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TomDispatch: The Persecution of John Kiriakou
Summary: In this blog piece, State Department whistleblower/GAP client Peter Van Buren blasts the federal government for its prosecution of CIA torture whistleblower/GAP client John Kiriakou under the Espionage Act. Van Buren writes that Kiriakou is the only person “being held accountable for America’s torture policy. And [he] didn’t torture anyone, he just blew the whistle on it.”
Key Quote: John Kiriakou and I share common attorneys through the Government Accountability Project, and I’ve had the chance to talk with him on any number of occasions. He is soft-spoken, thoughtful, and quick to laugh at a bad joke. When the subject turns to his case, and the way the government has treated him, however, things darken. His sentences get shorter and the quick smile disappears.
One of Kiriakou’s representatives, attorney Jesselyn Radack, told me, “It is a miscarriage of justice that John Kiriakou is the only person indicted in relation to the Bush-era torture program. The historic import cannot be understated. If a crime as egregious as state-sponsored torture can go unpunished, we lose all moral standing to condemn other governments’ human rights violations. By ‘looking forward, not backward’ we have taken a giant leap into the past.”
Main Justice: Two ATF Whistleblowers Settle Fast and Furious Claims
Summary: Two of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives whistleblowers in the “Fast & Furious” scandal have settled their claims that they were retaliated against by the agency for exposing the botched “gun-walking” operation. One, Larry Alt, is a GAP client.
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UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld voluntarily came forward as a whistleblower and handed the government the biggest tax fraud scandal in history on a silver platter. As I wrote yesterday, it is fitting that the most important tax whistleblower in history, who shattered 75 years of Swiss bank secrecy, should receive the first award under the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) whistleblower reward program - $104 million.
It's great that at the U.S. has recovered billions in fines and fees as a result of Birkenfeld's information. However, the history of Birkenfeld's case still includes a sad demonstration in missed opportunities to recoup unpaid taxes and punish tax dodgers.
Birkenfeld is the only official to face jail time as a result of the scandal he revealed - not the fate a whistleblower deserves. The IRS whistleblower reward law recognizes that participants in wrongdoing are eligible under the statute for an award. The law is intended to encourage whistleblowers - even those who participated in schemes - to come forward. It should not be used to entrap whistleblowers into criminal prosecutions.
It's worth noting that Birkenfeld did not "get caught." He blew the whistle internally at UBS before going to government investigators.
[Birkenfeld] . . . learned in 2005 that the bank’s advice to clients was illegal, and after reporting it to the UBS compliance office to no avail, he decided to become a government informant.
When UBS ignored his concerns, Birkenfeld voluntarily gave the Treasury, Justice Department, IRS, SEC and Senate their entire tax evasion case against UBS. During multiple meetings in 2007, Birkenfeld met with and provided extensive documentation and intricate testimony to Daniel Reeves (a lead IRS agent in the UBS case), John McDougal (an IRS special trial attorney) and Robert Roach (counsel and chief investigator of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations). He cooperated fully in the prosecution of Lichtenstein banker Mario Staggl and billionaire real estate developer Igor Olenicoff, who evaded U.S. taxes on $200 million in assets hidden offshore.
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UBS Whistleblower Gets $104M for Shattering Swiss Banking Secrecy
Summary: Brad Birkenfeld, a Swiss bank whistleblower, was awarded $104 million as a financial reward by the IRS for the information he provided the agency on tax fraud. Birkenfeld was released from prison earlier this summer, the Justice Department having “turned on [him]” after he approached investigators. GAP National Security & Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack, who advocated for Birkenfeld extensively during his case, lauds the decision in a blog post this morning.
Chicago Sun-Times: Whistleblower Tells of Foreclosure Fraud Fight in Skokie
Summary: This article tells the story of Lynn Szymoniak, a woman who exposed foreclosure fraud and subsequently became an advocate for those also experiencing foreclosure. Szymoniak eventually won $5 million as financial reward for her whistleblowing.
GAP client and Countrywide/Bank of America whistleblower Eileen Foster also attempted to reveal home loan fraud and was fired for doing so. A hearing for her case starts next month.
Jacksonville Daily News (NC): Doctor Files Whistleblower Suit
Summary: A former Naval psychiatrist has filed a whistleblower suit, claiming he was unfairly terminated after reporting mishandled cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.
After recent rumors of a turnaround for financial whistleblowers seeking rewards under the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) whistleblower reward program, it is fitting that one of its rare financial awards goes to United Swiss Bank (UBS) whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld. Not only is Birkenfeld the biggest tax fraud whistleblower in history (who handed the IRS key information on a silver platter), but he is especially deserving as he is the only person to go to prison among the thousands of Swiss bank account tax cheats he exposed. (Easy to understand now that we have a presidential candidate who hides money in offshore tax havens.)
Birkenfeld was released from prison in August after an usually harsh sentence. Despite the fact that Birkenfeld shattered 75 years of Swiss bank secrecy when he approached investigators about a UBS tax evasion service involving thousands of illegal offshore accounts – held by some of your favorite actors, politicians, and sports figures – and billions of U.S. dollars. Instead of targeting UBS kingpin Martin Liechti, the Justice Department turned on Birkenfeld. To add insult to injury, the prosecutor, Kevin Downing, is now in private practice at Miller & Chevalier defending the very tax cheats Birkenfeld turned in.
Until recently, to say the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had been slow to implement the IRS whistleblower reward program would have been an understatement. The IRS' implementation (or lack thereof) was so extreme that this summer it caused longtime whistleblower supporter Charles Grassley (R-IA) to object to two Department of Treasury nominees.
