An attempt at comparative whistleblower-ology, limning similarities in the short but memorable career of Karen Silkwood and the ongoing, unfolding story of Edward Snowden.
Silkwood biographer Rashke (Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America’s Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals, 2013, etc.) opens on a promising note, briefly reviewing the contributions of anti-corruption fighter Frank Serpico, big tobacco bête noire Jeffrey Wigand, and Pentagon leaker Daniel Ellsberg before proceeding to ignore them. Five cases do not a comprehensive sample make, still less two, and there are as many differences as similarities in the Silkwood and Snowden trajectories—foremost among them the fact that Snowden is still alive, though “he risks going to prison for a very long time, if he isn’t assassinated.” Moreover, the assassins, Rashke suggests, will be government agents, directly employed, as opposed to the private goons—perhaps—who did in Silkwood nearly 40 years ago. Still, there are some interesting overlaps, including the motivations each whistleblower may have had, boiling down to the personal and understandable ones of disillusionment and anger at official malfeasance. Interestingly, Rashke notes, fully half of potential whistleblowers never step forward, perhaps because, as Silkwood and Snowden discovered, they would be vilified for doing so. Though brief, this book sometimes seems labored, and readers will be forgiven for suspecting that it is simply an occasion for the author to rehearse his previous work on Silkwood, who undeniably merits a refresher in our collective memory. Rashke does well to remind readers that she did accomplish something in her death, namely, a bit of relief for would-be future whistleblowers under the terms of a federal energy law of 1974. That doesn’t quite cover Snowden, though, the significance of whose story may, like Silkwood’s, take 40 years to appreciate.
A thoughtful beginning, though only a sketch. The banality of evil is on full display, so conspiracy-minded readers may find it of interest.