Skip to Main Content
Project on Government Oversight




Government Report: National Security Whistleblower Protections Have Failed

January 6, 2006 


Sibel Edmonds, National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, (703) 519-3640

Beth Daley, Project On Government Oversight, (202) 347-1122

A new government report finds that laws to protect national security whistleblowers from retaliation has largely failed, stating the effort "has not produced the protections that some expected." Yet, Congress has repeatedly acknowledged that it needs the help of national security whistleblowers in order to effectively oversee the Executive Branch. Click here to view the previously unreleased Congressional Research Service report.

Last week, the Justice Department announced an investigation to determine who leaked information about the NSA's domestic spying program to the New York Times. Earlier this week, James Risen, co-author of the New York Times story told NBC's Today Show: "I've been a reporter for about 25 years, this was the purest case of a whistle--of--of whistleblowers coming forward, people who truly believed that there was something wrong going on in the government, and they were motivated, I believe, by the purest of reasons."

"Under today's failed protection regimen, whistleblowers are forced to go to the national news media which often does a better job of protecting their identities than the Congress does," said Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

Intelligence employees must report their concerns to the Inspector General of their agency or Intelligence Committees in Congress. In both cases, whistleblowers have good reason to fear that their identities will be revealed. The result is career suicide -- many whistleblowers lose their security clearance which ends their jobs as well as their careers.

"National Security employees' highest duty is to the Constitution, and they should not have to sacrifice their careers or financial security in doing what is right. The fact is that good employees are being chased out of jobs and fired by those who either are engaged in wrongful behavior or don't want to hear about it. Many lives, our national security, and the health of our democracy may hinge on whether or not Congress is brave enough to provide meaningful and effective protection for national security whistleblowers," said Sibel Edmonds, President of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC).

The whistleblower case highlighted in the new report illustrates the abject failure of the Congress to protect its own interests by shielding whistleblowers from retaliation, even when they were trying to stop lying to the Congress itself. Richard Barlow lost his job after he raised serious objections inside the Office of the Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney about senior Pentagon officials lying to Congress concerning Pakistan's then-emerging nuclear weapons program. Seven Congressional committees investigated his case for seven years. At least 21 Senators and Congressmen, mostly committee chairmen, were involved in the Barlow case.

After it became irrefutably clear that Mr. Barlow had been unjustly retaliated against, the Senate introduced a $1.1 million private relief bill for Mr. Barlow in order to provide his retirement. Rather than passing it, the Senate referred the case to a federal court which allowed government officials to employ the "state secrets privilege" to quash Mr. Barlow's case.

In recent months, in response to a formal request from former senior government officials, including an Inspector General, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee has been considering whether to finalize giving Mr. Barlow a retirement package. Doing so would send a strong message that the Congress is committed to keeping its doors open to whistleblowers and assisting them if their careers are indeed damaged.

Given years of failed policies, many who represent and work with whistleblowers have concluded that whistleblower retaliation should be criminalized. In recent weeks, a legislative proposal being developed by the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition has been circulating, attracting a broad spectrum of supporters.

Added Ms. Edmonds of the Whistleblowers Coalition: "The WPA, referred to by more waggish critics as the 'Whistleblower Prevention Act,' currently offers only an illusory promise of protection. For national security employees, nearly all of whom are excluded from the WPA, even the illusion is unavailable. As an example of the WPA's lack of effectiveness --and of Congress' grim sense of humor -- the WPA is unavailable even to employees of the Government Accountability Office. The need for accountability in the national security agencies is just as compelling as it is in the rest of the government, but Congress has never been willing to act in this area. Even the specter of a potential future catastrophe resulting from incompetence, abuse, fraud or malfeasance has not stirred congressional action."

About National Security Whistleblowers Coalition

National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC), founded in August 2004, is an independent and nonpartisan alliance of whistleblowers who have come forward to address our nation's security weaknesses; to inform authorities of security vulnerabilities in our intelligence agencies, at nuclear power plants and weapon facilities, in airports, and at our nation's borders and ports; to uncover government waste, fraud, abuse, and in some cases criminal conduct. The NSWBC is dedicated to aiding national security whistleblowers through a variety of methods, including advocacy of governmental and legal reform, educating the public concerning whistleblowing activity, provision of comfort and fellowship to national security whistleblowers suffering retaliation and other harms, and working with other public interest organizations to affect goals defined in the NSWBC mission statement. For more on NSWBC visit  

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.

# # #