Holding the Government Accountable

Defining "Whistleblower"

Due to recent revelations of warrantless domestic spying by the National Security Agency and secret CIA detention centers in Eastern Europe, commentators on the left and right are debating the definition of what a government whistleblower is. Perhaps the greatest debate and area of confusion swirls around the legal definition of a protected whistleblower and the layperson's understanding of what constitutes blowing the whistle. For example of the former, last week Rush Limbaugh cited the Whistleblower Protection Act on when federal agencies are in violation of the Act to define who can be labeled a whistleblower:

May I read to you what a whistleblower is, as legally defined? "A federal agency violates the whistleblower protection act if it takes or fails to take or threatens to take or failed to take a personnel action with respect to any employee or applicant because of any disclosure of information by the employee or applicant that he or she reasonably believes evidences a violation of law, rule or regulation." The bottom line here is that a whistleblower does not go public.

Regarding the latter point, a few clicks and keystrokes will take you to Dictionary.com, where the definition of whistleblower is: "One who reveals wrongdoing within an organization to the public or to those in positions of authority." Seems simple enough.

There's a huge puzzle piece missing in this debate: the problem is that the whistleblower protections out there are pitifully weak. And whistleblowers in the intelligence community are not even protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act. Instead they are covered by the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998.

Though the Whistleblower Protection Act is weak, the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) is even worse. One of the most serious problems with it is that an employee or contractor of the CIA who wants to report wrongdoing cannot go to congressional intelligence committees without the CIA director giving him or her "direction on how to contact the intelligence committees in accordance with appropriate security practices." Problem with this is that the CIA director might not want Congress to look into the allegations of wrongdoing by the CIA whistleblower.

Clearly one can blow the whistleblower on what one perceives to be wrongdoing, but not receive whistleblower protections. In fact, this happens all the time.