Holding the Government Accountable

Key Intel Whistleblower Official Fired as Spy Agencies Face Oversight Crisis

Dan Meyer (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The lead staffer dedicated to protecting Intelligence Community employees who internally report misconduct was terminated earlier this month, despite protests from Senators and the whistleblower advocacy community, Government Executive reported last week.

The firing of Dan Meyer, who led the Whistleblowing and Source Protection Program at the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General, or IC IG, may have wide repercussions. He was forced out of the pivotal job at a time when whistleblowers may already be wary of trusting that their jobs will be safe due to allegations of misconduct involving the handling of whistleblower complaints by inspectors general in other intelligence agencies. It’s now not clear who, if anyone, is doing his job.

The exact cause of Meyer’s ouster remains murky. For years, he led outreach and education campaigns highlighting proper disclosure channels and whistleblower protections to employees across U.S. intelligence agencies under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or ODNI—a complicated gig in a covert world paranoid about leaks. In fact, Meyer even lodged his own complaint at one point, alleging he was punished for disclosing misconduct earlier in his career while working at the Defense Department Office of Inspector General.

By last fall, trouble was brewing for Meyer again.

He was essentially banned from actually doing his job, Foreign Policy reported in October:

Meyer, whose job is to talk to intelligence community whistleblowers, can no longer talk to whistleblowers. He has been barred from communicating with whistleblowers, the main responsibility of his job as the executive director for intelligence community whistleblowing and source protection. He is currently working on an instructional pamphlet for whistleblowers, and he will have no duties to perform after he’s completed that work.

He can also no longer brief the agencies or the congressional committees on his work as he’s done in the past, send out his whistleblower newsletter, or conduct outreach. And he has no deputy or staff.

Then in November, Meyer was suspended and escorted out of the building while his office was “sealed off with crime-scene tape,” according to Government Executive.

Meyer maintains this was retaliation against him for blowing the whistle again. In a January statement, Meyer said that he had received a poor performance review and was accused of “security infractions” after raising concerns about a “systematic failure” to implement whistleblower protections required by an Obama-era presidential policy directive.

However, Meyer said, even he ultimately remains unclear on the exact claims against him. "Unfortunately, during the three months of hearings and appeals regarding my case, I was not permitted to see the materials serving as a basis for termination,” Meyer told POGO in an emailed statement.

His position was left without key protections against retaliation because he remained categorized as a probationary employee due to an error by the previous management of the office, Meyer told POGO. “No whistleblowing advocate managing a program with integrity can serve in such a status, especially if it handles internal and external allegations against senior officials,” he said.

In a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats—whose office houses the Intelligence Community Inspector General—earlier this month, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) stated that Meyer “was terminated in a process marked by procedural irregularities and serious conflicts of interest” while the agency’s acting leadership “demonstrated a lack of support for the critical whistleblower protection mission of the office.”

The Senators asked that Meyer’s termination be stayed pending the confirmation of Michael Atkinson, the IC IG nominee who is awaiting action by the full Senate. The Project On Government Oversight and the Government Accountability Project also weighed in with a letter asking that a final decision on Meyer’s employment wait until after Atkinson’s confirmation process.

Last week, Grassley went on the Congressional Record with his intent to hold up the Administration’s pick for ODNI General Counsel until the agency answers questions about Meyer’s situation. Grassley previously threatened the hold in a November letter. The letter requested the agency preserve and secure potentially sensitive information about ongoing whistleblower retaliation investigations left in Meyer’s office when he was put on leave and to provide Grassley’s staff with all documents about the personnel action against Meyer. The agency never responded to Grassley’s requests, according to the Senator’s statement last week.

In response to inquiries about Meyer, an ODNI spokesperson told Government Executive that the agency does not comment on personnel matters but that “ODNI and the IC IG adhere to all applicable laws and policy in all personnel decisions. Any allegations to the contrary are false."

In an emailed statement to POGO, IC IG spokesperson Monica Tullos said that the watchdog agency “recognizes the value and accountability strong whistleblowing programs bring to good governance.” However, Tullos would not comment on who is currently leading the Intelligence Community’s Whistleblowing and Source Protection Program.

The gap left by Meyer’s ouster is particularly troubling because whistleblower retaliation concerns are so pervasive in the U.S. intelligence community that they even have infected the offices that are supposed to be a safe haven for those who report abuse.

In 2016, POGO first reported that the National Security Agency’s then-Inspector General, George Ellard, was placed on leave after a review panel composed of three inspectors general determined he had retaliated against a whistleblower. (Another review found Ellard did not retaliate; he still works at NSA in a different role.) In another case, the acting CIA Inspector General appears to have misled Congress about pending reprisals claims against him in his own confirmation hearing; news of those claims was initially reported by POGO. The Inspector General Office at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the military’s primary spy shop, is also reportedly in chaos.

An internal review by the IC IG, first reported by POGO last year, found widespread problems with how IGs within the intelligence world respond to complaints about whistleblower reprisal and retaliation. That analysis was quashed, The Daily Beastrecently reported, after leadership discovered that one of the investigators working on it was himself a CIA whistleblower suing the agency for retaliating against him.

In a January confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Atkinson faced stiff questions about what he would do to protect whistleblowers in the role—and he appeared to acknowledge there was plenty of work to do.

“My first objective as Inspector General, if confirmed, will be to make sure the IC IG’s house is in order,” Atkinson told the Committee. “This will involve making sure the right people are in the IC IG, with the proper values, discipline, and work ethic. A natural corollary will be to get any of the wrong people out of the IC IG. I am confident there are right people for the IC IG already there, and I hope they stay.”