This was the picture painted to a House of Representatives committee last week, as its members heard from five soldiers and civilians who say their livelihoods and reputations have been destroyed or placed in serious jeopardy by their attempts to expose and correct waste, fraud or abuse in their workplaces.
They are known as "national security whistleblowers". And, unlike whistleblowers in civilian agencies of the U.S. government, they have little legal protection against retaliation.
The House Committee is chaired by Representative Christopher Shays, a Republican from Connecticut. But, in a rare occurrence in the current contentious political climate in Washington, he is receiving virtually unanimous bipartisan support for efforts to develop legislation to fix the problem.
The litany came from current or former employees of the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Defense Department, and the Energy Department. They told the committee that after they spoke out against alleged government misconduct or criminal activity, they "were retaliated against, in some cases by having their security clearances revoked or their careers ruined."
Specialist Samuel Provance said he was demoted and humiliated after telling a general investigating the Abu Ghraib scandal that senior officers had covered up detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib. He said he tried to tell the general "things he didn't want to hear", adding, "Young soldiers were scapegoated while superiors misrepresented what had happened and tried to misdirect attention away from what was really going on". Provance lost his security clearance, was placed under a "gag order", and is now stationed in Germany, where his responsibilities consist of "picking up trash and guard duty."
Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer was among the first to disclose the Pentagon's "Able Danger" data-mining program. He said he believes that the program identified Mohammed Atta before he became the lead hijacker in the 2001 terrorist attacks, though a Pentagon review found no evidence to support that conclusion. Shaffer's security clearance was revoked.
Russell Tice, a former intelligence officer at the National Security Agency (NSA), charged that there were "illegalities and unconstitutional activity" in the agency's so-called 'special-access programs' but was advised that he could not discuss them even with members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees in closed session. He told the Committee the Defense Department's harassment of him included spreading rumors that he suffers from bipolar disease.
Mike German resigned as an FBI agent after reporting that other agents and managers mishandled a major counterterrorism case in 2002 and falsified records. The Justice Department inspector general confirmed German's allegations, and that he was retaliated against - his security clearance was revoked.
Richard Levernier's job as a senior Department of Energy nuclear security specialist was to test how well prepared America's nuclear weapons sites were to defend against a terrorist attack. He testified that the tests he supervised showed a 50 percent failure rate. When he reported this to his superiors, he was demoted and his security clearance revoked. He says he was forced into early retirement.
All these witnesses said they tried to follow the chain of command for reporting wrongdoing, but were rebuffed or stonewalled. Some started by going to their immediate supervisors; others went to the Inspector Generals of their agencies; a few eventually told their stories to congresspersons or to the media.
The defense of whistleblowers comes at a time when top Bush administration officials are turning up the pressure to stop leaks of classified information.
Two news reports in recent months, an article in The New York Times on the National Security Agency's surveillance program and a Washington Post article on secret CIA detention centers, have been referred for criminal investigation.
Sibel Edmonds, founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC) told us, "National Security employees' should not have to sacrifice their careers or financial security in doing what is right. 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."
She added, "A national security employee has to choose between career and conscience when confronted with agency wrongdoing. We need to adopt protections for employees that allow them to be secure in their jobs and encourage them to report waste, fraud, and abuse of power."
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