The Need for Whistleblowers in “Top Secret America”

This morning the Washington Post published the first of a three-part series on “Top Secret America.” The series is a culmination of a two-year investigation into America’s post 9/11 intelligence community. I, like most Americans, knew that the intelligence community was large, but I was still shocked to see the sheer numbers of agencies, employees, facilities, and money being spent. The article explains how this mammoth bureaucracy continues to grow even though most of its inefficiencies can be traced to being too large to manage – one agency does not know what other agencies are doing.

The most disturbing part is that there is little to no accountability for these agencies. One can argue that if it is human nature that if you think no one is watching you are going to take a cookie out of the jar, then pretty soon you are going to walk away with the whole jar and not even think twice about it. The employees who have the guts to stand up and object are quickly squashed with little to no recourse. The authors of the article even point out that most officials they spoke to requested anonymity because “they feared retaliation at work for describing their concerns.” These officials were not disclosing classified information, they were simply criticizing the management of their agencies.
(Cartoon Credit: 2002 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The American people deserve to know that their money is being spent in a way that  will enhance national security and not trample on their civil liberties. As Glenn Greenwald accurately points out, there is a small group of individuals who are able to “shed a small amount of light on what actually takes place.” There is an even smaller group of employees who are willing to risk their careers to protect the American people. In order to create oversight and protections for national security employees, Congress must immediately pass the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (H.R. 1507) and the President must sign it into law. H.R. 1507 would fully protect these employees so that they could safely raise issues without losing their jobs. There are procedures in place that would protect classified information from leaking out, but would allow employees to take their case to federal court for a fair trial. The Government Accountability Office has stated that it will not pose a risk to national security to give these employees court access.

The Senate has been pushing a bill (S. 372) that would grant some federal employees additional whistleblower rights, while stripping other employees, including FBI employees, of what little rights they have now. The bill creates a sham procedure where national security employees appear before a board of intelligence officials to prove that an intelligence agency has been retaliating against them. Any person with a bit of common sense will be able to predict what will happen to that employee. The outcome will not be pretty, especially when the agency is allowed to introduce secret evidence that the whistleblower is not allowed to see or counter.

To the disappointment of the whistleblower community, President Obama has run away from his campaign promise to protect whistleblowers and support H.R. 1507. It is up to the American people to demand what they were promised.  

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