A front page story in today's Washington Post looks at the growth and effects of the popular anonymous whistleblower website, WikiLeaks. Daniel Schmitt, a WikiLeaks director, told Post writer Joby Warrrick that, "The message of WikiLeaks to the controllers of information is this: You can either be transparent, or transparency will be brought to you." Here, here. I became concerned, though, when I read the quote from a 2008 U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) memo that proposes the "identification, exposure or termination of employment of or legal actions against current or former insiders, leakers or whistleblowers" as a tactic against WikiLeaks. It is distressing that DoD's reaction would be knee-jerk retaliation. They just don't get the message.
This morning, the AP released a story detailing the failure of the Department of Defense Inspector General's (DoD IG) office to perform it's two essential functions: (a) protect military whistleblowers and (b)investigate their claims. As one whistleblower in the story says: "They are supposed to serve as the conscience of the Department of Defense. And they're not." The AP used Freedom of Information Act Requests and interviews with whistleblowers and advocates to determine multiple shortcomings:
- Although DoD IG received over 3,000 whistleblower claims over the past six years, it found no wrongdoing by the military over 90% of the time.
- 73% of the cases were closed after only a "preliminary review."
- A confidential survey of the workers and managers in DoD IG found that the workforce was "demoralized and ambivalent." and that one-third of the employees there were described as "disaffected.
Revalations of this kind would be of concern in any agency or area of government, but this story is particularly worrisome. We know that the men and women serving our country in the military witness countless acts of fraud, waste, abuse, and much worse (think Abu Ghraib). The size of the Defense Budget, and the volume of lucrative government contracts to private corporations in recent years (see Bunny Greenhouse), has increased the need for oversight and whistleblower protection for military employees. Further, military whistleblowers are often more vulnerable to retaliation, and they often have no recourse whatsoever if their claim is rejected by the DoD IG.