Highlights

 
Quotable
...Violence as a way of gaining power...is being camouflaged under the guise of tradition, national honor [and] national security...
Alfred Adler
Original Letters Blog US Casualties Contact Donate

 
February 21, 2006

At Spy Agencies, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished


by William Fisher

Find illegal activity in the U.S. national security agency you work for. Report it to your superiors. Get rewarded by being demoted or having your security clearance revoked – tantamount to losing your career – while those whose conduct you've reported get promoted.

This was the picture painted to a House of Representatives committee last week, as its members heard from five soldiers and civilians who say their livelihoods and reputations have been destroyed or placed in serious jeopardy by their attempts to expose and correct waste, fraud, or abuse in their workplaces.

They are known as "national security whistleblowers." And, unlike whistleblowers in civilian agencies of the U.S. government, they have little legal protection against retaliation.

The House Committee is chaired by Rep. Christopher Shays, a Republican from Connecticut. But, in a rare occurrence in the current contentious political climate in Washington, he is receiving virtually unanimous bipartisan support for efforts to develop legislation to fix the problem.

Shays and his colleagues listened to a litany of retaliations taken against people who have spoken out about abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, illicit federal wiretapping, and other alleged misconduct.

The litany came from current or former employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency, the Defense Department, and the Energy Department. They told the committee that after they spoke out against alleged government misconduct or criminal activity, they "were retaliated against, in some cases by having their security clearances revoked or their careers ruined."

Specialist Samuel Provance said he was demoted and humiliated after telling a general investigating the Abu Ghraib scandal that senior officers had covered up detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib.

He said he tried to tell the general "things he didn't want to hear," adding, "Young soldiers were scapegoated while superiors misrepresented what had happened and tried to misdirect attention away from what was really going on." Provance lost his security clearance, was placed under a "gag order," and is now stationed in Germany, where his responsibilities consist of "picking up trash and guard duty."

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer was among the first to disclose the Pentagon's "Able Danger" data-mining program. He said he believes that the program identified Mohammed Atta before he became the lead hijacker in the 2001 terrorist attacks, though a Pentagon review found no evidence to support that conclusion. Shaffer's security clearance was revoked.

Russell Tice, a former intelligence officer at the National Security Agency (NSA), charged that there were "illegalities and unconstitutional activity" in the agency's so-called special-access programs, but was advised that he could not discuss them even with members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees in closed session. He told the Committee the Defense Department's harassment of him included spreading rumors that he suffers from manic depression.

Mike German resigned as an FBI agent after reporting that other agents and managers mishandled a major counterterrorism case in 2002 and falsified records. The Justice Department inspector general confirmed German's allegations, and that he was retaliated against – his security clearance was revoked.

Richard Levernier's job as a senior Department of Energy nuclear security specialist was to test how well prepared U.S. nuclear weapons sites were to defend against a terrorist attack. He testified that the tests he supervised showed a 50 percent failure rate. When he reported this to his superiors, he was demoted and his security clearance was revoked. He says he was forced into early retirement.

All these witnesses said they tried to follow the chain of command for reporting wrongdoing, but were rebuffed or stonewalled. Some started by going to their immediate supervisors; others went to the inspectors general of their agencies; a few eventually told their stories to congresspersons or to the media.

The defense of whistleblowers comes at a time when top officials in the George W. Bush administration are turning up the pressure to stop leaks of classified information.

Two news reports in recent months, an article in The New York Times on the National Security Agency's surveillance program and a Washington Post article on secret CIA detention centers, have been referred for criminal investigation.

Sibel Edmonds, founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC), told IPS, "National security employees should not have to sacrifice their careers or financial security in doing what is right. Good employees are being chased out of jobs and fired by those who either are engaged in wrongful behavior or don't want to hear about."

She added, "A national security employee has to choose between career and conscience when confronted with agency wrongdoing. We need to adopt protections for employees that allow them to be secure in their jobs and encourage them to report waste, fraud, and abuse of power."

Edmonds, arguably the best known of recent national security whistleblowers, began working for the FBI shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, translating top-secret documents pertaining to suspected terrorists. She was fired in the spring of 2002 after reporting concerns about sabotage, intimidation, corruption, and incompetence to superiors.

In October 2002, at the request of FBI Director Robert Mueller, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft imposed a gag order on Edmonds, citing possible damage to diplomatic relations or national security. Edmonds sued and appealed her case all the way to the Supreme Court. But the high court agreed with lower courts that trying her case would compromise "state secrets."

The NSWBC has drafted "model legislation for whistleblowers," which is expected to be introduced in the Senate by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat. Edmonds' group is also working on a House version of this bill.

At last week's House hearing, Specialist Provance's testimony drew extraordinary attention by Committee members, as it came only days after the release by an Australian television station of new photos and videos showing prisoner abuse by the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Investigation of the "Able Danger" data-mining program of the National Security Agency has been championed by a powerful Republican, Rep. Kurt Weldon of Pennsylvania, who wrote a book on the subject.

He claims that Lt. Col. Shaffer reported the program to the staff director of the 9/11 Commission, Dr. Philip Zelikow, when he and other staff members traveled to Afghanistan. Later, however, Commission staff told him they had all the information they required. The program was not mentioned in the 9/11 Commission's report.

Responding to a question from Congressman Weldon, Shaffer said he is convinced the Defense Department wants details of "Able Danger" buried to avoid embarrassment to defense officials. He also accused the Defense Department of conducting a "smear campaign" against him.

