By Guest Blogger: Jane Turner
Member of NWC’s Board of Directors and Director of NWC’s FBI Oversight Program
Recently, an article appeared in Wired magazine reporting that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was teaching that being a devout Muslim is in itself a sign of terrorist activity. The article exposed teaching techniques used at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Teaching materials for FBI counterterrorism agents were replete with portrayals of American Muslims in a negative light. The article noted “…FBI whistleblowers provided Danger Room with these materials.”
My immediate attention went to the FBI employees who are still brave enough to put their careers on the line to speak the truth. The Director of the FBI, Robert S. Mueller III, has positioned himself in public and private as a leader who will not retaliate against FBI whistleblowers.
The reality, however, has been that Director Mueller and his senior managers have done their best to discredit, retaliate, humiliate, threaten, and launch reprisals against FBI personnel who try to bring misconduct or criminal behavior to light. Previously, two of Mueller’s closest senior management team, Assistant Director Robert Jordan and Executive Assistant Director W. Wilson Lowry took retaliatory action against Unit Chief John Roberts. They advised Roberts that they considered his whistle blowing activities a personal insult. They invoked the well worn screed about the “FBI family” which is code for keeping everything in house, and noted Director Mueller agreed with their assessment. This is the modern version of the “code of silence” that has long kept the public in the dark about police misconduct.
Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, who provided well founded criticism of the FBI laboratory, suffered ostracism, gag orders and a stunted career. Both Roberts and Whitehurst had family members working at the FBI who were exposed to retaliation. Every single FBI whistleblower has been punished in some way, from the loss of their career, to the loss of their reputation. Not one single whistleblower has been honored, or recognized by the FBI. Instead, each has been vilified.
Corrective action has never been taken against those officials who have participated in retaliation and reprisals against FBI whistleblowers. Most are promoted into the rarified air of Senior Executive Service, the highest paying jobs in the FBI. Nothing will fast track your advancement inside the agency then retaliating against a whistleblower. This insidious handling of whistleblowers serves to send a discouraging message to employees who consider speaking the truth. It results in a chilling effect that discourages agents from using official channels to raise concerns about misconduct by their superiors. Some whistleblowers have learned to find outside avenues, like leaking to the media.
I notified superiors of misconduct by fellow FBI Agents who had stolen artifacts from ground zero after 9/11. That was the beginning of my long, torturous journey, culminating in the FBI preparing termination papers for my dismissal. After twenty five years of honorable and distinguished service, I was constructively discharged. My performance review noted that I had “embarrassed” the FBI, which again, was code for not protecting the FBI’s image.
I eventually prevailed in the courts. So have other whistleblowers who challenged FBI management before judicial and administrative entities. Together, we have showed the world that the FBI retaliates. Director Mueller’s reaction has been to ramp up the FBI’s vast legal resources to block, obfuscate, and delay justice for whistleblowers. Director Mueller is taking the role of Captain Ahab with whistleblowers as his Moby Dick. His personal vendetta against whistleblowers borders on obsession. Whistleblowers are compelled by a moral compass and driven by an ethical makeup to speak truth to power.
The FBI whistleblowers who provided information and documents to Wired magazine are a direct result of Director Mueller’s war on whistleblowers. By using weapons of retaliation, humiliation, discreditation and repudiation; by threatening, demeaning, and bankrupting those who report wrongdoing; by forcing whistleblowers into a bureaucratic maze, the FBI has pushed whistleblowers to use the media instead of official channels.
President Obama’s decision to give Director Mueller a two year extension to continue the war on terror also results in the continuation of Director Mueller’s war on FBI whistleblowers. If Director Mueller and his management team launch a hunt to identify and the whistleblowers who leaked this story to Wired magazine, they will problably find FBI employees with distinguished and unblemished service records. It is the FBI’s smartest and most courageous agents who tend to become its whistleblowers. It is a pattern exemplified by John Roberts, Frederic Whitehurst, Bassem Youssef, Sibel Edmonds, John Cole, Robert Kobus, Mike German, Robert Wright, John Vincent, Gilbert Graham, Colleen Rowley and myself.
Congress is currently considering the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) to modernize the legal protections for federal employees who risk their careers to expose waste, fraud and corruption. The administration and its allies are seeking to exclude from this bill all the employees of national security agencies, including the FBI. Please, let us not forget the the courageous whistleblowers who have sacrificed their careers to protect the public. Please, let the WPEA protect all federal employees.