MSNBC: For Whistleblowers, Fraying Protection James Hansen, 2013 Ridenhour Prize Winner This opinion piece by George W. Bush administration whistleblower Joseph Wilson and POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian discusses the current state of whistleblower protections in the context of yesterday’s 10th annual Ridenhour Prizes held in Washington DC. If you missed the event, video of it is available here.
Additionally, this Current piece by notable climate blogger Joe Romm provides his introduction yesterday to noted climatologist and former GAP client James Hansen, who won the 2013 Ridenhour Courage prize.
Ongoing coverage of the problematic court ruling that strips many Department of Defense workers, and potentially other federal employees, of an ability to respond to employer retaliation or job dismissal. The danger arises from the lack of ability for the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and other outside agencies to investigate retaliation claims surrounding any position deemed ‘national security sensitive’ – a status that could be assigned to nearly anyone at the DoD and other government agencies. GAP was harshly critical of the ruling at the time, and the OSC has since filed an amicus brief challenging the decision.
Key Quote:Tom Devine, legal director at the Government Accountability Project, says that under the ruling, these employees won't even be able to hire a private attorney and file a civil suit, because "as a rule, they can't go to court except to appeal Board rulings.”...
"With this case, all 'sensitive' employees will virtually lose the right to defend themselves against charges of misconduct," Devine notes.
On Tuesday, federal prosecutions unsealed a False Claims lawsuit brought by a whistleblower against drug maker Novartis, alleging that the company used “kickbacks disguised as rebates” to bribe influential pharmacies to recommend Novartis’ product instead of competitors' or generics. The drug in question, Myfortic, is an immune suppressant used to help prevent rejection of transplanted kidneys. The unsealing of the lawsuit comes as the Department of Justice is joining the case against the company.
Tennessee's anti-whistleblower 'Ag Gag' bill has gained national attention after celebrities Carrie Underwood and Ellen DeGeneres have come out against the legislation. People have flooded Governor Bill Haslam's office with emails and phone calls urging him to veto the bill.
Meanwhile, citizens in Pennsylvania are petitioning the sponsor of the state's Ag Gag bill to kill the legislation, stating it would "silence whistleblowers who expose animal cruelty and wrongdoing on factory farms."
More coverage of the USDA's controversial poultry inspection plan, with the Obama administration's recent budget proposal indicating the agency plans to implement the new rules by September 2014. The article outlines various problems with the plan, including the USDA's "shaky claims around food safety."
In news from perhaps the most known ongoing federal whistleblower suit, on Tuesday the Department of Justice outlined its case against Lance Armstrong that claims he committed massive fraud against USPS by instituting a scheme for riders to use performance-enhancing drugs.
Dylan Blaylock is Communications Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblowerprotection and advocacy organization.
Today is the 10th anniversary of the Ridenhour Prizes, an event that celebrates truth-telling in the public interest. This op-ed explains the importance of rewarding whistleblowers rather than punishing them, which has unfortunately been the case for several under the Obama administration, including GAP clients Tom Drake and John Kiriakou.
Today, GAP will be livestreaming the Ridenhour Prizes, which begin at 12:30 p.m. in Washington D.C. Watch the event here.
Al Jazeera's Inside the Americas covered GAP's report on the devastating effects of BP's use of Corexit to "clean up" its oil spill in the Gulf. Guests included Mark Hertsgaard (the journalist who wrote the first in-depth piece on our findings), a former cleanup worker, an attorney representing plaintiffs against the manufacturer of Corexit, and a spokeswoman from the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (which worked closely with GAP on the report).
More solid coverage of the new documentary War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State. The film features stories of several whistleblowers, including GAP client Franz Gayl, a Defense Department civilian employee who was punished for his efforts to save the lives of U.S. troops at war.
