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 Defence 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 programme. He said he believes that the programme 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 programmes, 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 Defence 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 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 defence 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
Two news reports in recent months, an article in The New York Times on the
National Security Agency's surveillance programme and a Washington Post article
on secret CIA detention centres, 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 behaviour
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 Sep. 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
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 programme 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 programme 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 programme was not mentioned in the 9/11
Responding to a question from Congressman Weldon, Shaffer said he is convinced
the Defence Department wants details of "Able Danger" buried to avoid
embarrassment to defence officials. He also accused the Defence Department of
conducting a "smear campaign" against him.
Shaffer was barred from testifying at an earlier Senate hearing on the programme,
but Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defence for intelligence, told that hearing
that the Defence Department had found no evidence that a likeness of Mohammed
Atta was ever obtained through the programme.
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."