The Intelligence Community Inspector General’s Office (IC IG), the office which serves as the Intelligence Community central watchdog over the intelligence agencies (including CIA and NSA), has had serious issues for some time. Just this last fall, I commented that it appears the office was not able to do its job because of the varied conflicts of interest and plain poor management.
Well, it appears the issues are deeper than just your typical government boondoggle, things have gotten much worse.
As background, President Barack Obama signed a presidential directive which prohibits intelligence agencies from punishing employees who report abuses through approved government channels, and each individual agency IG is required to investigate any employee claims of retaliation.
The IC IG was created in 2010, and its job is to investigate waste, fraud, abuse and illegalities within the 16 agencies it monitors; and communicate with, reach out to and give an additional layer of protection to whistleblowers within the intelligence agencies. Proponents of the office argue that a strong whistleblowing outlet is needed as an alternative to leaking and to protect employees from retaliation for reporting misconduct.
Last October, Foreign Policy had commented, “The intelligence community’s central watchdog is in danger of crumbling,” noting there is political backbiting, job insecurity, mismanagement, bureaucratic battles, personality conflicts and the list goes on. A Congressional staff person had told Foreign Policy, ”What’s the point of doing whistleblower reform if the office in charge of it is on fire?”
And that outreach on the part of employees has just been damned! The Daily Beast recently reported on a leaked draft investigative report on compliance with the presidential directive against employee retaliation that exposed the systemic failures in the flawed intelligence community whistleblower program. According to this article, late last year the Trump Administration put a lid on the finalization of an investigation of the whistleblower program failures by the Inspector General for all intelligence agencies.
The leaked draft report clearly shows that the intelligence community has utterly failed to protect whistleblowers who work for the intelligence agencies—including the CIA and the NSA—and report waste, fraud, abuse, or criminality to the Inspector General, or to Congress as permitted by law.
The three year plus investigation of the many whistleblower program failures by the Inspector General for all of our intelligence agencies was nearing finalization. It appears that our present administration has attempted to bury the detailed investigation which would have pointed out that intelligence community whistleblowers have no legal protection if they go through lawful steps to report abuse, fraud or other incidents within their agencies and, further, they are retaliated against for doing so.
It gets worse. According to the Daily Beast, investigators looked into 190 cases of alleged reprisal that were reported to IG’s in six intelligence agencies from 2010 to 2016. Of these only 61 were even investigated by the agency IG’s, and 57 of those were ruled insubstantial!
They found that in only one case out of the 190 did the agency IG find in favor of the whistleblower. By the way, that conclusion came about after 742 days. That’s right. Only one whistleblower prevailed out of 190 cases of retaliation filed in six years. That’s a success rate of about 0.05%.
Some cases remained open longer with one complaint from 2010 still waiting for a ruling. But the framework was remarkably consistent: Over and over and over again, intelligence agency inspector generals ruled that the agency was in the right, and the whistleblowers were almost always wrong.
Following a six-month-long inspection run out of the Intelligence Community Inspector General office, Wayne Stone, the new acting head of the office, stopped the investigation last April. The excuse given was that one of the six inspectors doing the investigation was himself a whistleblower and in the middle of a federal lawsuit against the CIA. You just can’t make this stuff up!!
It’s a long and sad story, however it appears one of the six intelligence office investigators, Pars (his name is a CIA-assigned pseudonym), a 16-year CIA operative with years of experience working under fire, made a series of legally “protected disclosures” about the alleged misconduct to the Chief of Station and other superiors, but no remedial action was taken.
Pars didn’t tell his superiors that he had filed a federal lawsuit charging a high-ranking CIA spymaster and others at the Agency’s elite Directorate of Operations with illegal retaliation against him. Pars had been relieved of his assignments and could not find work in the intelligence community. And Pars filed his lawsuit 630 days after formally lodging a reprisal complaint without any ruling by the CIA IG. The lawsuit was first reported last year by the Project on Government Oversight.
Rumors of Pars’ lawsuit reached the IG IC’s office and under questioning, Pars acknowledged he was the pseudonymous plaintiff in the case. Mr. Stone immediately removed Pars from the inspection team.
It is possible Mr. Stone used this case as an excuse that the investigation was thus compromised, even though others on the investigative committee deny that was in any way possible. Some former IC IG officials believe that Stone used the Pars affair as a pretext to kill an inspection that was producing inconvenient results. Rob Johnson, the former deputy IC IG, says there’s virtually nothing a single inspector could do to contaminate a report that relies heavily on verifiable numbers. “Everything has to be backed up with data… There’s not a lot of opinion on those reports.”
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. “We can’t expect better government if we silence those who are seeking to fix it. Long delays at the CIA OIG underscore serious weaknesses in the system, and raise concerns over accountability at the CIA.”
The Daily Beast article comments that Mr. Stone not only sequestered the mountain of documents and data produced in the inspection, the product of three staff-years of work, this incident was never publicly disclosed by the office and escaped mention in the unclassified version of the IC IG’s semiannual report to Congress.
Last fall I commented that an actual NSA whistleblower said the IC IG “is the only place where you can get a fair review … having an independent inspector general was instrumental … now, however, it’s gutted.” Well, now it’s worse than gutted.
The National Whistleblower Center predicted this program would fail, “because putting the agencies in charge of deciding whistleblower claims, without allowing employees to file in court and seek a jury trial, inevitably results in the agency denying any wrongdoing or reprisal. It’s even worse when the intelligence agency that fired the whistleblower has final say in the case.” Talk about conflict of interest. This is mind-boggling.
The Center also says this present administration may just have created an even bigger scandal by trying to suppress the obvious failures of the intelligence community whistleblower program. The Center believes that if President Trump “really wants to hold the so-called deep state accountable he should support real whistleblower reform.” Yes, the intelligence community has consistently opposed legislation which would give whistleblowers due process for all federal and intelligence community whistleblowers, however the National Whistleblower Center reminds us that giving whistleblowers due process reform was passed in the House in 2009, with strong bipartisan support, including a majority of Republicans voting in favor of it.
While a strong whistleblowing outlet is certainly preferable to leaking and to continue to protect employees against retaliation, it seems that many intelligence officers within the many agencies see “any outreach to their employees as an attempt to cultivate leakers or as outside interference, rather than a secure, proper way to report potential violations of law.”
So the intelligence community whistleblower program, weak and ineffectual as it was, is in shambles. Federal employees have no real protection. Without legal support against retaliation, leaks will happen, and they will hurt the agencies involved and our government.
I’m with the National Whistleblower Center who says, “It’s time for Congress and President Trump to support the real reform that would provide full due process rights, with access to courts and juries, for all federal whistleblowers.”