Associated Press: UN Judge Rules in Long-Running Refugee Agency Investigator's Case of Retaliation
In a near decade-long legal battle, former UN investigator Caroline Hunt-Matthes has won her whistleblower retaliation case. Two judgments found that she was unfairly punished for documenting a woman's rape in Sri Lanka, and she was awarded a year's salary in addition to $50,000 in moral damages.
GAP International Officer Shelley Walden details the case in-depth and draws parallels to another recent UN whistleblower case that is also critical of the UN Ethics Office, which GAP has consistently pushed to reform its whistleblower protection practices.
70,000+ Consumers Say No to Chemicals in Tyson Poultry
USDA poultry inspector-turned-whistleblower Sherry Medina has collected more than 70,000 signatures via her Change.org petition asking Tyson Foods to stop its excessive use of hazardous chemicals in poultry processing.
FIC Joins Coalition to Oppose North Carolina Ag Gag Legislation
GAP's Food Integrity Campaign joined 24 other groups in opposing North Carolina's anti-whistleblower Ag Gag bill that was introduced in the state Senate. A joint letter was sent to the bill's sponsor, urging him to withdraw the troubling bill, which would stop workers from exposing wrongdoing in not only the agriculture industry, but all industries.
GovExec: Proposals Would Broaden Sensitive Positions and Change Appeal Rights
The article spells out the Obama administration's proposal to expand the definition of federal positions designated as "sensitive," which GAP and other whistleblower advocates have criticized as a move that will deny rights to federal employees who speak out against bad governance.
Key Quote: Tom Devine, GAP’s legal director, said in a statement that the proposed rules would reverse 130 years of federal employee protections. … Devine said often whistleblowers are the victims of adverse actions at work and would be particularly vulnerable should these rules go into effect.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.
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After nine years of legal battles, a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) whistleblower has won her case. On May 28, 2013, the United Nations Dispute Tribunal (UNDT) – the court of first instance of the two-tier internal justice system through which UN employees contest violations of their rights – issued two judgments that found in favor of Caroline Hunt-Matthes, a former senior investigation officer with UNHCR’s Inspector General’s Office (IGO).
According to judgment 2013/85, Hunt-Matthes made numerous disclosures regarding UNHCR practices. These included, but were not limited to, disclosures about interference/obstruction into an investigation of an alleged rape of a UN staff member in Sri Lanka by another staff member; the decision of the IGO to hire a staff member who was himself under investigation by the IGO; the “failure to register a sexual harassment complaint” against the High Commissioner; the “unlawful detention of refugees by senior UNHCR staff, leading to the death of a refugee while in detention;" and a "report of sexual exploitation of a refugee by a UNHCR staff member.” (para. 34) In April 2006, Hunt-Matthes filed a request for protection with the UN Ethics Office, which is charged with reviewing retaliation complaints from whistleblowers. In December 2006, the Ethics Office issued a decision in which it found that she engaged in protected activity but concluded that there was no prima facie case of retaliation because there was allegedly no connection between the retaliation and her whistleblowing.
Like the recent Wasserstrom judgment, the Hunt-Matthes decision is highly critical of the Ethics Office. Judge Coral Shaw noted that the Office “overlooked or ignored” information provided by Hunt-Matthes and failed “to take into account the evidence before it” regarding the list of parties to whom she’d made a protected disclosure. (para. 75) The Judge noted that the case officer had a “negative attitude” (para. 83) toward the Applicant’s case and wrote information in her case file that was factually incorrect. Further, the judge found that, by accepting the Administration’s argument that a negative Performance Appraisal Report (PAR) it had itself written, and which had never been independently reviewed, was adequate justification for Hunt-Matthes non-renewal, the Ethics Office “took into account unverified facts and opinions about the Applicant and her performance and failed to properly consider the Applicant’s allegations of maladministration that gave rise to her complaints in the first place.” (para. 86) The judge added that “by failing to properly assess whether there was a link between the reporting of misconduct and the alleged retaliation the Ethics Office denied or radically limited the protections that the Secretary-General clearly intended to afford to United Nations staff members.” (para. 88)
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FireDogLake: Imprisoned CIA Torture Whistleblower John Kiriakou Pens “Letter from Loretto”
GAP client and CIA/torture whistleblower John Kiriakou, currently serving 30 months in jail for blowing the whistle on the Bush administration’s ‘enhanced interrogation program,’ describes his life at the Federal Correctional Institution at Loretto in this letter to the public.
The New York Times: Dean in E-Mail Searches Steps Down at Harvard
The undergraduate dean at Harvard University will step down after months of controversy related to her department’s searches through junior faculty e-mail accounts. The scandal began after the school disclosed last summer that more than 100 students were suspected of cheating on an exam. Subsequently, elements of the administration’s investigation into the cheating were leaked to the school paper, The Harvard Crimson. The dean responded to the newspaper story by secretly delving into the email accounts of 16 lower-level deans, hoping to find the source. In response to her stepping down, she says, “The e-mail controversy was difficult, but it was not a motivating factor in my decision to step down as dean.”
