Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search


William Fisher: National Security Whistleblowers

National Security Whistleblowers

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 Representative 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 FBI, 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 bipolar disease.

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 America'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 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 Inspector Generals 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 Bush administration officials 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 us, "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."

Ms. 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 Ms. Edmonds, citing possible damage to diplomatic relations or national security. Ms. 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 channel of new photos and videos showing prisoner abuse by the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Investigation of the "Able Danger" datamining 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."


Please click on the link below.


© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>


Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news