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Killing the Messengers

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"Are we safe? We are safer -- no terrorist attacks have occurred inside the United States since 9/11 -- but we are not as safe as we need to be. ... There are far too many C's, D's, and F's in the report card we will issue today. ... Our leadership is distracted. Some of these failures are shocking. ... We are frustrated by the lack of urgency about fixing these problems. Bin Ladin and al Qaeda believe it is their duty to kill as many Americans as possible. This very day they are plotting to do us harm. On 9/11 they killed nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens. ... We should not need another wake-up call. ... While the terrorists are learning and adapting, our government is still moving at a crawl." -- Remarks by Chairman Thomas H. Kean and Vice Chair Lee H. Hamilton, Final Report of the Bi-Partisan 9/11 Public Discourse Project, December 5, 2005

"Moving at a crawl": if only it were so passive, so benign. But it isn't. In a growing number of incidents that should make any red-blooded American's red blood boil, this administration has at the very least fostered a general climate in which a paranoid lust for power has trumped a sober love of country.

Sometimes it seems like the executive branch of our government is cracking down more on whistleblowers who expose our shortcomings in the war on terror (and I don't refer to that self-fulfilling prophesy and orgy of violence in Iraq) than on the terrorists themselves.

And that can make us only less -- not more -- secure.

Allow me to cite two of the most outrageous, well-documented cases out of many, involving not wild-eyed radicals but seasoned professionals of the law enforcement community whose warnings were disregarded and whose careers were trashed in this pattern of abuse of executive power; then let us briefly consider the shocking state of affairs for whistleblowers in general.

Lies come cheap, the stuff of cowards; truth is priceless, the soul of heroes.


The Honest Chief

The first dedicated law enforcement officer I would like to mention, with unreserved respect, who suffered and still suffers a grave injustice for daring to speak the truth -- about very real, unaddressed terrorist threats -- is Ms. Teresa Chambers, former Chief of the U.S. Park Police.

On November 20, 2003, after nearly two years of sterling service as the first female chief of the oldest uniformed law enforcement agency of the federal government, Chief Chambers was interviewed by David A. Fahrenthold, of the Washington Post, about the needs of her organization. Such public relations work had always been part of her job; the reporter already had much of the factual basis of the story from public accounts and a previous interview with a labor representative of the U.S. Park Police Fraternal Order of Police; and immediately following the interview, Chief Chambers would notify her chain of command as to the nature of her remarks for the article, which would appear in print on December 2, 2003. Upon instruction from the Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service, she would serve as sole spokesperson on this issue, as in radio and television interviews that followed. In all this, Chief Chambers' remarks were by all accounts truthful and consistent, accurately reflecting what she also communicated during this period to her appropriate contact in Congress, the staff director of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, and, upon request, to the Director of the National Park Service, Ms. Fran Mainella:

"[The 2005 budget] does not provide funding for hiring during that fiscal year, which could potentially bring our sworn staffing to its lowest point since 1987 and more than 250 officers below the level recommended by the Director of the National Park Service in his report to Congress in March 2000 -- one and one-half years before the horrific events of September 11, 2001, that tremendously increased the staffing needs of law enforcement agencies across the country.

"Given our current lack of adequate staffing, I must alert you that the National Park Service's ability to protect these precious historical icons -- the Statue of Liberty, the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the grounds that support the Golden Gate Bridge -- or our guests who visit them is increasingly compromised. The continuing threat to the future of these American symbols becomes even more acute with any additional loss of personnel. My professional judgment, based upon 27 years of police service, six years as Chief of police, and countless interactions with police professionals across the country, is that we are at a staffing and resource crisis in the United States Park Police -- a crisis that, if allowed to continue, will almost surely result in the loss of life or the destruction of one of our nation's most valued symbols of freedom and democracy."

(And I might add, this is what happens to homeland security when you play Santa for Iraq, Scrooge for the U.S.)

Very shortly after her interview with the Washington Post reporter, Chief Chambers informed her immediate superior, NPS Deputy Director Donald Murphy, of what she had said; and he reassured her it was "no big deal."

But it would soon become a very big deal, for Chief Chambers, the National Park Service, and all of us who value our security and liberty.

Within a week, Mr. Murphy was throwing tantrums in meetings blaming Chief Chambers (not present) for the funding woes, even though by all accounts she had always managed her force efficiently and cooperated fully in the budgetary process. Once Chief Chambers got wind of this, from others who were present (and shocked), she filed a complaint with his boss, Director Mainella, who assured Chief Chambers that she had spoken to him about his inappropriate behavior.

Because this wasn't the first time Mr. Murphy had, in Chief Chambers' words, "impugned" her character and "slandered" her, she had delivered to Director Mainella a formal, written complaint, on the afternoon of December 2, 2003.

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Doug Drenkow is a writer, editor, webmaster, and producer. A fourth-generation Democrat, Doug has produced the political talk shows "Barry Gordon From Left Field," on radio, and "NewsRap with Barry Gordon," on cable TV, featuring top (more...)
 

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