Intelligence Community Whistleblowers

Over at The Government Accountability Project, they use the upcoming film “Official Secrets” to talk about potential national security whistleblower mis-steps. The film, which opens at the end of August, tells the tale of British intelligence translator Katharine Gun. In 2003, she was charged under the Official Secrets Act for passing an memo to a reporter. She believed the note was from US spies asking for negative information on nations whose votes were needed for UN approval of the Iraq war.

Movies like this one demystify whistleblowing…Nonetheless, the Hollywood version of Gun’s whistleblower story contains a few key examples of risky choices that would have likely imperiled the success of a national security whistleblower, at least in the U.S.


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The Washington Post has been running a series of stories on problems with forensic science. Radley Balko, a Post opinion writer focusing on civil liberties and the criminal-justice system, explains.

In covering these issues, I have found that there are lots of people willing to talk about the problems with forensics in the courtroom. But

Whistleblower tales offer drama, intrigue, good guys and bad guys.  So, it’s no wonder Hollywood loves them. The web is filled with lists of whistleblower movies. They include classics like “On the Waterfront” and recent films like “The Post.” They range from documentaries to thrillers to based-on-a-true story bio pics.  Now, add a new one to the intelligence whistleblower genre.

This summer look for “Officials Secrets,” a feature film about British intelligence translator Katharine Gun. A dour, dressed-down Keira Knightley walks through a gauntlet of reporters and mics in the promo shot. The film premiered at the Sundance film festival in January.

From the Hollywood Reporter review:

While railing at TV news coverage of Tony Blair’s double-speak concerning his position on the George W. Bush government’s intention to invade Iraq in 2003, British intelligence translator Katharine Gun, played with the requisite impassioned principles by Keira Knightley, fumes, “Just because you’re the prime minister doesn’t mean you get to make up your own facts.”


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In the course of her research into fraud and white-collar crime, Kelly Richmond Pope comes across a lot of whistleblower stories. The DePaul University accountant and business professor said she couldn’t understand why they were treated so poorly. So, she did a TED talk about it. Now she knows even more stories. Pope talked to the Whistleblower Protection Blog in May.  A forensic accountant, she has experience in insurance fraud investigations and fraud risk management projects. TR

Kelly Richmond Pope

 Q. What cases are you following?

It seems like there is a new story every day.  Behind every fraud story, which is my area of research, there is a whistleblower. What you may call a whistleblower case, I may call a fraud case. If we are hearing about it in the news, that means someone somewhere told something.

Q. You talked about how whistleblowers are looked at as tattle-tales, not as heroes. Do you think people still have that attitude?

Absolutely. I think it is still going on. The whistleblower dilemma is about how we as a society treat these brave people. It is very hard to come up against the system. Right now, we are hearing more about the whistleblowers at Boeing. I would say 95 percent of the world is impacted by the airline industry. So, we want those people to come forward with information. We look at that as having a direct impact on our health and safety.
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A former White House security officer has denied he was under pressure from Trump administration superiors to approve security clearances, according to reports of his interview with Congressional investigators earlier this week.

His comments are a response to charges levied by Tricia Newbold, a White House staffer who in March reported security clearance problems to Congress. White House officials overruled security staff and granted clearances to 25 employees, she told the House committee.     

 From The New York Times:

Carl Kline, the former director of the White House’s Personnel Security Office, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee this week that he had overruled the recommendations of his staff and approved security clearances for White House officials on his own authority, and denied that President Trump or anyone else had directed him to do it.
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Four years after the Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed take steps to streamline the FBI whistleblower program, the agency has not taken action, according to a program review.

The Government Accountability Office issued recommendations in 2015 to make improvements like shortening the time it takes to process whistleblower complaints.

So far, the agency has not:
  • Clarified regulations
  • Given complainants timeframes for returning decisions
  • Developed an oversight mechanism to ensure compliance with requirements
  • Assessed the impact of efforts to reduce the duration of complaints or requirements


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The New York Times headline inspired retired Environmental Protection Agency staffer William Sanjour to write to the editor.

The headline read: “Whistle-Blower Did the Unexpected: She Returned to Work”

Why are you surprised that a whistle-blower went back to work?” he wrote in a letter posted Wednesday. “I was a whistle-blower at the Environmental Protection Agency and went back to work for 20 years and continued to blow the whistle, as did several of my whistle-blowing colleagues. That’s the law.”

The law he refers to is the Whistleblower Protection Act and Sanjour relied on it as a long-time critic of his own agency.

The Times story he refers to was about Tricia Newbold, a White House security office staffer. This weekend, she told Congressional investigators that senior White House officials overruled security staff and granted clearances to 25 employees.    
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Reality WinnerOn June 26th, National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Reality Winner pleaded guilty in federal court, agreeing to 63 months in prison in plea agreement for a single charge of espionage. Winner’s case has made national headlines throughout the past year after she was arrested in June 2017 for leaking NSA documents regarding a Russian hack in the 2016 election to a news outlet. Ms. Winner was arrested under the Espionage Act, a federal law that was created for spies, not whistleblowers.
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Daniel Ellsberg speaks on his experience blowing the whistle.

“What would you do if you were a young professional working at your dream job, and you discover that your employer was lying to the public, promoting a disastrous foreign war, and steadily expanding a weapons program that threatened to destroy human life on earth?”

Daniel Ellsberg faced this question himself multiple times in his life. He posed the same question to the audience during his April 10th talk at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and in his new book, The Doomsday Machine. Ellsberg continued that he believes there are currently thousands of government employees looking at the prospect of nuclear war, whether or not they recognized this sentence as applicable to them.


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