Peiter "Mudge" Zatko
When the former head of security at Twitter, Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, wanted to speak out about security, privacy and infrastructure failures at the company even before Elon Musk’s takeover, he turned to Whistleblower Aid for support. We and our co-counsel at Katz Banks & Kumin filed disclosures with the SEC, DOJ and FTC as well as relevant Congressional committees and generated media coverage around the globe.
Given Twitter’s prominence and its continuing role as an essential platform for public discourse around the world, we expect our client, with his extraordinary expertise, to continue to receive media coverage and to continue to inform regulators here and abroad on effective enforcement strategies in the public interest.
“When other avenues were exhausted, and I realized I would have to become a legal whistleblower to fulfill my obligations, I was very concerned with making sure that I did things in the most responsible and ethical way possible. Whistleblower Aid was invaluable in helping figure out how to fulfill my obligations through legal avenues. Knowing that my family and I had Whistleblower Aid on our side helped us navigate a very stressful, complicated, and important process.”
Frances Haugen, a member of Facebook’s Civic Integrity team, became front page news around the world in 2021 when she showed how the company was misrepresenting its progress on containing the spread of hate, violence, and psychological damage to teenage girls exposed to unrealistic expectations about their bodies. Whistleblower Aid helped Haugen disclose thousands of internal company documents and helped organize hearings in Congress and other national legislatures.
On the media side, our team managed the exclusive public launch of this case with the Wall Street Journal and 60 Minutes which generated a torrent of local, national, and international coverage – that continues today.
We continue to be a resource as Facebook has come under scrutiny from federal law enforcement agencies, state Attorneys General, and class action lawsuits. Policymakers at home and abroad rely on our expertise as they craft new legislation, including the recent Kids Online Safety Act, introduced by Senators Blumenthal and Blackburn. Ms. Haugen’s testimony and recommendations played a key role in shaping the legislation according to Senator Blumenthal. Ms. Haugen’s testimony before the European Union was credited for playing a pivotal role in the passing of the EU’s Digital Marketing Act and Digital Services Act.
Frances Haugen’s case was a watershed moment in the public’s understanding of how decisions made by Facebook and its parent company Meta can affect our daily lives.
The Anonymous Intelligence Officer
When a member of the intelligence community felt compelled to report on a phone call in which President Trump attempted to parlay foreign aid to Ukraine into an investigation into his political rival, Whistleblower Aid attorneys Andrew Bakaj and Mark S. Zaid jumped in to represent them. The lawful, protected complaint they filed triggered multiple investigations into the President’s use of his office to engage in election interference and ultimately resulted in the first impeachment of then President Donald Trump. The reason we know about Trump’s illegal misconduct is only because a civil servant had the courage to speak out.
Whistleblower Aid was critical in providing funding, physical security, technological support, and encrypted communications for the legal team who represented the unnamed whistleblower. We continue to protect their identity.
When then-CEO Parag Agrawal initiated a campaign to discredit renowned cybersecurity chief, Mudge Zatko’s, disclosures about the true state of Twitter, anonymous whistleblower known as Jack Spratt, came forward with documentary evidence demonstrating just how easy it is to impersonate users on Twitter. When Spratt dug into how and why multiple methods for tweeting as others existed, Twitter’s answer was a game of semantics. Changing the name of one capability from “GodMode” to “PrivilegedMode” as a “solution” to the fact that every Twitter engineer was given GodMode upon entry to the company did nothing to limit the exposure to users. Even after Elon Musk took over, anyone with access to Twitter’s engineering code base could easily Tweet as any user without leaving a record of foul play.
Spratt’s disclosures to the SEC, FTC and others submitted by Whistleblower Aid, both substantiated Mudge’s warnings on privacy, security and national security concerns – and exposed the bad faith anti-whistleblower tactics by Twitter leadership.
Working with Whistleblower Aid has been an exceptional experience; their professionalism, empathy, relationships and stewardship has provided a significant peace of mind for myself and my family. WBA recognizes that it is a huge step and risk to speak up, and having worked with them, their dedication, attention and care to the individual and their message is treated with the utmost care and diligence. They truly make you the North Star, and help champion your observations to ensure that they are communicated with the right stakeholders.” – Anonymous Twitter Whistleblower
A former special federal prosecutor revealed that the Johnson City (TN) Police Department (JCDP) was protecting an alleged serial rapist – and Whistleblower Aid stepped up to represent her. The JCPD refused to investigate multiple, credible allegations that a suspect was drugging and raping women spanning more than a decade. Two of the victims were critically injured or died following their encounters with him.
