Holding the Government Accountable

Russ Tice: Subpoena=Government Intimidation

Several media outlets reported over the weekend that Russell Tice, former National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence analyst and a member of National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC), has been subpoened by the FBI to testify before a federal grand jury this week. Mr. Tice "will be asked to testify and answer questions concerning possible violations of federal criminal law," the subpoena states, referring to unauthorized disclosures, under the Espionage Act, of warrantless domestic surveillance by the NSA to the New York Times.; These disclosures led to a December 2005 article which made public the surveillance program.

Tice responded to this subpoena in a National Security Whistleblower Coalition press release: "This latest action by the government is designed only for one purpose: to ensure that people who witness criminal action being committed by the government are intimidated into remaining silent."

"To this date I have pursued all the appropriate channels to report unlawful and unconstitutional acts conducted [by the government] while I served as an intelligence officer with the NSA and DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency, where Tice has also worked]," Tice added.

Tice has been very clear that he did not give the New York Timesany classified information. He may not even be regarded as one of the Times' anonymous sources, but merely someone they chatted with at some point.

When he tried to testify before congressional intelligence committees, he was told by Renne Seymour, NSA's chief of its highly classified Special Access Programs, that those committees did not have high enough security clearances (pdf). However, the Armed Services committees apparently did and Tice testified before them. It is unclear what, if anything, came as a result of Tice's disclosure: Did the Armed Services committees fulfill their oversight function? And this situation raises serious questions about the Congress' committee system: Why are the Armed Services committees cleared to receive more secretive information from the NSA than the intelligence committees, the very place where intelligence whistleblowers are supposed to go with their classified concerns?

It's become a platitude, but it is not incorrect to say that the system is broken. Whistleblowers feel that they have more impact and are safer when they go to the press than when they report their concerns internally, either up the chain of command in their agencies or to their Office of Inspector General, or to Congress. Feeding these feelings is the current situation where the government views whistleblowing as the problem and makes stopping or prosecuting "leaks"--disclosures of, if not illegal, then at least highly questionable acts--the focus of government efforts, rather than actually addressing the problems that are exposed.

As Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers about 35 years ago, writes about the nonexistent investigation of the NSA surveillance program disclosed by the Times which seems to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA):

Is there another grand jury empannelled to examine the criminal behavior of those who ordered and those who knowingly cooperated in this massively violative scheme, which evidently continues? If not, why not?