Opinion: Giant panda costumes aside, protecting intelligence community whistleblowers is serious business

FBI whistleblower Michael German writes in today’s Washington Post about flaws in the system designed to protect intelligence community whistleblowers.

The intelligence agencies successfully lobbied for exemptions from whistleblower protections by arguing that these complicated reporting processes are necessary to protect classified information. But this is wrong on two counts. First, intelligence community whistleblowers and the members and staff of the House Intelligence Committee all hold security clearances and know how to properly handle classified information. The idea that they would suddenly forget their training when faced with a whistleblower complaint is specious.

Second, the process doesn’t prevent leaks; it encourages them. Frustrated by a system that appears designed to block reports of abuse from getting to the proper policymakers, and lacking real protections against retaliation, many whistleblowers decide it is safer and more effective to go directly to the press.

In the Post piece, he cites the case of FBI whistleblower special agent Jane Turner, who followed the reporting rules and was rewarded with retaliation.

More from German At the Brennan Center for Justice.

(W)histleblowers have rights that need protection, and some level of anonymity helps protect them. Not publicly naming them may help avoid permanent career ramifications and the abuse and threats that might come from people outside the government. But the truth is that those that would engage in official retaliation likely already had a pretty good idea who was concerned enough about the president’s conduct to report it to the inspector general.

And the reporting avenues required by the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act make it easier for agency managers to identify whistleblowers, so the system is designed to fail when it comes to protecting anonymity. Intelligence employees would be less likely to be identified if they could speak directly to their elected representatives without going to the inspector general first…

I am sure in this polarized political era the whistleblowers knew that reporting presidential misconduct was going to put a target on their back, but they made the courageous decision to step forward despite the personal consequences. 

On Sunday, The Washington Post reported that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on Friday called for the first whistleblower’s unmasking.

“Why don’t we know who this whistleblower is?” Jordan told reporters at the Capitol. “They deserve protection, but … they’re not entitled to anonymity,”

So, it’s no surprise that two late night comics ended up with Masked Singer as Masked Whistleblower bits.




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