This is an ongoing investigation and Whistleblower Aid is working diligently with co- counsel and regional media to identify victims, connect them with appropriate legal representation, and hold the JCPD accountable.
“I was so grateful when [Whistleblower Aid] took on my case and helped me navigate the process of whistleblowing. It can be an overwhelming and isolating experience, so having such a knowledgeable team step in was a huge relief. I was impressed not only by their legal expertise, but by their compassion for their clients who are in difficult and stressful situations. Their dedication to the truth and protecting whistleblowers who come forward is admirable.” – Kateri Dahl
Anonymous Facebook Whistleblowers
Our clients revealed that Facebook had deliberately blocked pages of Australian government fire and safety agencies, among others, during brush fire season and health institutes days before the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in a strategically executed blackout that was only supposed to include news sites. They revealed it was a premeditated effort to strong-arm the Australian government and influence precedential legislation on how much it and other tech companies should pay news outlets for the use of journalistic content.
Whistleblower Aid helped our clients lawfully disclose their evidence to members of Congress, the United States Attorney General Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, the DOJ Criminal Division, and the California US Attorney. We continue to protect their identities.
Shortly after our clients made their submission, The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission began investigating our clients’ claims. During an October 2022 Legislative Hearing by the Canadian Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, Whistleblower Aid and our clients’ disclosure were directly cited while debating Bill C-18, An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada. Many European nations are also considering our client’s disclosure as they move to adopt similar legislation.
Joohn Choe hunted bad actors for Facebook. His directive was to find and report hate groups, inciters of violence, and illegal use of the platform according to their community standards and federal regulations. What he found, and alerted senior executives to, was evidence that sanctioned, pro-Russian rebels were using the platform to identify and imprison dissidents in early 2021. Despite his efforts, Facebook did not act on Mr. Choe’s reports and continued to allow the sanctioned rebels to use the platform to spread misinformation and publicly hunt and persecute people fighting for human rights in the country. Whistleblower Aid helped Mr. Choe to safely disclose his findings to the DoJ and the FBI.
Mr. Choe continues to identify companies that are violating US trade and business restrictions and he shares these tips with the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control. Many of his tips involve businesses illegally supporting Russia and president Vladimir Putin. These sanctions will support international democracy and help protect those who fight against the unjust invasion of Ukraine.
Furthermore, Mr. Choe transmitted his research on hate groups and violent inciters to the January 6th Committee.
“Before Whistleblower Aid, honestly, I felt… like I was way over my head and I didn’t have adequate preparation… [Whistleblower Aid] provided the support that I needed to come forward and provide my truth to the world – to become a whistleblower myself.” – Joohn Choe
Two months after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved Eric Garcetti’s nomination as the next U.S. ambassador to India, Whistleblower Aid filed a disclosure accusing Garcetti of lying under oath. He had denied being aware that his top aide had for years engaged in a pattern of persistent sexual harassment and abuse, even though multiple witnesses in a lawsuit filed against the City of Los Angeles had testified that he had in fact seen it with his own eyes on multiple occasions. One of those witnesses, a former communications director to Garcetti named Naomi Seligman, became a Whistleblower Aid client and together we met with the staff of more than two dozen Senators, both Republican and Democrat, to lay out the evidence against Mayor Garcetti and to argue that enabling and attempting to cover up sexual abuse made him unfit to serve.
Whistleblower Aid filed follow-up disclosures and made sure the issue received consistent media coverage. In response, Senator Chuck Grassley directed his Judiciary Committee staff to investigate the issue themselves. Not only did they conclude that Garcetti either did or should have known about the harassment; they also uncovered more witnesses than had previously spoken out.
Two years after the original Whistleblower Aid disclosure, Garcetti remains unconfirmed as ambassador. Ms. Seligman, meanwhile, has joined the staff of Whistleblower Aid as Vice President of External Affairs. With Garcetti’s nomination still pending, we are continuing to support Ms. Seligman with congressional briefings and local and global media reporting.