Key Quote:“There’s a schizophrenia within the administration,” said Tom Devine, legal director of the nonprofit Government Accountability Project. “It’s been Obama versus Obama on whistleblower policy. Until recently, there was a virtual free-speech advocacy for whistleblower job rights that’s unprecedented, more than any other president in history.
“At the same time,” Devine added, “he has willingly allowed the Justice Department to prosecute whistleblowers on tenuous grounds.”
Today, environmental group Greenpeace launched a website urging whistleblowers from oil firms and sub-contractors to submit information about serious safety issues or risks with drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic.
The Atlantic: The State Department Needs a Watchdog – Now, Not Later This article profiles the case of State Department whistleblower Joan Wadelton, a former Foreign Service officer who raised concerns about promotion irregularities at the Department. The "self-perpetuating management catastrophe" continues, all while the Department's inspector general position remains vacant.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.
GAP client Eileen Foster at 2012 Ridenhour PrizesToday is the closest equivalent to a "National Whistleblower Appreciation Day" as there is in this country. That's because the annual Ridenhour Prizes are being held in Washington, DC today at 12:30 p.m. at the National Press Club. We've previously detailed this year's deserving winners, including reporter Jose Antonio Vargas for the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, and former GAP client James Hansen for the Ridenhour Courage Prize. The Truth-Telling Award is widely regarded as the most prestigious honor an American whistleblower can receive.
The article profiles Steve Kolian, one of many divers told by the federal government it was safe to dive where oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill had been treated with dispersant. Kolian, who submitted an affidavit to GAP as part of our recent report on the dangerous effects of the dispersant Corexit, stated "we quickly learned that was false" and detailed a wide range of health problems he experienced as a result, including dizziness, nausea, diarrhea and cognitive issues.
Public Radio International's The World spoke yesterday with Newsweek reporter Mark Hertsgaard who broke the findings of GAP's report in a major investigative piece last Friday. He details his talks with whistleblowers who conveyed that BP withheld information from cleanup workers about the toxic effects of Corexit.
Key Quote:“During those dives, we wore standard equipment: air tanks, fins, snorkel, gloves, a 2mm wetsuit and a hood,” he stated in his sworm affidavit for GAP. But wetsuits provided little protection from the contaminated water, and the skin on Kolian’s now-peeling face was completely exposed.
According to this article, the State Department will not heed the request of GAP client and UN whistleblower James Wasserstrom, who asked Secretary of State John Kerry to withhold 15 percent of UN funding due to the organization's failure to protect whistleblowers from retaliation.
Key Quote:But while ex-U.N. staffer James Wasserstrom prevailed in his landmark case against the U.N. for retribution because of his internal criticism, a U.N. oversight panel judge awarded him a pittance ($65,000) of his claimed $3.2 million in total damages.
As a direct result of his litigation, he's now financially worse off than if he had kept his mouth shut, according to an officer with the Government Accountability Project.
GAP's Climate Science Watch (CSW) submitted a public comment to the State Department which was gathering input on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. CSW called the statement "inadequate and misleading" and listed several reasons why the pipeline permit should be denied.
A former Florida state ombudsman in the Department of Elder Affairs alleges she was fired in 2011 after raising concerns about "gross misfeasance and malfeasance." A Florida appeals court panel has split on whether the whistleblower was rightly dismissed.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.
This article highlights the findings in a GAP investigation released last Friday. Our report, Deadly Dispersants in the Gulf: Are Public Health and Environmental Tragedies the New Norm for Oil Spill Cleanups?, lambasted BP and the federal government for their careless and dangerous decision to use almost two million gallons of the Corexit dispersant to treat the Deepwater Horizon spill. The chemical compound was widely sprayed from airplanes – sometimes right over boats filled with oil clean-up workers. Since its use, countless Gulf residents have reported serious health problems that include heart palpitations, kidney and liver damage, and blood in urine, all commonly referred to as “BP Syndrome." GAP investigators worked hand-in-hand with those impacted by the spill over the course of 20 months to develop the report.
