Senators Demand Investigation Of Intelligence Community's Refusal To Implement Whistleblower Protections

from the incentives-unperverse;-rejected dept

When the Snowden leaks dropped, plenty of people rushed to criticize his actions, saying he should have brought his concerns to officials via the proper channels. Always assumed to be mostly worthless, the intervening four years have proven nothing shoots messengers faster than the “proper channels.” Despite periodic legislative attempts to institute better whistleblower protections, working within the system rarely produces positive changes. It does, however, subject the whistleblower to plenty of retaliation.

This sad fact is personified by Dan Meyer — the former official whistleblower channel for the Intelligence Community. Meyer blew the whistle himself, pointing out wrongdoing by top IC officials. Now, he’s being forced out of office, clearing the path for the IC’s attempt to rebrand whistleblowers as “insider threats.” Meyer is facing an ad hoc Star Chamber of IC Inspector Generals, all of them apparently gunning for his swift removal.

Meyer, who for the past four years has served as executive director of Intelligence Community Whistleblowing and Source Protection, has come under fire amidst a move to reduce his role in educating employees at the 17 intelligence agencies about their rights and obligations in reporting alleged waste, fraud and abuse.

A special executive review board composed of an unusual grouping of IGs from other agencies has been hearing from witnesses concerning management’s decision not to certify Meyer after his probationary period as program manager. That decision could result in his firing. Meyer has many years of experience working with whistleblowers in Defense Department agencies.

Meyer’s whistleblowing concerned IC agencies’ apparent refusal to shield whistleblowers from retaliation. The irony likely isn’t lost on Meyer, but leaving the government with all the irony you can carry isn’t much of a severance package. Meanwhile, officials accused of retaliation are jockeying for top spots in the new administration.

The nominee for CIA inspector general, Christopher Sharpley, has several outstanding retaliation complaints against him that could delay his confirmation. Sharpley is mired in ongoing reprisal cases from at least two former CIA Office of Inspector General employees, Jonathan Kaplan and Andrew Bakaj.

The inspector general at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Kristi Waschull, is plagued by retaliation complaints by former employees who argue she is too deferential to her former colleagues and friends in management at the agency, and that she has softened internal reports and neutered the agency, as FP reported.

Meanwhile, George Ellard, the NSA inspector general who was placed on administrative leave after he was found by a panel of other IGs in 2016 to have retaliated against a whistleblower, got his job back in the new administration.

Whatever whistleblower protections have been erected over the past several years are being methodically stripped away, even as the Intelligence Community talks a good game about “rigorous oversight” and “unprecedented transparency.” This isn’t sitting well with a few legislators, including longtime advocates of whistleblowers.

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) of the Intelligence Committee, along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, penned a letter to the Government Accountability Office on Dec. 7 demanding that the oversight agency conduct a far-reaching review.


“The Inspectors General within the Intelligence Community have the responsibility to oversee the protection of whistleblowers, ensure that whistleblower protection policies and processes are properly adhered to, and guarantee that claims made by whistleblowers are investigated in a timely and fair manner,” the senators wrote in a letter exclusively obtained by Foreign Policy.

It’s going to be a mess of acronyms if everything goes to plan. The Government Accountability Office will audit the whistleblower protection efforts of the NSA, NRO (National Reconnaissance Office), CIA, and the IC Inspector General. That’s a lot of secretive entities with zero desire to share their internal behavior with outsiders. But given the long history of whistleblower retaliation in these agencies, there’s no way they can be trusted to investigate themselves.

In the meantime, one of the best whistleblower outlets in the Intelligence Community is being kicked out of the inner circle, if not out of the government entirely. Replacing him won’t be a priority for the IC, which has harbored several enemies of whistleblowers for several years. As this administration continues to root out leakers, the situation is only going to get worse.

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Comments on “Senators Demand Investigation Of Intelligence Community's Refusal To Implement Whistleblower Protections”

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Anonymous Coward says:

This "demand" and ten bucks will get them a drink at cheap joints in DC.

That is, a small glass of pale brown liquid called Coca-Cola but which is actualy generic “cola” out of a fifty gallon barrel.

Oh, and this makes it clear that Techdirt can’t detect “grandstanding” unless is some designated enemy (among the usual villains: Comcast, ATT, anyone with “R” by name except Susan Collins and other RINOs).

stine (profile) says:

there's a difference

There’s a difference between leakers and whistleblowers (just so you’re aware;) however, nothing will convert a whistleblower into a leaker faster than the inability to actually blow the whistle on poor management/operations/etc.

Our government’s inability to distinguish between the two points to several problems, not including regulatory capture.

David says:

"Whistleblower Protection" is an oxymoron

It makes about as much sense as "secure encryption backdoors". The whole point of whistleblowing is bypassing regular structures for reporting problems, so establishing conditions for "whistleblower protection" stops the covered activity from being actual whistleblowing.

If you want to have actual "whistleblower protection", it more or less by definition has to done from outside of the structures under control of the agency.

And it can’t be a whole lot more than a witness protection program: guarantees for life and safety and possibly comparable job prospects. Not even guaranteeing anonymity would be possible for whistleblowing in an intelligence agency, or the intelligence agency would be dysfunctional.

Instead it would be so much more important to rework reporting channels (and monitor their effectiveness and safety) such that whistleblowing becomes unnecessary. That’s what the agencies should be tasked with. Protecting whistleblowers should be a last measure taken from the outside in order to temporarily offset matters on the inside having gone off-rail.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: "Whistleblower Protection" is an oxymoron

The idea of blowing the whistle is to report the wrongdoing to the lowest authority level in the chain which is not complicit in the wrongdoing – or, at least, the lowest which you A: can get in touch with and B: are sure is not complicit.

Sometimes that means taking it public. Other times it just means taking it to your boss’s boss. Other times the mechanics can be more complicated.

There’s nothing oxymoronic about having systems set up to protect people who do this from being retaliated against by the intermediate authority levels, whether because they’re complicit or just because they don’t like being bypassed.

Where it develops problems is when the official systems for bypassing the intermediate authority levels – and/or for protecting those who so bypass such authority – themselves become complicit, and themselves need to be bypassed. Which certainly seems to have happened in the overwhelming majority of the US intelligence community, at least as far as we can see from the outside.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "Whistleblower Protection" is an oxymoron

It’s not just the intelligence community, it’s every US agency. This is just more of what’s to be expected from the US government. They hold us more accountable (mass survailance, demands for backdoors, sidestepping of due process, assumption of good intentions, etc.) while holding themselves less accountable. (More revolving doors, more support for unpopular policies, more claims of executive privilege, more firing of the enforcers daring to do their job, more leaker-hunts, the first anti-gerrymandering ruling, etc.)

No-one should be expecting any less from them at this point. They are drunk on their own power, and are attempting to grab more, while simultaneously removing any obstacles to that goal they can find along the way. The midterm elections can’t come soon enough, and we had all better hope that the citizenry has learned it’s lesson.

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