By DANA LIEBELSON
In "The Whistleblower," which airs this weekend at POGO's Whistleblower Film Series in Silver Spring, Maryland, Rachel Weisz plays a U.N. peacekeeper who exposes a sex trafficking ring among her colleagues in Bosnia.
The movie is based on Kathryn Bolkovac (find the trailer below the jump), the real-life whistleblower who served as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia in 1999. She was fired by her employer, DynCorp, after alleging that her fellow U.N. peacekeepers were complicit in the rape and trafficking of underage girls. In 2002, a British employment tribunal ruled that she was unfairly dismissed.
DynCorp continues to do billions of dollars of business abroad with the U.S. government. POGO interviewed Bolkovac over email about whistleblower protections, the untold side of the scandal and the Hollywood portrayal of the story.
POGO: We've heard a lot about your role in sparking investigations into DynCorp and U.N. officers for sex trafficking. What's the one aspect of this story that people are missing?
Kathryn Bolkovac: I think the most appalling aspect that people miss is that virtually zero repercussions have happened to the individuals involved. Government agencies such as the State Department have not seriously tackled the issue by removing contracts from companies like DynCorp. I have heard of a few fines imposed recently, but in actuality, this is nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Those involved in my dismissal for doing my job and reporting criminal acts were rewarded and continue to work in management positions, earning tax-free high-dollar salaries at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.
POGO: What advice would you give to potential whistleblowers who are looking to come forward to the U.S. government with information?
KB: That is a very difficult question to answer. Considering the fact that I have been extremely disappointed in our government’s actions, I have little faith in their mechanisms to make things right. I do still believe in trying to seek justice, but I certainly do not have faith in any internal affairs investigation that is done by the same agency who is involved in the wrongdoing.
My advice is to tread lightly. If you are reporting illegal activity, do not report it to the same agency or corporation that you are working for. Keep your cards close to your chest, make sure you have plenty of evidence to back up your allegations and get yourself a really good attorney before you ever consider opening your mouth. When you do make a public disclosure, be sure to tell more than one official, have a witness or two and get to the press.
POGO: Do you think whistleblowers are protected enough by U.S. laws?
KB: I am not an expert on current whistleblower legislation, as I have been working and residing in Europe for the past few years. However, when my case was filed in 2001, whistleblower protection was extremely weak. I received no assistance from my government and I was on my own. After I won my case in the U.K. and some publicity hit the U.S. press, the Department of Defense tried to investigate allegations against DynCorp. However this was abruptly stopped after they realized my contract was with the Department of State, not the Department of Defense.
This is why I would really like to see the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) passed and enacted. It is many years overdue.
POGO: You told The Huffington Post that we need to “make government contractors accountable for their employee actions.” Do you think, at present, oversight of international contractors is not stringent enough?
KB: That is exactly what I think. First of all, a private contractor or corporation would much rather make a problem go away rather than fix it. It’s cheaper and draws less publicity to the problem. Unfortunately by going the less ethical route, a bigger problem is created by allowing a cycle of corrupt employees to rotate between contractors. This ruins the reputation of both the government contractors and the U.S. government who they are representing. If the corporation would facilitate a prosecution by reporting and working with law enforcement agencies, then the employee would be subject to U.S. law and U.S. punishments. Crimes such as raping young women or being involved in human trafficking while working abroad in foreign missions would be a good place to start.
Secondly, the fact that contractors ask employees to sign contracts forbidding the employee from bringing legal actions against government contractors is ridiculous. After I won my case against DynCorp, which was governed under the Laws of England, DynCorp began to underwrite their contracts for U.S. employees under the laws of Dubai in some cases. [DynCorp lists an executive office for "finance and administration" in Dubai in a 2009 Securities and Exchange Commission filing.] Why in the world is the State Department allowing this? In my opinion, it’s to make it more difficult for U.S. employees to file legitimate cases in U.S. courts of law where U.S. taxpayers and officials can see it.
Finally, I find no comfort at all in the newly created International Stability Operations Association, which is basically a bunch of contractors getting together and signing a Code of Conduct to ensure ethical standards in conflict and post conflict zones. What the heck were they guided by before this association came along? It’s nothing more than a piece of paper that the corporation can flaunt to get more contracts, by using humanitarian buzz words.
POGO: Have you seen "The Whistleblower"? What parts of the movie did you find to be the most true/not true to life?
KB: Well of course I have seen "The Whistleblower"! I also got to consult with Rachel Weisz and visit the set where the film was produced in Bucharest, Romania. It was an incredible undertaking for a movie on a very strict and tight budget, but it was a very effective tool used by Director Larysa Kondracki and co-writer Eilis Kirwan to make a real statement about human trafficking, and the web of corruption that continues to feed the human trafficking trade. Even more amazing is the fact that the film outlines the difficult process that a whistleblower must go through to find some form of sanity in a world gone berserk.
Everything depicted in this film did occur, and is still occurring today. It is a hard film to watch and it should be. My personal life related to the opening moments of the film has been somewhat fictionalized, as I actually have three children not one, and my background story is a bit different. But anyone who wants the facts about me is welcome to read my book. I think it’s an in-depth look at what happened to me before I went to Bosnia, what occurred while I was there, and what really led me to blow the whistle.
Editor's note: DynCorp issued a statement in response to "The Whistleblower" (the movie and the book). “Specific to Ms. Bolkovac’s allegations, they were made more than 10 years ago, were thoroughly investigated, and were aggressively and responsibly addressed,” the statement reads. It added: “According to a statement made by a CID Special Agent, ‘neither DynCorp nor its employees were involved’ in human trafficking.”
A 2003 letter from the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe to then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said, “We are also aware of the documented involvement by some DynCorp employees or agents in prostitution, human trafficking, and sexual misconduct and of DynCorp’s retaliation against those who endeavored to bring such misconduct to light.”
A 2003 Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD IG) report on the Pentagon’s efforts to combat human trafficking noted that “According to [Human Rights Watch] HRW, a [U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command] CID investigative report indicated that, during an interview with a CID agent, one DynCorp employee confessed to purchasing a woman from a brothel near the military base and gave a sworn statement giving details of the human trafficking operation.”
Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow.
Photo courtesy of Kathryn Bolkovac.