CIA Snags Confidential Whistleblower Communications Sent To Congress
from the protection-in-name-only dept
The government seems unable (and unwilling) to differentiate between whistleblowers and “insider threats.” “Dissatisfaction with US policies” would seem to be a trait inherent to whistleblowers, but that’s right up there at the top of the list of warning signs for insider threats. The FBI claimed it had this whistleblower/threat problem sorted out, abelit in the worst way possible: requiring whistleblowers to “register” in order to avoid being caught in the “insider threat” dragnet. But no one can get any details out of the agency as to how “registering” whistleblowers encourages whistleblowing, much less how the FBI handles these registered whistleblowers. When asked, agency officials simply walked away from the conversation.
The CIA is no better, apparently. McClatchy DC reports that the agency intercepted protected whistleblower communications.
The CIA obtained a confidential email to Congress about alleged whistleblower retaliation related to the Senate’s classified report on the agency’s harsh interrogation program, triggering fears that the CIA has been intercepting the communications of officials who handle whistleblower cases.
The CIA got hold of the legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring, people familiar with the matter told McClatchy. It’s unclear how the agency obtained the material.
The agency obviously has ways to dig into protected emails from other government agencies, even if it can’t seem to navigate its own internal email system. This news is troublesome enough, but the timeframe of the interception makes it worse. According to McClatchy, this was obtained during the CIA’s unauthorized “investigation” of Senate staffers over documents related to the (still unreleased) “Torture Report.”
So, while the CIA was digging through the Senate’s computers, it was also taking a look at whistleblower-related correspondence.
Somehow, according to these people, [CIA Inspector General David] Buckley obtained the email, which was written by Daniel Meyer, the intelligence community’s top official for whistleblower cases, to the office of Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a leading whistleblower-protection advocate. The Senate Intelligence Committee also learned of the matter, said the knowledgeable people.
After obtaining the email, Buckley approached Meyer’s boss, I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the 17-agency U.S. intelligence community, in what may have constituted a violation of the confidentiality of the whistleblowing process, they said.
This indicates the proper channels for whistleblowing are inherently (and quite possibly, purposefully) leaky. There’s no true protection here, not when the agency being called out can access supposedly protected communications. Kevin Gosztola at Firedoglake says this is a side effect of the “Insider Threat” program’s reach.
[T]he interception probably occurred because it was caught by the “Insider Threat” program. The program was adopted throughout government in the aftermath of military whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s disclosures of hundreds of thousands of previously classified documents to WikiLeaks.
McClatchy has exposed the “Insider Threat” program as a system that is sweeping in its capabilities. Any “unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material,” can be targeted. It encourages federal employees and contractor to be suspicious of each other and watch for “high-risk persons or behaviors.” Failure to report on suspicious activity could result in penalties. Plus, the program equates leaks to the media with espionage.
The program keeps profiles of “Disgruntled Employees” and “Insider Threats.” What is there to stop officials from using these profiles to target whistleblowers?
Most whistleblowers are “disgruntled” employees. No one blows the whistle because they’re happy with their employer’s activities. Intelligence agencies, in particular, are primed for overreaction after Edward Snowden’s leaks. Gosztola quotes James Clapper’s plans for maintaining near constant surveillance of those granted security clearances.
“What we need is — and this is, I think, pretty much recognized — is a system of continuous evaluation where when someone is in the system and they’re cleared initially, then we have a way of monitoring their behavior, both their electronic behavior on the job as well as off the job to see if there is a potential clearance issue.”
The NSA and CIA see whistleblowers as “threats,” no matter if they fit the government’s lofty ideal or not. When a CIA official snags protected whistleblower communications, he’s simply protecting the agency’s operational security, assets, etc. — whatever justification fits.
Clapper talks a good game about protecting true whistleblowers (i.e., not Snowden, Thomas Drake, etc.), a definition that really shouldn’t be left to the Director of National Intelligence to decide — not with his track record. “True” whistleblower cases would be provided confidentiality safeguards, according to Clapper, although his statements don’t specify how these would avoid the dragnet cast over those with security clearances. In this case, the CIA’s protections — whatever they were — completely failed.
The interception of Meyer’s email would also fall into the category of “such cases” [protected confidential whistleblowers] and apparently the safeguards do not work because the person alleging retaliation was exposed to further retaliation from CIA leadership.
The more defenders of the intelligence community claim there are “proper channels” for whistleblowing while condemning the actions of Snowden and Manning, the more evidence emerges that the proper channels are completely useless. Given this, walking out the door with a hard drive full of documents seems like the sane plan.