Whistleblower Uses YouTube to Slam Lockheed Martin, US Coastguard

Whistleblowing, meet modern media. Modern media, meet whistleblowing.

Michael De Kort, an engineer who worked for Lockheed Martin on a major project for the US Coastguard, has found an unusual way to make public his concerns about that project: he posted them to the popular video-sharing website, YouTube.com.

The story of De Kort’s video broke this morning in an item from the Washington Post: On YouTube, Charges of Security Flaws

…the video describes what De Kort says are blind spots in the ship’s security cameras, equipment that malfunctions in cold weather and other problems. “It may be very hard for you to believe that our government and the largest defense contractor in the world [are] capable of such alarming incompetence and can make ethical compromises as glaring as what I am going to describe.”

You can see the full video at news website The Raw Story: VIDEO: Whistleblower uses YouTube to tell his story

Whistleblowing is a touchy matter. According to one fairly typical definition, “Whistleblowing occurs when a member of an organization goes outside of the normal lines of authority in order to accuse the organization (or key personnel) of wrongdoing.” (Frederick Elliston, “Anonymity and Whistle-Blowing”, J. Bus. Ethics, 1(3): 167-177.) On the face of it, whistleblowing involves disloyalty — however well-meaning — to one’s institution. So it requires justification. When is whistleblowing justified? One influential account was offered by Richard De George (De George’s account can be found in his book, Business Ethics, or an earlier article, “Ethical Responsibilites of Engineers in Large Organizations,” in aBusiness & Professional Ethics Journal, 1(1), 1-14). According to De George (roughly) whistleblowing is justified if:

  • 1. Serious harm is involved;
  • 2. The whistleblower has already expressed his or her concerns to his/her immediate superior;
  • 3. The whistleblower has exhausted other channels within the organization;

De George further suggested that blowing the whistle might be not merely justified, but morally required, if 2 additional criteria are met:

  • 4. The whistleblower has convincing, documented evidence;
  • 5. The whistleblower has good reason to believe that going public will actually bring about change, and thereby prevent serious harm.

Criterion #3 is pretty crucial. It’s not fair to go public if one hasn’t already at least tried to solve the problem via internal channels, hasn’t given the organization a chance to make things right. In the present case…

De Kort said he tried to alert the chain of command at the Coast Guard and at Lockheed about the problems but was rebuffed by supervisors who told him to keep quiet because the program was behind schedule and over budget. De Kort was eventually transferred off the project, and he was laid off earlier this month

Has De Kort’s tactic been effective? According to the Post

The video also has caught the eye of people in high places. De Kort’s video has been covered by defense trade magazines, and yesterday, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, wrote a letter to the Coast Guard asking for an answer to De Kort’s “extremely distressing” allegations.

[Thanks to Will Buschert for the tip.]

1 comment so far

  1. Sandra Finley on

    Hi Chris,

    RE Ethics and Lockheed Martin,

    You may be interested in the efforts to un-do Lockheed Martin, an act of solidarity with the people in the Arab world who are fighting for democracy and an end to violent regimes. The UK census (Lockheed Martin) starts March 27, the Canadian census (Lockheed Martin) in May.

    You will see a “Lockheed Martin” button at the top of my blog. Best wishes, Sandra Finley

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