My Lunch With an FBI Whistleblower, Not Yet Out
11 April 16
had lunch with an FBI agent last week. If you don’t know me, that’s a highly unusual event. I hate the FBI. I hate what they’ve done to civil liberties in the United States. I hate that they spy on peace activists, civil libertarians, and people of color, all under the guise of “national security.” I hate the FBI’s dirty history of COINTELPRO, of sending poison pen letters to Martin Luther King Jr. to try to get him to commit suicide. I hate that they tried to set me up on an espionage charge because they knew that the case against me for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program was weak. But I was intrigued.
The FBI agent in question told me that he had uncovered evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, and illegality at the Bureau. He said that he had reported this untoward behavior up his chain of command and was told to mind his own business. He went to the FBI Inspector General and the FBI General Counsel, and was told both times that he should walk away, that he should mind his own business. He wanted to know what I thought he should do, based on my own experience.
I told him that he could do one of several things. He could continue up the chain of command and go to the Senate or House Judiciary Committees. If he did that, there would certainly be an internal investigation, he would be ostracized at the FBI, and he would likely face spurious charges that could include espionage. That’s what the CIA and the FBI did to me, to NSA’s Tom Drake, to the CIA’s Jeffrey Sterling, to the State Department’s Stephen Kim, and others.
I told him that he could go to the press, in which case there would also be an investigation, his security clearance would be suspended, and he would likely be fired, at least, for insubordination. He also could be charged with espionage or any number of national security charges related to leaking.
I told him that he could talk to an attorney who specializes in national security whistleblowing cases, like Jesselyn Radack of ExposeFacts. Radack is a fearless advocate for national security professionals who take their oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution seriously. She is also a whistleblower. She lost her job as a Justice Department ethics officer after insisting that John Walker Lindh, known in the press as the “American Taliban,” be allowed access to an attorney, a basic constitutional right that the FBI denied him.
And finally, I told him that he could do nothing. Just keep quiet. He would keep his job, his pay grade, and his clearances. But he wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.
The FBI agent, deep down, knew all these things. He recalled the recent case of another FBI whistleblower, Darin Jones, who was fired after he blew the whistle on waste, fraud, and abuse at the Bureau. Jones said that FBI bigwigs had blown $234,000 of the taxpayers’ money on an awards ceremony for themselves, they had improperly spent taxpayer money without going through proper channels, and that a former FBI assistant director had had a conflict of interest related to a computer help-desk contract.
What did Jones do? He went through the chain of command. He complained to his superiors about the waste, fraud, and abuse he saw. In response, he was fired on the last day of his probationary period. That was three and a half years ago. His appeal still hasn’t been heard. And as with other whistleblowers, especially those in the national security arena, it has been virtually impossible for Jones to find work, and former friends and colleagues avoid him. He has described himself as “radioactive,” a non-person.
Congress, over the years, has toyed with the idea of enhanced protections for FBI whistleblowers. The chairman and ranking Democrat of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Pat Leahy (D-Vermont), have introduced the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which would expand the number of people at the FBI eligible for whistleblower protection and would allow them to appeal dismissal in the court system. The problem is that the bill has languished in the Senate and has not come up for a vote. It likely won’t this year. Meanwhile, the House has ignored it.
The bottom line is this: Jones, the FBI agent with whom I met, and others who report on FBI malfeasance internally are screwed. There really are no protections. It’s the same in national security. A potential whistleblower can go through the chain of command and likely be charged with crimes, he can go to the press and likely be charged with crimes, or he can keep his mouth shut. There are no alternatives. And until Congress recognizes the patent unfairness of the current system, other good and patriotic men and women will be ruined for doing the right thing.
John Kiriakou is an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies. He is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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