could mean that the organization, or individuals within it, have taken other actions as well, such as investigating you or your family members, or tampering with your work products or records. When you do pass along information to counsel, investigators, or media, be careful to indicate whether you suspect that any of it is disinformation intentionally passed along to you.

These tactics are rarely obvious. Intuition and good judgment are required. Trust the Force, Luke. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: The Restructuring-Fear Cycle: I  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrennziWChLavPaHtKuLner@ChacFXrdBjQoCmNqQPmXoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

The spine of a human maleScopemonging: When Scope Creep Is Intentional
Scope creep is the tendency of some projects to expand their goals. Usually, we think of scope creep as an unintended consequence of a series of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's much more than that.
President George W. Bush and President Vladimir PutinI've Got Your Number, Pal
Recent research has uncovered a human tendency — possibly universal — to believe that we know others better than others know them, and that we know ourselves better than others know themselves. These beliefs, rarely acknowledged and often wrong, are at the root of many a toxic conflict of long standing.
Duma, a wolf at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust, rolls to capture a scent atop a moundTelephonic Deceptions: II
Deception at work probably wasn't invented at work. Most likely it is a continuation of deception in the rest of life. But the technologies of the modern workplace offer new opportunities to practice the art. Here's Part II of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.
Lt. Gen. Donald Kutyna, Ret., when he was Commander of the U.S. Space CommandMore Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
Retrospectives — also known as lessons learned exercises or after-action reviews — sometimes miss important insights. Here are some additions to our growing catalog of obstacles to learning.
A ravenAnticipate Counter-Communication
Effective communication enables two parties to collaborate. Counter-communication is information provided by a third party that contradicts the basis of agreements or undermines that collaboration.

See also Workplace Politics and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A shark of unspecified speciesComing May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
Jump ball in a game of basketballAnd on May 9: Unethical Coordination
When an internal department or an external source is charged with managing information about a large project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior. What is the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur? Available here and by RSS on May 9.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenchnDAnmsJFlSGzfnner@ChacPETCRdYosnYmXavRoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.