Shaffer was barred from testifying at an earlier Senate hearing on the program, but Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told that hearing that the Defense Department had found no evidence that a likeness of Mohammed Atta was ever obtained through the program

Noting that current whistleblower protection laws do not cover employees of agencies involved in national security, Rep. Shays said, "Those with whom we trust the nation's secrets are too often treated like second-class citizens when it comes to asserting their rights to speak truth to power."

(Inter Press Service)

comments on this article?
 
 
Archives

  • Obama Faces Spate of 'Terror War' Lawsuits
    3/27/2009

  • Red Cross Report Bolsters Case for Bush Inquiry
    3/19/2009

  • Obama Follows Bush on Detainees
    3/17/2009

  • Senate Committee Weighs 'Truth Commission'
    3/5/2009

  • Al-Marri Lawyers Seek Supreme Court Review
    3/4/2009

  • Lawsuits Challenge Charity Blacklisting
    3/4/2009

  • Britain Admits Complicity in U.S. Rendition
    2/27/2009

  • What About Bagram?
    2/26/2009

  • Gitmo Report Contradicts Govt. Claims of 'Humane' Detention
    2/25/2009

  • Court Passes the Buck on Fate of Chinese Muslims
    2/20/2009

  • Democrats Divided Over 'Reckoning' for Bush
    2/17/2009

  • Lawsuit Sheds More Light on Terror War Abuses
    2/16/2009

  • Rendition Case Enters 'Bizarre' Realms of Secrecy
    2/14/2009

  • 'State Secrets' Privilege Not Gone With Bush
    2/10/2009

  • The Children of Guantánamo
    2/6/2009

  • Study Challenges Claims of Gitmo Recidivism
    2/5/2009

  • Indefinite Detention Case to Test Obama's Pledges
    2/5/2009

  • Close Torture Loopholes, Physicians' Group Urges
    1/30/2009

  • Muslim World Hails End of a Despised Symbol
    1/27/2009

  • Fate of Guantánamo Detainees Still Murky
    1/14/2009

  • Bagram: Worse Than Guantanamo?
    1/13/2009

  • 'Bad Apples' Didn't Fall Far From the Tree
    12/20/2008

  • Immunity Recedes for Private Contractors in Iraq
    12/6/2008

  • Ret. Officers Urge Obama to Expunge 'Stain of Torture'
    12/4/2008

  • Next President Will Inherit Guantanamo Dilemma
    10/22/2008

  • Freedom Recedes for Uighurs at Guantanamo
    10/22/2008

  • Muslim Charity to Get
    Its Day in Court
    10/13/2008

  • The Most Secretive Administration Ever?
    9/16/2008

  • Muslim Charities Negotiate a Minefield
    8/30/2008

  • Arar Faces Uphill Legal Battle
    8/19/2008

  • One-Fifth of Iraq Funding Paid to Contractors
    8/15/2008

  • Hamdan's Future Remains Unclear
    8/9/2008

  • NGO 'Blacklist' Unfair and Arbitrary, Groups Say
    7/24/2008

  • New Spying Law Quickly Challenged
    7/23/2008

  • Hamdan Case to Test Military Tribunals
    7/22/2008

  • Uyghurs Jailed From Guantanamo to Beijing
    7/15/2008

  • 'State Secrets' Privilege Derails Rendition Suit
    7/4/2008

  • Guantanamo Trials Hit Setbacks
    5/21/2008

  • Lawmakers Seek Probe of 'Media Generals'
    5/9/2008

  • Abuse Claims Mount Against Pentagon, Contractors
    5/8/2008

  • Fabricated 'Bioterrorism' Case Collapses
    5/3/2008

  • Groups Wrangle with CIA over 'Ghost Prisoners'
    4/26/2008

  • Courts May Get More Latitude on 'State Secrets'
    4/26/2008

  • Trials of Muslim Charities Likened to a Witch-Hunt
    4/22/2008

  • Serious Abuses No Bar to US Military Aid
    4/11/2008

  • Jordan Acted as Hub for US Renditions, Report Says
    4/9/2008

  • Arab Govts Ever More Draconian, Group Says
    3/28/2008

  • Reforms Failed to Curb FBI Spying
    3/19/2008

  • Former Gitmo Prosecutor to Testify for Defense
    3/12/2008

  • We Don't Do Torture – Especially in Debates
    3/11/2008

  • Just Waterboarding Under the Bridge
    3/10/2008

  • Bush, Congress Wrangle Over Domestic Spying
    2/28/2008

  • Renditions Clothed in State Secrets Mantle
    2/26/2008

  • Experts Doubt Fair Trials for Gitmo Suspects
    2/20/2008

  • Bush's Budget Sidelines Transparency
    2/18/2008

  • Bush: Uniter, Decider, and Now, Interpreter
    2/6/2008

  • Congress Seeks to Limit 'State Secrets' Privilege
    2/1/2008

  • Afghan Prison Looks Like Another Guantanamo
    1/15/2008

  • Terror Prosecutions Shed More Heat Than Light
    1/3/2008

  • Legal Community Condemns Destruction of CIA Tapes
    12/27/2007

  • 'Black Site' Survivor Relates Horrific Tale
    12/20/2007

  • Bush's New Spin Master
    a Lame Duck?
    12/19/2007

  • Glaring Hypocrisy of Arab Annapolis Participants
    12/6/2007

  • Civil Libertarians Warn of 'PATRIOT Act Lite'
    11/28/2007

  • Gitmo Policy Faces Another Supreme Court Test
    11/22/2007
  • William Fisher writes for Inter Press Service.

    Reproduction of material from any original Antiwar.com pages
    without written permission is strictly prohibited.
    Copyright 2014 Antiwar.com