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As criminal misconduct in the financial sector continues (e.g., manipulation of benchmark interest rates and money-laundering), the US public still cannot get a straight answer out of the Justice Department about the lack of prosImage via flickr user Andrés Nieto Porrasecutions. At GAP, we suspect that there is a straight line between the impunity enjoyed by Wall St. in the wake of the systemic fraud that caused the financial crisis of 2008 and the hands-off position of the Justice Department in these latest banking transgressions. Congress is starting to ask questions, though, and it may be unearthing the real answer.
The Justice Department remains evasive. First, Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress that Justice hesitated to prosecute banks deemed Too-Big-to-Fail (TBTF) because of the potential impact on the US economy. When that admission caused an uproar, he said Justice would prosecute, but the Department had to consider the economic fallout of a prosecution in making the decision to proceed – or not. Given that Justice Department attorneys are, after all, lawyers, and not social scientists, Holder explained that his staff consulted outside economic experts. On December 20, 2012, when announcing the settlement with UBS over rigging the LIBOR (London Inter-bank Overnight Rate), he said:
We reach out to experts outside of the Justice Department to talk about what are the consequences of actions that we might take, what would be the impact of those actions if we want to make particular prosecutive decisions or determinations with regard to a particular institution.
The Oversight Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee then asked for documents relating to these talks, and Peter Kadzik, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, wrote in response. According to Kadzik, the Department was not “currently aware” of such consultations. Kadzik wrote that Justice consulted foreign and domestic regulators. When asked by Congress about those consultations, a spokesperson for the Treasury Department, home of most domestic regulators, essentially said that there were no such discussions.
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Bloomberg: Watchdog Groups Decry Obama Limits on Whistleblowers
Public interest groups including GAP are fighting against a proposed rule from the Obama administration that would make it easier to fire federal whistleblowers. The draft rule, published in the Federal Register yesterday, allows federal agencies to designate certain positions as ‘national security sensitive,’ thus revoking employees' rights for appeal in the circumstance that they are terminated. The rule could extend to various surprising positions including public safety workers and border patrol agents. The ongoing case this proposal stems from involves two federal workers considered to be very low-level employees – one even simply working stock in a federal facility.
Key Quote: “There couldn’t be a more sweeping roll back on the rule of law for the federal labor force,” Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project, said in an interview.
Associated Press: UN to Appeal Tribunal’s Ruling On Whistleblower
Representatives of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have appealed the ruling in the case of UN whistleblower James Wasserstrom, who GAP represents on advocacy issues. The initial ruling, by the United Nations Dispute Tribunal (UNDT), found the UN guilty of retaliating against Wasserstrom after he raised concerns about severe corruption within the organization’s mission in Kosovo. However, the damages he received in the settlement did not even cover his legal fees. The action from Ki-Moon serves to chill whistleblowers further, but Wasserstrom has become a fierce advocate for whistleblower rights in the international body, appearing alongside GAP International Officer Shelley Walden at a press conference in April.
Fox News: House Panel Reviews Whether Holder Misled Lawmakers on Reporter Records Grab
A House committee has begun an investigation into whether or not Attorney General Eric Holder misled Congress during his May 15 hearing concerning AP journalists’ records. During the hearing, Holder testified that he was not involved and knew nothing about the 'potential prosecution of the press,' though soon after he became deeply complicit in the DOJ’s investigation into Fox News reporter James Rosen. While the House committee is divided over whether or not to blame Holder, the Attorney General continues to insist that he has not been involved in and disagrees with prosecution of the press.
Key Quote: Jesselyn Radack, an attorney who works with the Government Accountability Project and has represented accused leakers, told FoxNews.com that Holder's statement to the House committee was "at best hypocritical and at worst perjury."
Today, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) criticized rules proposed by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that could rebrand virtually any federal government position as national security "sensitive," and therefore outside the civil service system rule of law. Employees in positions that are deemed "sensitive" and relieved of their duties, as federal whistleblowers often are, would therefore have little recourse.
The proposed rules, released today, follow a Friday showdown at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, where the government pressed for a ruling that workers in "sensitive" jobs will not enjoy independent appeal rights to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) if they are deemed by their agency to be insufficiently trustworthy for a federal position.
GAP Legal Director Tom Devine, who prepared GAP's amicus curiae brief to the Federal Circuit on the matter, commented:
"Combined with litigation, this is the latter of a one-two attack against the civil service rule of law that has kept the federal labor force professional and non-partisan since 1883. If the Obama administration succeeds, its legacy will be vulnerable to a national security spoils system controlled by the Director of National Intelligence."
The roots of the dispute are a McCarthy-era Executive Order that established "sensitive" status as a prerequisite to apply for security clearances needed to review classified information as part of job duties. The rules were largely dormant until the George W. Bush administration, when a sustained campaign to apply them began that has intensified under President Obama. The DNI/OPM rules would give agencies absolute authority to designate jobs as "sensitive." Once an agency designates a position as such, it could then remove the employee sans outside appeal or any review of the reasons for its action.
