Don’t Kill the Messenger! © by Donald Ray Soeken
Chapter Four: A Truth-Teller for Our Time
Right From The Start, He Refused To Lie
Fred Whitehurst was 34 years old on the day he joined the FBI in 1982 – a deeply idealistic Special Agent who was determined to give his all to the country he loved.
For the hard-charging Whitehurst, becoming a fabled “G-Man” was a dream come true . . . a chance to follow in the patriotic footsteps of the Naval officer-father whom he had so deeply admired.
But that dream would be flawed, right from the start.
On the morning he first reported to the Bureau’s massive headquarters building in downtown Washington, Fred climbed into a cab in front of the hotel where the FBI had lodged him for the night. Although he didn’t know it at that moment, he was actually only a block or so away from the crime-stopper agency’s headquarters. But he made the out-of-towner’s mistake of telling the cabbie that he was new in Washington and about to begin his first day on a brand-new job.
The cabbie responded by driving him around the city for half an hour and then charging him $11 for what was only a one-block ride. “It was a symbolic moment,” Whitehurst says today, with an unhappy shake of his head. “I was cheated on the way to my first shift at the FBI . . . and as soon as I walked into the building, I learned that the Bureau also wanted me to cheat on the job!”
It happened only an hour or so into the day, when Whitehurst was told by his brand-new supervisor that he should note on his attendance sheet that he’d arrived for work at 7 a.m.
Reacting with shocked disbelief, Whitehurst reminded the supervisor that he hadn’t actually arrived until 8:30, his scheduled starting time. The supervisor frowned and told him: “Fred, we always sign in at 7 a.m. That way, you’re sure to rack up a lot of overtime during the week. It’s part of the drill here, that’s all. If you don’t do it, you’ll make the rest of us look bad!”
Years later, the disillusioned Whitehurst would sigh unhappily as he recalled the moment when the scales began to fall from his eyes. “I signed it . . . but I didn’t like it, because I’d been taught as a boy growing up that you didn’t lie. And it hurt like hell to learn that the FBI was cheating the citizenry like that.”
It didn’t take Whitehurst long to come up with an ingenious solution to the problem, however.
“After a few days on the job, I realized that if I came in early every morning, I could sign in at 7 a.m. and my attendance sheet would be in accord with the facts.
“From then on, I always came to work at 5:45. It cost me a little bit of sleep, but I felt a whole lot better as a result.”
For the moment, at least, Fred Whitehurst had found a way to reconcile his powerful sense of right and wrong with the cynical reality he confronted inside the FBI.
Unfortunately, however, his struggles with the “culture of deceit” that he would find everywhere inside the massive federal agency were only beginning. And within a few years, the conflict between Whitehurst’s ethical sensitivity and the bureaucratic hypocrisy he hated would erupt in a violent struggle that would end up on the front pages of newspapers all across America.