A surge in whistle-blowing ... and reprisals
Congress eyes tricky question of blowing the whistle in wartime.
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Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer lost his security clearance after testifying to the 9/11 Commission and Congress about Operation Able Danger, a program that he says tagged four 9/11 hijackers before the attacks.Skip to next paragraph
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Former FBI special agent Michael German and former intelligence officer Russell Tice also testified that they felt they'd been retaliated against for speaking out about problems, and both lost their security clearances.
"Security clearance revocation is the new harassment of choice against national security workers," says Thomas Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit public-interest law firm in Washington that assists whistle-blowers.
While federal workers have had whistle-blower protection since 1989, a 1999 US court ruling requires these workers to have irrefutable evidence of waste, fraud, or abuse to be eligible for protection. Last year, House and Senate committees each passed bills that strengthened protections for whistle-blowers, but neither bill has come to the floor for a vote. Only the Senate version includes national security whistle-blowers.
Outside the realm of national security, James Hansen, the top climate scientist at NASA, spoke out about efforts by the NASA press office to screen his speeches and limit his contact with the press.
In response, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R) of New York, chairman of the House Science Committee, backed Dr. Hansen. "Good science cannot long persist in an atmosphere of intimidation," he wrote to NASA administrator Michael Griffin. Mr. Griffin e-mailed all NASA employees, affirming that staff should not alter, filter, or adjust scientific work.
But Hansen says the issue is not yet resolved, citing a pending investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee challenging the scholarship of other scientists working on global warming.
When lawmakers on the House panel asked what other issues they should heed, watchdog groups cited the case of Louis Fisher, a senior analyst at Congressional Research Service.
His office door is papered with book jackets from his works, many of them on congressional-executive relations. When Mr. Fisher spoke publicly about a report he wrote on national security whistle-blowers, CRS managers warned him not to take positions on issues before Congress.
"CRS researchers are instructed from the time they're hired that their role is an educative one, not an advocative one," Daniel Mulhollan, CRS director, wrote in an e-mail statement. "If CRS is to serve all members of Congress ... it must be understood to be equally valuable to those on competing sides of an issue."
The warning set off protests from political scientists and public-interest groups. "The CRS has been severely compromised," says William Weaver, a political scientist at the University of Texas in El Paso and a founder of the National Security Whistle-blowers Coalition.
Says Fisher himself: "For the last 33 years my job was to defend legislative prerogative and constitutional government, and suddenly that's a bad thing to do. There are mixed signals inside this [CRS] house. People are hunkered down."