Thursday, February 16, 2006

Whistleblowers Go to Hell

What a big surprise that whistleblowers haven't been faring well these last few years. It's also no surprise that payback against them has taken some pretty ingenious and devastating forms.

Richard Levernier is one who went public with his security concerns - and feels he's paid a heavy price. He first reported security breaches at the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons sites to management. Seeing no changes, he released an unclassified report to the media. While government investigators found his concerns credible, he lost his security clearance. Four years later, he's unemployed and, he says, unemployable.

"I spent my whole life in the nuclear security business. And you can't get a key to the men's room without a clearance," says Mr. Levernier, one of five whistle-blowers who spoke Tuesday before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations.

Army Spc. Samuel Provance was demoted after disobeying an order not to speak to the press about prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. "Young soldiers were scapegoated, while superiors misrepresented what had happened.... I was ashamed and embarrassed to be associated with it," he told the House panel.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer lost his security clearance after testifying to the 9/11 Commission and Congress about Operation Able Danger, a program that he says tagged four 9/11 hijackers before the attacks.

Former FBI special agent Michael German and former intelligence officer Russell Tice also testified that they felt they'd been retaliated against for speaking out about problems, and both lost their security clearances.

"Security clearance revocation is the new harassment of choice against national security workers," says Thomas Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit public-interest law firm in Washington that assists whistle-blowers.

The Shays hearings are a big deal. And that Cheney's hunting accident has taken them straight out of the news is the biggest boon for the Administration yet. And it's not as though these situations necessarily benefit one political side or the other (see Able Danger catastrophe). Taking away someone who's working in national security's clearance away is a lot like taking a doctor's license. There's not much left they can do. While I understand the need to punish leaks, in the end what are these people to do? When their bosses ignore things critical to national security and there is life and death at stake can you blame them for leaking some of these things? There's got to be a better way. Of course, we can't get a new Whistleblower bill, and the House version that actually does exist would leave national security workers in the cold. The message sent is no dissent will be tolerated, regardless of the consequences.