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Press Release

Exclusive: CIA Whistleblower Lawsuit Highlights Lack of Agency Accountability and Need to Extend Protections to Intelligence Community

A previously unreported federal lawsuit by an undercover CIA operative charges a CIA chief of station, and others in the Agency’s elite Directorate of Operations with illegally retaliating against him after he raised concerns of dangerous practices at a secret base, according to POGO’s report released today. The Chief of Station is the highest-ranking U.S. intelligence official in the country.

The dangerous practices included the issuance of orders to CIA personnel at the base by his supervisor, located in a conflict zone, which the lawsuit claims were improper and illegal -- requiring agents to transit areas subject to hostile fire without a valid operational reason to do so. As the lawsuit says, the CIA’s Chief of Base “continually put herself and personnel in danger by insisting that they travel in areas of indirect fire attack (IDF) when not operationally necessary—such as trips for food, shopping or to the gym -- contrary to US Military personnel movement guidance.”

Following a much-publicized tragedy that resulted in Agency pledges in 2010 to improve tradecraft and security at secret front-line CIA facilities abroad, little had actually changed during the CIA whistleblower’s 2015 deployment to a Forward Operating Base, in what is apparently Afghanistan, given the details in the lawsuit.

Those pledges of reform came in the wake of the disastrous attack on Camp Chapman in Afghanistan’s Khost Province, where seven CIA agents and five contractors were killed when an al Qaeda suicide bomber was mistakenly allowed to enter the facility.

The lawsuit was filed roughly two years after James S. Pars--a CIA-assigned pseudonym--first made allegations of official misconduct and received no response from the agency or its Inspector General. The case is pending in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. According to his lawsuit, the agent was reassigned and a black mark was put in his file. POGO writes that the case, depending on the outcome, “could set a precedent for whistleblowers at the CIA and other secrecy-bound agencies.”

The case highlights the need to strengthen whistleblower protections in the intelligence community. The Trump administration wants to crack down on government leaks, but with a broken system for intelligence officials to report dangerous practices as well as waste, fraud and abuse, the incentives for employees to go to the media anonymously, instead of using official channels, are out of balance.

“Whistleblowers in the Intelligence Community who use proper channels to disclose alleged wrongdoing deserve protection and due process,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) told POGO, referring to the Pars case. “Long delays at the CIA OIG (Office of Inspector General) underscore serious weaknesses in the system, and raise concerns over accountability at the CIA.

POGO has a track record across multiple administrations of highlighting weaknesses in federal whistleblower protections and security flaws at sensitive U.S. installations and advocated for reforms to address these weaknesses.

We have called on Congress to pass legislation(s) that

  • strengthens and codifies whistleblower protections for federal employees of the intelligence community;
  • protects disclosures made by an employee of a contractor/subcontractor to a supervisor, Member of Congress, or Inspector General;
  • restores due process rights for “sensitive employees” who have been fired or charged with misconduct;
  • makes permanent the pilot program that allows whistleblowers to appeal a judgment of the Merit Systems Protection Board to any U.S. Court of Appeals; and
  • allows access of federal whistleblowers to jury trials to enforce their rights.