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 exposurein 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.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
- And on November 1: Risk Creep: I
- Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.
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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.