To illustrate the scope of the proposal, independent civil service rights would be removed from any position that:
- involves public safety or law enforcement duties, including all positions at Offices of Inspectors General, and Department of Justice offices ranging from U.S. Attorneys to headquarters;
- relates to the nation's borders, immigration or customs system;
- directly involves diplomatic relations and negotiations, such as those employed by the Foreign Service or working in embassies such as Benghazi;
- involves Critical Infrastructure Information (CII) responsibilities (although in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act passed late last year, Congress gave employees the right to publicly disclose unclassified CII information about government breakdowns);
- or all "positions involving independent responsibility for planning or approving continuity of Government operations," or potentially any government job with significant duties.
The proposed rule even goes further than the McCarthy-era boundary for sensitive positions, which only applied to employees eligible to request security clearances. The proposed rule encompasses nearly all federal positions, stating: "Positions not requiring eligibility for access to classified information, but having the potential to cause significant or serious damage to the national security."
Devine put the proposal in perspective:
"President Obama's actions in response to these proposed rules will be a litmus test of his promises about restoring a balance between national security and the values of a free society. This proposal to remove the civil service rule of law dates from the McCarthy-era of the 1950s, not merely post 9/11 fears."
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Tampa Bay Times: Divers Say They Still Suffer Ailments from 2010 BP Oil Spill
Reports from divers involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon cleanup detail the ongoing effects that the disaster has had on their health, as well as the health of cleanup workers and gulf participants. This article, stemming from the release of GAP’s recent report, Deadly Dispersants in the Gulf, illustrates how diver Scott Porter (who worked closely with the GAP) became particularly ill, and still battles with health conditions after the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – which would not even allow its own divers into the spill-impacted area – allowed Porter and his fellow divers to volunteer to collect samples for NOAA's federal investigation.
Porter has reported serious ailments including blisters, rashes, severe nausea and migraine headaches, among other symptoms, which the NOAA told him (incorrectly) were not affecting anyone else. The federal government and BP continue to deny responsibility for these sicknesses, which are spreading far beyond divers and putting the health of Gulf residents at great risk.
Key Quote: Documents show the federal agency Porter was dealing with, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, wouldn't even send its own divers out. Internal emails obtained by a watchdog group, the Government Accountability Project, show NOAA's divers lacked protective gear.
The New York Times: Leak Inquiries Show How Wide a Net US Cast
The recent controversies surrounding the Justice Department and White House pursuit of journalists’ records has spurred the realization that such actions are commonplace from an administration that has harshly prosecuted national security whistleblowers for years. This article delves into the story of GAP client Bill Binney, a NSA whistleblower investigated (falsely) in relation to a 2005 New York Times article concerning the agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. In 2007, Binney’s home was raided by the FBI and his computers and numerous documents were taken, some of them never given back. His story is one of many involving both federal workers and journalists persecuted while attempting to hold the government accountable. President Obama has indicated his desire for enhanced media protection, though the potential that will be left for federal intervention remains unclear.
Los Angeles Times: Air Marshal Whistleblower Fired in 2006 Claims Big Win in Court
GAP client and Transportation Security Agency (TSA) whistleblower Robert MacLean was fired in 2006 for sharing a text message about security cutbacks to the press on the eve of a major planned terrorist attack. His disclosure, which shamed the TSA into re-bolstering security (and possibly preventing the attack) led to years of legal trouble. Recently, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington paved the way for MacLean to seek reinstatement with backpay and benefits, marking a victory for federal whistleblowers. While the DOJ and others are hoping to uphold MacLean’s firing, many including GAP see the recent turn of events as a sign of hope.
Key Quote: "This case destroys the often-repeated notion that national security is threatened by many of these disclosures," said Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project and MacLean's co-counsel. "In this instance, secrecy might have been fatal. We could have been caught flat-footed had Al Qaeda attacked."
Portland State Vanguard: American Whistleblower Tour Makes a Stop at PSU
Last Wednesday, GAP’s American Whistleblower Tour made its final stop of 2012-13 at Portland State University, where a Hanford nuclear site whistleblower and activist revealed to students and faculty the devastating wrongdoing taking place at our country’s most contaminated nuclear site. The discussion, which drew hundreds from the school and surrounding area, featured former research and technology manager Dr. Walt Tamosaitis, who raised his concerns after discovering the dangerous treatment of nuclear waste. Also presenting was Tom Carpenter, the executive director of the Hanford Challenge, a GAP spin-off that devotes itself to raising awareness about Hanford and advocates for whistleblowers there.
Key Quote: “This is a special tour,” said Dana Gold, a GAP senior fellow and the director of the tour, who moderated the presentation. “We’re doing a deeper dive on Hanford"
"Hanford is the leading example of how whistle-blowers can make a difference, turning information into power,” Gold added.