Holding the Government Accountable

Intelligence Committee Signals Concern for Whistleblowers: Will it Lead to Action?

(Photo: US Air Force)

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence recently filed its report on the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (IAA). In the report, the Committee signaled a growing concern “about the level of protection afforded to whistleblowers within the IC [intelligence community] and the level of insight congressional committees have into their disclosures.” While the inclusion of this language is a step in the right direction, it is important to remember that this committee has the power to do much more than express its concern about the lack of protections afforded to IC whistleblowers.

As the committee of jurisdiction over the IC, SSCI has had the opportunity to champion legislative proposals to increase protections for federal employees of the IC as well as contractor employees, a growing part of the IC workforce, but it hasn’t yet.

In the absence of adequate protections, IC contractors have only two alternatives to almost certain retaliation: remain silent observers of wrongdoing or make anonymous leaks. This is why the Project On Government Oversight and other civil society organizations have been working with Members of Congress to reinstate previously afforded whistleblower protections to contractors in the IC.

Previous legislative attempts to do this have failed, yet the reforms are still as necessary as ever.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus and strong supporter of increased whistleblower protections for the IC, included the following statement in the IAA report.

One important reform lacking from the bill is whistleblower protections for Intelligence Community contractors, who are not afforded the protections provided either to Intelligence Community employees or to contractors outside the Intelligence Community. By addressing this gap, Congress potentially could save the taxpayers millions of dollars. Extending whistleblower protections to IC contractors also helps discourage leaks by granting potential leakers protected classified channels to express concerns.

It’s not too late for bipartisan legislation to address the dangerous omissions in whistleblower protections for the IC, but SSCI will have to start soon.

One provision in the IAA worth mentioning is the controversial declaration that WikiLeaks and its senior leadership resemble “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors and should be treated as such a service by the United States.” Without clear definitions, this unusual designation may have unintended consequences and warrants increased Congressional attention and oversight to ensure its constitutionality.