“I have dedicated my career to holding officials responsible when they violate the public trust. Whistleblower Aid was my invaluable support when I came forward myself to denounce a pattern of enabling sexual harassment and abuse in the Los Angeles mayor’s office and made sure that the facts prevailed even when my former colleagues sought to undermine me.”
Gary Miller, a mobile phone security expert, disclosed that the surveillance company NSO Group Technologies offered to give representatives of an American mobile-security firm “bags of cash” in exchange for access to global citizens’ private texts messages, phone calls, and geolocation information.
NSO Group Technologies is an Israeli technical surveillance company that makes Pegasus, a program on smartphones – allowing operators to track the user’s locations, listen to calls, retrieve pictures and monitor social media activity – often used by repressive governments to spy on journalists, dissidents, and activists. Pegasus has been found on the phones of murder victims including prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Whistleblower Aid helped Mr. Miller share his lawful disclosure with the DOJ and members of Congress. We worked with The Washington Post to support their breaking news coverage.
Harvey Weinstein spied on journalists reporting on his sexual crimes in an attempt to identify and harass their sources using an elite, Israeli private intelligence agency called Black Cube. As an investigative subcontractor to Black Cube, Igor Ostrovskiy soon realized he was inadvertently assisting Weinstein while endangering himself and many others.
Whistleblower Aid helped Mr. Ostrovskiy separate from Black Cube and provided secure communications for his use to shield him from retaliation. We helped Mr. Ostrovskiy disclose the surveillance to the journalists reporting on Weinstein and assisted the DoJ in their investigation of Black Cube. We guided Mr. Ostrovskiy through the process of sharing his story with the world with the help of one of the very journalists targeted by Weinstein in an exposé featured in The New Yorker.
Whistleblower Aid is proud to have helped hold Harvey Weinstein accountable for his crimes and to support our nation’s journalists.
“[Whistleblower Aid] guided me through the process… It was a relief. It felt safe. It felt like I’ll be able to continue to do the right thing and I’m not going to jeopardize myself. I don’t know where I would be without Whistleblower Aid.”– Igor Ostrovskiy
“I was lucky to have the support of [Whistleblower Aid], a nonprofit law firm that offers pro bono legal services to [w]histleblowers. They are a hero of our time, representing many national interest [whistleblower] clients for free.“ – Igor Ostrovskiy
Our client, Matthew Schissler, a sociocultural anthropologist who formerly lived and worked in Myanmar, provided groundbreaking evidence of Facebook/Meta’s culpability in a campaign of hate and organized violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
He documented Facebook’s choice to ignore how the platform was being used to promote violence against ethnic minorities in Myanmar. Mr. Schissler’s disclosure, which Whistleblower Aid filed with the DOJ, highlights Meta’s failure to moderate non-English hate speech and take actions to prevent the deaths and displacement of millions.
Current litigation against Facebook for its role in the Rohingya genocide and complementary work by Amnesty International are using Mr. Schissler’s evidence to hold Meta accountable and prevent similar atrocities.
A former Department of Energy (DOE) photographer Simon Edelman made public photos that showed that then-Secretary Rick Perry was crafting U.S. energy policy to fulfill coal baron Robert Murray’s “wish list”. Mr. Edelman published his photos – which show the two men hugging and discussing an “action plan” for overhauling federal energy regulations — when Perry publicly claimed he did not have a relationship with Murray. He was illegally fired and ordered to destroy the photographs.
Whistleblower Aid filed Mr. Edelman’s complaint with the US Office of Special Counsel, alleging that he was fired from the DOE for sharing “evidence of criminal corruption, obstruction of justice, and ethics violations” with the press.
As a direct result of Mr. Edelman’s disclosures, Perry’s proposed rule before the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, needlessly subsidizing the coal industry, was voted down unanimously.
“…[T]here’s a great organization called Whistleblower Aid who’s there to protect people who want to expose law breaking without breaking the law. And they helped me out pro bono and they’re there for anybody else who wants to speak up and is afraid to. And this isn’t just a government issue, this is a private sector issue, too. If you see wrongdoing in any sector, you should feel free to speak up because you have the right to do so and there’s protections that can do that.” – Simon Edelman