In 2005, Thomas Tamm worked for the Justice Department's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. He leaked information to the New York Times that exposed how the National Security Agency (NSA) was conducting illegal wiretaps. In 2008, Sam Dratch urged here against prosecution of Tamm. Numerous news sources are reporting this week that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has decided to close its investigation of Tamm without filing any charges. The Daily Beast is also reporting that DOJ has apparently dropped its investigation of NSA whistleblower Russell Tice. In both cases, this is good news for the whistleblowers, and good news for American citizens who believe in the public's right to know when their government officials violate the law.
Yesterday, Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) introduced the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011 (WPEA), S. 743. Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) issued the following statement on this bill:
In December of 2010, the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC), the Federal Ethics Center, the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition and the No FEAR Coalition, together with nationally respected whistleblowers and thousands of citizen activists, strongly opposed the prior version of the WPEA (S. 372) calling it a "bad deal for whistleblowers." We laid out seven detailed reasons for why the bill would be detrimental for federal employees and would roll back existing whistleblower protections.
We were strongly criticized for opposing S. 372. We were told that this was the best bill we were going to get and if we did not change our position federal employee whistleblower protections offered in the new Congress would be worse. However, we believed that we were doing what was in the best interest of all federal employee whistleblowers and refused to back down.
Federal employees deserve better and were promised more by President Obama. If the flawed S. 372 had passed in December, all federal employees would have been materially harmed by the roll backs in protections. We had no choice but to stand our ground and it turns out that we were right - changes could be made to improve the bill.
The WPEA was re-introduced yesterday with one of our major concerns fixed. The exception for "minor" and "inadvertent" violations of law in the definition of protection disclosure has now been removed from this latest version of the Senate bill.
We are pleased that the Senate sponsors of the WPEA have agreed with the NWC, the Federal Ethics Center, the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition and the No FEAR Coalition, and the thousands of persons who advocated for this important change in the bill from what was proposed in the last Congress.Continue Reading...
We previously reported about the Senate Intelligence Committee's plan to include a provision in the Intelligence Authorization Bill (S. 719) requiring federal employees working at intelligence agencies to sign a contract stipulating that they would forfeit their federal pensions if they violated non-disclosure agreements, agency pre-publication review regulations or disclosed information to the press, outside groups like Wikileaks, or even Congress. The provision will give the head of each intelligence agency broad discretionary power to decide what a "leak" is - which will be broadly defined to include complaints about violations of law, waste, fraud and abuse, or risks to public safety.
Yesterday, the Senate published the bill and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) issued a press release and floor statement announcing his strong opposition to this bill because it will chill employee rights to report wrongdoing at intelligence agencies and will not afford employees due process if they are accused of violating this provision. Senator Wyden stated:
It is unfortunately entirely plausible to me that a given intelligence agency could conclude that a written submission to the congressional intelligence committees or an agency Inspector General is an “unauthorized publication,” and that the whistleblower who submitted it is thereby subject to punishment under section 403, especially since there is no explicit language in the bill that contradicts this conclusion. Withholding pension benefits from a legitimate whistleblower would be highly inappropriate, but overzealous and even unscrupulous individuals have served in senior government positions in the past, and will undoubtedly do so again in the future. This is why it is essential to have strong protections for whistleblowers enshrined in law, and this is particularly true for intelligence whistleblowers, since, given the covert nature of intelligence operations and activities, there are limited opportunities for public oversight. But reporting fraud and abuse by one’s own colleagues takes courage, and no whistleblowers will come forward if they do not believe that they will be protected from retaliation.
Senator Wyden has also announced he will block the bill from coming to the Senate floor for a vote if it contains this harmful provision. It is unclear what support exists in the Senate for this provision, but Senator Wyden’s hold could be overridden if there are 60 votes in favor of passing this bill with the anti-whistleblower pension provision in it.Continue Reading...