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Whistleblowing Is Patriotic

Today, an op-ed by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Porter Goss ran in The New York Times. Numerous details, but, more importantly, the overall argument, are wrong. First, the big kahuna: Goss's assertion that "the term 'whistleblower' has been misappropriated."

Goss says that "those who choose to bypass the law and go straight to the press are not noble, honorable or patriotic. Nor are they whistleblowers." Wrong. People who are trying to stop the government from pursuing illegal activities or expose corruption are whistleblowers, are patriotic and deserving of our respect.

Overwhelmingly, the men and women who do go to the press are coming forward with information they believe needs to become public, because there are grave abuses, whether it is an exorbitant waste of taxpayer dollars, a threat to our constitutional system of government, or something else of significant public interest. And when they do go to the media, operational details that can benefit our enemies are almost never revealed.

But why go to the press when Goss says that the "Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act [ensures] that current or former employees could petition Congress, after raising concerns within their respective agency, consistent with the need to protect classified information"? The answer is quite simple: the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act is more like an Intelligence Community Whistleblower Control Act, especially when it comes to the CIA.

As we've statedbefore, the Act says that CIA whistleblowers 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.

What about the Inspector General (IG)? Well, they don't provide an independent shelter for whistleblowers either. The POGO-Government Accountability Project-Public Employee for Environmental Responsibility book, The Art of Anonymous Activism, states:

While the IG touts itself as independent, that is not really the case. At small agencies, the agency head appoints the IG. For larger agencies, the IG is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The IG reports to the head of the agency and serves at the pleasure of the President. In other words, if an IG is upsetting the Administration's apple cart, he or she can be instantly removed.

The IG's performance appraisal comes from the agency head, who also controls issuance of awards and financial bonuses to the IG. As a consequence, many IG offices are quite political in the selection of cases for investigation and the manner in which its findings are cast.

So if an investigation by the CIA Inspector General is shut down or ineffective and the CIA director doesn't want the whistleblower to go to Congress, then there is no other choice but to go to the media. If concerned CIA employees know this, the only way for them to air their concerns, without signaling to the CIA director who to retaliate against, is to skip the CIA IG, skip going to Congress and go straight to the press.

These are just some of the specific problems CIA whistleblowers face. Government employees across the government, including the CIA, face incredible legal odds. Both the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act and the Whistleblower Protection Act are highly flawed. For example, a whistleblower is not legally protected if they first report wrongdoing in the chain of command in their agency. But wouldn't telling your boss be the first thing an employee who notices something wrong would do?

The only example where Goss asserts that information in the press hurt intelligence efforts was the urban myth that Osama bin Laden abandoned use of his satellite phone, which the US has eavesdropped upon, because the press reported that he used one. But an article by the Washington Post shows how hollow Goss' assertion really is. It was bin Laden's ally the Taliban who revealed this fact--not a leak from the CIA or another intelligence agency--to Time in 1996 that bin Laden used a satellite phone. It is even possible that the CIA began eavesdropping on bin Laden's phone because of this information gleaned from Time. And when bin Laden stopped using his phone, it's more likely because the US had launched cruise missiles at his camp the day before. The second time bin Laden's satellite phone was mentioned in the press, the source was bin Laden himself. Again, this does not qualify as a leak from the CIA, or as a leak at all.

Also a revelation, first reported by National Journal, might give Goss a pause since it implicates Vice President Dick Cheney as authorizing leaks of classified information to the press for political purposes:

Beyond what was stated in the court paper, say people with firsthand knowledge of the matter, Libby also indicated what he will offer as a broad defense during his upcoming criminal trial: that Vice President Cheney and other senior Bush administration officials had earlier encouraged and authorized him to share classified information with journalists to build public support for going to war. Later, after the war began in 2003, Cheney authorized Libby to release additional classified information, including details of the NIE, to defend the administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case for war.

Goss only points the finger at whistleblowers who are trying to inform the public of government malfeasance, but not at the politicized leaking of intelligence authorized at the highest levels. There's a world of difference, and it is loose lips of this Administration that Goss should be truly concerned about.