According to the reports in today's Washington Post, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pushed out career analyst Heather Kiriakou, wife to John Kiriakou, the former CIA employee who has the dubious distinction of being the sixth person in history charged under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information. WaPo reports that spouses working at an intelligence agency creates a difficult situation for the agency:
The case created an unusual security dilemma for the CIA, turning on whether the career of a senior analyst should continue even when her husband faces charges that he breached his agreement to protect the agency’s secrets.
In actuality, spouses working in the intelligence community is far from an unusual situation, and the ruining of Ms. Kiriakou's career – who the WaPo reports was forced to resign while on maternity leave – is an all too typical consequence for whistleblowers.
Former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) employee John Dullahan (whose security clearance was pulled for socializing with Soviets in 1985) and National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake (who was the fourth person charged under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information) both had spouses who worked at NSA. In Dullahan's case, his wife worked at DIA as a supervisor with access to Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information.
Ms. Kiriakou's situation demonstrates to the politics of personal destruction brought upon whistleblowers. Spouses suffer and lose jobs, marriages are strained, and their personal lives become as affected as professional. Too often, whistleblowers end up broken, blacklisted, and bankrupted. The severity is magnified when the government chooses to bring criminal charges and a whistleblower's freedom is at stake.
Kiriakou's indictment has received front-page news coverage across the country. Here's what I've had to say on the latest in the Obama administration's policy of using the antiquated Espionage Act to targeted alleged "leakers," who are more often than not whistleblowers:
“They are all whistle-blowers, who because they work in the national security and intelligence field, are not protected” by the whistle-blowing law, said Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit watchdog group. Individuals in other agencies who come across lawbreaking, waste or fraud are protected by law and have special channels for making disclosures about the abuse, she said. “Whistle-blowers who work in national security or intelligence do not have a place to go,” she said, adding that they are driven to using the media by the few other options to expose wrongdoing.
"What's missing from all these cases is any allegation that these people have actually caused harm to the United States," said Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights director for the Government Accountability Project, which represented former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake in an Espionage Act case that collapsed last year.
Jesselyn Radack, an attorney with the Government Accountability Project, which defends whistle-blowers, called Kiriakou's arrest the most recent example of a broader administration crackdown against federal officials who disclose illegal, abusive or wasteful government activity. "This is being done to send a chilling message to whistle-blowers, journalists and defense lawyers to keep quiet," Radack said.
Other transparency and civil liberties advocates have voiced similar concerns about Kiriakou's charging and the Justice Department's policy of criminalizing whistleblowing by using the Espionage Act to target so-called "leakers," who are more often than not whistleblowers:
Anthony Romero, the executive director of the A.C.L.U., . . . criticized the opening of the investigation, saying it — and the Obama-era leak investigations more broadly — had had a “chilling effect on defense counsel, government whistle-blowers, and journalists.”
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero called the investigation "incredibly troubling" and said it would have a chilling effect on reporters, whistle-blowers and defense lawyers. Romero criticized "the fact that the government continues to investigate those who research and report on the individuals who committed torture and yet don't prosecute those who undertook that torture."
“These six individuals are not spies, and they are not traitors. They are news sources,” said Steven Aftergood, head of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. . . .The repeated use of a broad, draconian measure like the Espionage Act also is having a chilling effect on news organizations’ ability to do their job, Mr. Aftergood said. “These prosecutions will have grave consequences, not just for the individuals concerned, but for the quality of information Americans receive in the news, especially about national security matters,” he said.
"The Justice Department has initiated no prosecutions concerning extreme interrogation methods,” Aftergood said. “But it is now prosecuting an individual who helped bring such events to public light. Is that what we want?”
Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.