The award for Birkenfeld marks a much-needed turnaround for the IRS' whistleblower office, and will hopefully encourage other financial whistleblowers to come forward.
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I wrote extensively about Birkenfeld's case during his prosecution and sentencing (here, here, here, and here). After complaining internally to UBS for two years, in June 2007 Birkenfeld voluntarily met with Justice Department prosecutors and an IRS Special Agent during three full days in which he provided unprecedented and voluminous information about UBS’s cross-border and offshore business activities, the UBS offices and private bankers that were directly involved, and the details of 19,000 UBS accounts for its American customers.
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Episode Shows Need for Passage of Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act
(Washington, DC) – The Government Accountability Project (GAP) today announced the second successful settlement involving allegations of retaliation against a whistleblower involved in the "Fast & Furious" scandal, the program that resulted in federally-monitored guns ending up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. GAP praised new leadership at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), and an effective mediation program at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), for settling the case of ATF agent Larry Alt.
“Mr. Alt has been vindicated, and new ATF leadership is two-for-two in correcting retaliatory acts against Fast & Furious whistleblowers," said Alt’s attorney, GAP Legal Director Tom Devine. "Justice was done thanks to leadership at the Bureau and the Office of Special Counsel, each of which is choosing the high road with whistleblowers."
Last month, the ATF settled retaliation claims filed by agent Pete Forcelli, another Fast & Furious whistleblower and GAP client, who testified to Congress about the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona's leadership of the operation. Alt also testified, concentrating on collusion by local Bureau officials regarding the operation. Along with other whistleblower concerns, these disclosures led to cancellation of the program. Forcelli and Alt have been vindicated by actions of the Senate and House of Representatives, and even Attorney General Eric Holder proclaimed that changes he instituted, following the emergence of the scandal, will ensure "that this doesn't happen ever again."
Alt’s Arizona supervisors, however, responded to his Congressional testimony with steady harassment. Consequently, he filed a Whistleblower Protection Act complaint with the OSC because his supervisors stripped him of his duties, lowered his performance appraisal, engaged in a retaliatory investigation, and threatened future actions.
Alt commented on resolution of the lawsuit, stating: "I am happy to say that through the efforts of GAP, the Office of Special Counsel, the Federal Law Enforcement Association and the current ATF leadership that my complaint is resolved. I am pleased with the outcome and hope that this is just one step in the direction of positive resolution of all the issues related to Operation Fast and Furious."
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Meet John Kiriakou, CIA Torture Whistleblower
Meet John Kiriakou. He’s a former CIA officer who publicly acknowledged that waterboarding constituted torture. And he’s another whistleblower GAP represents who the Obama administration has charged in its unprecedented use of the Espionage Act.
Kiriakou worked at the CIA for almost 15 years in a variety of roles, including as an analyst specializing on Iraq and as a counterterrorism operative. Following the 9/11 attacks, Kiriakou was named Chief of Counterterrorism Operations in Pakistan, where he led a series of raids on al-Qaeda safe houses that resulted in the capture of dozens of suspected al-Qaeda fighters – including that of Abu Zubaydah, then thought to be al-Qaeda’s third-ranking official. Kiriakou resigned from the CIA in 2004, having received numerous awards and honors for his work.
In December 2007, Kiriakou gave an interview to ABC News, during which he described his participation in the capture of Zubaydah. In the interview, Kiriakou publicly acknowledged that waterboarding constituted torture, and that torture was a policy rather than the actions of a few rogue agents. He also said that the U.S. should not engage in the practice. Based on what he had been told by the CIA, Kiriakou also relayed that Zubaydah had been waterboarded once, and cracked under its use. Eventually it became publicly known that Zubaydah had been waterboarded at least 83 times, and that no valuable information was gained by the waterboarding.
For this and other whistleblowing activities, Kiriakou became the sixth whistleblower to be indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act – more than all previous presidential administrations combined. GAP National Security & Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack is heading Kiriakou's case at GAP, having succeeded in a similar case with NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake. Kiriakou's trial is slated for late November. Check the GAP website for updates on how his case develops.
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The Plain Dealer (OH): Whistleblowers at Pfizer, Eaton Rival Face Personal and Professional Fallout
Summary: This article highlights the experience of several whistleblowers, and the retaliation they faced in their attempts to act ethically. The article also cites the recent Ethics Resource Center study that shows more than one in five corporate employees who reveal wrongdoing are retaliated against in some way.
Key Quote: With the new SEC law, whistleblowers may find some protection against harassment because it lets people divulge tips anonymously, said Tom Devine, who's helped over 5,000 whistleblowing employees during three decades as legal director at theGovernment Accountability Project.
Food Integrity? Corporations to "Build Consumer Trust" through Improved Messaging, Not Practices
Summary: GAP's Food Integrity Campaign critiques an association's use of the term "food integrity" to promote its upcoming summit that aims to improve agribusinesses' public messaging. Big food and agriculture industry groups on the invitation list haven't been very supportive of food integrity whistleblowers.
Indianapolis Star: Small Indiana Pension Fund Takes on Big Fight with Wal-Mart
Summary: A small Indiana union pension fund is the lead plaintiff in a suit against Walmart that accuses the retail giant of stifling an internal probe of an alleged bribery operation. The pension fund was anonymously mailed a cache of whistleblower documents to help with the case. The litigation began in April, after a New York Times story revealed the bribery scandal in its Mexican chain, Walmart de Mexico.