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Project on Government Oversight




Government Fails to Protect Employees Who Blow the Whistle on National and Homeland Security Weaknesses

April 26, 2005 


Even after the September 11th terrorist attacks, the government has failed to create a safe haven for employees to bring forward their concerns about national security and homeland security weaknesses, according to a report released today by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO). The report release coincides with an event held today by the new National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, who are lobbying the Congress for more protections.

Before the 9/11 attacks, whistleblowers such as the FBI's Colleen Rowley and the FAA's Bogdan Dzakovic vainly tried to persuade their agencies to address security weaknesses. If the government listened to them, the attacks might have prevented. Instead, for their patriotic efforts, they faced retaliation by their superiors. Despite Time Magazine naming 2002 "The Year of the Whistleblower," government employees face a far less glamorous reality: Being fired, harassed or blacklisted by their agencies.

Whistleblowers at most government agencies including the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Defense of Department (civilian employees) who seek protections under the now defunct Whistleblower Protection Act, find that it has been dismantled in recent years by a series of judicial rulings that are hostile to whistleblowers.

But many whistleblowers, including those at the FBI, CIA and Transportation Security Administration (airport baggage screeners) were never protected by laws that would allow them to go to court to challenge the retaliation. Instead, they are resigned to appealing to people inside their agency for help help which almost never comes but, rather, results in more retaliation aimed at silencing their criticisms and concerns.

For example, last month, National Security Agency intelligence analyst Russ Tice was forced to report to an off-site government warehouse where he unloaded trucks. His crime? Reporting that a co-worker might be a Chinese spy. Tice awaits the result of a hearing held to determine whether he will lose his security clearance, a move that might stop his career short.

Last week, FBI agent Robert Wright was stripped of his badge and notified that he would be fired in 30 days. Like Colleen Rowley, Wright had expressed concerns about the handling of investigations into terrorism suspects. Wright's plight prompted columnist Bob Novak to author a column titled "Muzzling FBI's Whistle" after the FBI launched its fourth retaliatory investigation to harass him in 2003.

FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds similarly expressed her doubts about the agency's ability to pursue terrorists given numerous problems in its translation unit. Despite the fact that the FBI confirmed her allegations had merit, as did the Inspector General, she has faced a protracted legal struggle against powerful secrecy rules imposed upon her.

"Congress has been derelict in its duty of ensuring that government employees can feel safe enough to express their concerns. Whistleblower retaliation sends a clear message to employees: Don't bother risking your career to improve homeland security. Security weaknesses fester under the cloak of government secrecy," said Danielle Brian, Executive Director of POGO.

In the coming days, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) is expected to introduce legislation which would extend genuine whistleblower protections to government and corporate whistleblowers.

POGO's report "Homeland and National Security Whistleblower Protections: The Unfinished Agenda," can be viewed here. To learn more about the National Security Whistleblower's Coalition which is organized by Sibel Edmonds, visit her website.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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