This administration has made it clear whistleblowing isn’t tolerated. It has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. It’s even planning a “Welcome Home” prosecution for the nation’s most famous whistleblower — Edward Snowden — should he ever decide to return to the US.
Officials, of course, claim to love whistleblowing. That seems to be the main objection raised to Snowden’s activities: “If only he’d gone through the proper channels, we wouldn’t be seeking to jail him the moment he returns to American soil (or the soil of any country with a favorable extradition policy).”
But there are no official channels — or, at least, no channels whistleblowers feel safe using.
Foreign Policy has the story of another NSA whistleblower the agency has chosen to make miserable rather than investigate the source of her complaints. It started with an FBI raid of her house — something she found out via a phone call from an FBI agent already in her house. From there, it got worse.
“They suspended my clearances without giving me any reason,” she remembers. She wasn’t allowed at work, and for two years, the NSA made her “call every day like a criminal, checking in every morning before 8.” Khorasani went to the agency only for interrogations, she says: eight or nine sessions that ran at least five hours each. She was asked about her family, her travel, and her contacts.
This was all triggered by a meeting she set up with Thomas Drake — another famous whistleblower prosecuted by this administration — about how to follow through with a complaint about what she felt was an unfair reassignment. According to Drake, it was already too late.
“He said, ‘You’ve got the bull’s-eyes on you. You’re done,’” Khorasani recalls.
As the article points out, her story is one of several. The agency — and the administration — have made no meaningful distinction between whistleblowing and insider threats. They treat both in the same way, even if one is an integral part of government accountability. Anything the agency considers to be a threat, it handles with swift severity.
Individuals can find their clearances yanked, something that is signalled to other NSA employees with a red security badge, rather than the normal blue one. Employees are encouraged to report anything questionable about other employees to supervisors. Some employees aren’t even employees. They’re plants put in place to encourage incriminating statements or actions.
This isn’t doing the NSA — and dozens of other government agencies — any favors. Talented people are leaving because they don’t want to work in this environment. Potential employees are looking elsewhere for work. And still others are being forced out of a job because they aren’t willing to simply shut up when they see something that bothers them.
The DOJ is no different. It’s no fan of whistleblowers either. Unfortunately for it, it’s not a national security agency so it can’t maintain quite as much control over disclosures by whistleblowers. That’s why it’s been fighting legislators over whistleblower protection proposals. Marcy Wheeler has highlighted some of its objections to Senator Grassley’s legislation, raised in recent testimony in front of a Congressional committee.
First off, it apparently feels too many of the proper channels are out of its direct control.
[A]s Attorney General Loretta Lynch revealed, DOJ is worried that permitting FBI Agents to report crimes or waste through their chain of command would risk exposing intelligence programs.
“What I would say is that as we work through this issue, please know that, again, any concerns that the Department raises are not out of a disagreement with the point of view of the protection of whistleblowers but again, just making sure that the FBI’s intelligence are also protected at the same time.”
I suspect (though am looking for guidance) that the problem may be that the bill permits whistleblowers to go to any member of Congress, rather than just ones on the Intelligence Committees. It’s also possible that DOJ worries whistleblowers will be able to go to someone senior to them, but not read into a given program.
It’s also likely concerned that whistleblowers will expose a number of questionable activities.
Still, coming from an agency that doesn’t adequately report things like its National Security Letter usage to Congress, which has changed its reporting to the Intelligence Oversight Board so as to exempt more activities, and can’t even count its usage of other intelligence programs, it seems like a tremendous problem that DOJ doesn’t want FBI whistleblowers to have protection because it might expose what FBI is doing on intelligence.
The FBI must be severely damaged at this point, or have too many secrets it would hate to see fall into the hands of legislators not connected to its mostly-captive audience in the Intelligence Committee. Grassley noted one of the agency’s objections to additional whistleblower protections is that there’s so damn much about the agency employees would complain about.
One of the issues that your department has raised is that allowing FBI employees to report wrong-doing to their chain of command could lead to too many complaints. You know? What’s wrong with too many complaints? … Seems to me you’d invite every wrong doing to get reported to somebody so it could get corrected.
If there’s any agency that is sorely in need of some periodic deep housecleaning, it’s the FBI.
This is the FBI! Not only a bureau that has tremendous power over people, but also one with a well-documented history of abuse. It should be the first entity that has whistleblower protection, not the last!
This is why there aren’t more whistleblowers. The “proper channels” at the NSA will most likely net a whistleblower a search of their house and belongings en route to a forced resignation. Meanwhile, the FBI, with the DOJ’s backing, is trying to narrow the reporting channels so it can — like its NATSEC big brother — eliminate unhappy employees before they can do any damage.