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Holding the Government Accountable

Does New Policy Protect Intelligence Whistleblowers?

July 7 marked an important date for intelligence community whistleblowers. It was the deadline for the implementation of Parts A and B of Presidential Policy Directive 19 (PPD-19), which extends protections to whistleblowers from the secretive and often unaccountable intelligence community. While other federal employees who expose wrongdoing to the proper authorities have benefited from whistleblower protections that provide them with recourse for subsequent reprisals, most whistleblowers in the national security and intelligence communities have never had such protections. Instead, these whistleblowers faced a choice of ignoring threats to public safety, violations of law, and corruption within the intelligence community; blowing the whistle through proper channels and potentially facing retaliation with no recourse; or going public—and perhaps making an illegal disclosure of classified information. Without protected channels for exposing wrongdoing, some national security and intelligence community members who were unwilling to remain silent have taken huge personal risks to expose wrongdoing.

Last year’s Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act made critical reforms to protections for those working in the federal government—except for national security and intelligence community workers. While proposed protections for national security and intelligence community whistleblowers passed with unanimous support in the Senate, they were eventually stripped from the bill in order to overcome objections from House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.). Once it became clear that Congress had abandoned these reforms, President Obama issued Presidential Policy Directive 19, extending whistleblower protections to many workers in the national security and intelligence community for the first time. While not as robust as needed, PPD-19 will hopefully help to better protect legitimately classified information and those who expose waste, fraud, abuse, and other wrongdoing that would otherwise go unchecked—and therefore, the American people.

PPD-19’s protections include:

  • Defining protected disclosures and clarifying what is within the bounds of these protections
  • Prohibiting retaliatory personnel actions such as firing, demoting, or reassigning a whistleblower or rendering them ineligible for a security clearance
  • Mandating that each agency’s Inspector General (IG) establish a process, mirroring Whistleblower Protection Act procedures, to review claims of retaliation
  • Establishing remedies such as job restoration and some compensation for substantiated claims of retaliation
  • Requiring each agency within the intelligence community or with classified information to certify to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) within 270 days of the release of PPD-19 that they have implemented a review process for retaliation claims

The 270 day deadline expired last Sunday, July 7, and we are curious to see if the agencies are in compliance. Today, POGO submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for a copy of the certifications and policies related to the review processes submitted by each agency.

Ensuring that the intelligence and national security communities implement best-practice procedures for handling whistleblower claims will help reduce unnecessary leaks of classified information while still encouraging individuals with knowledge of wrongdoing to come forward. After all, whistleblowers can’t be expected to make internal disclosures without credible protections. PPD-19 is a promising step towards a more accountable intelligence community.

That said, important details about the implementation of the directive remain uncertain. For several months after the release of PPD-19, it was not officially public. At the urging of POGO and others, the Administration finally released it. While we have the text of the PPD, the Obama Administration has yet to clarify whether its protections will apply to contractors in the intelligence community, such as Edward Snowden, saying only that “the Executive Branch is evaluating the scope” of said protections.

As Angela Canterbury, POGO’s Director of Public Policy, stated in th­e FOIA request:

We believe whistleblowers are vital to effective law enforcement and that they must be adequately protected against reprisal. Whistleblowers that are given the proper protection and work through the proper channels reduce leaks of classified information and help to rein in waste, fraud, abuse, and other illegalities.

We look forward to hearing back from ODNI on the implementation of PPD-19 and will let you know when we do.