Key Quote:"Apparently, BP and the federal government intend to make Corexit's application the standard operating procedure for oil spill cleanups," said GAP investigator Shanna Devine, lead author of the report … "We've found, however, that Corexit's use led to terrible effects on human health and the environment."
Washington Post: World Bank, in a Changed Economy, Pushes Focus to Building a Middle Class As many countries among the World Bank’s key dependants (i.e. Brazil, China) have grown increasingly out of extreme poverty, the institution has stated a shift in focus. In a recent report, the Bank announced that it will attempt to boost the growth of the middle class, internationally, while continuing its roughly–charted mission of ending global poverty as well. Unfortunately, the update hardly comes off as groundbreaking or new territory for the institution. GAP Executive and International Director Bea Edwards responded to an internal draft of the World Bank document (which GAP posted on its website), with this blog.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) – a bill that, if passed, would allow major corporations and banks to share their customers' private information with American intelligence agencies – made it through the House of Representatives last week. The bill is being touted as urgently necessary for protection against impending cyber-security threats, a fear that was reflected Sunday by a Washington Post editorial. GAP National Security & Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack explains the dangers of this legislation and what you can do to stop it in this blog post.
Animal welfare activists, including the Humane Society of the United States and even country singer Carrie Underwood, have urged Tennessee's governor to veto the state's Ag Gag bill, which recently passed both houses.
The Washington Post features an editorial singing the praises of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), an innocent-enough sounding law that passed the House last week, but permits private corporations unprecedented sharing of Americans' private data (such as internet activity and e-mail content) with the government, including the National Security Agency.
It is no surprise the WaPo editorial board took the position it did on CISPA, a position the paper is certainly entitled to take. But it is disingenuous to spend extra ink on the fear-mongering "urgency" of the cyber "threats" while summarily dismissing the valid privacy concerns of the White House and countless civil liberties and internet rights groups. WaPo opined:
Despite efforts to strengthen privacy measures, the bill has been criticized by civil liberties advocates and Mr. Obama has threatened to veto it.
Congress voted down many of the so-called "efforts to strengthen privacy measures," and while some modest improvements to the bill survived the cyber-fear-mongering assault in Congress, the major privacy concerns were left unaddressed. Michelle Richardson of the ACLU put it in simple terms:
The core problem is that CISPA allows too much sensitive information to be shared with too many people in the first place, including the National Security Agency.
The civil liberties groups opposing the bill include my organization, the Government Accountability Project, and the privacy concerns deserve more than a throwaway line. Over thirty groups explained CISPA's privacy problems to Congress:
CISPA creates an exception to all privacy laws to permit companies to share our information with each other and with the government in the name of cybersecurity. . . .CISPA’s information sharing regime allows the transfer of vast amounts of data, including sensitive information like internet records or the content of emails, to any agency in the government including military and intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency or the Department of Defense Cyber Command.
The Administration, however, remains concerned that the bill does not require private entities to take reasonable steps to remove irrelevant personal information when sending cybersecurity data to the government or other private sector entities. Citizens have a right to know that corporations will be held accountable – and not granted immunity – for failing to safeguard personal information adequately.
Hacking group Anonymous asked websites to black out their front pages on Monday, in protest against legislation in the U.S. that would allow online companies and government agencies to more easily share personal information.
Newsweek: What BP Doesn’t Want You to Know About the 2010 Gulf Spill Capping a 20-month investigation into the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, today GAP released groundbreaking findings in a report aimed at revealing the truth about the oil company and federal government’s dangerous “cleanup” solution. In response to the staggering truths revealed in our report, Newsweek has published an explosive article, “What BP Doesn’t Want You to Know About the 2010 Gulf Spill.” The article, as does GAP’s report, shines a needed spotlight on the oil-spill dispersant Corexit utilized during the disaster, which made the resulting oil-Corexit mixture “52 times more toxic” than oil alone. The article reveals the extensive cover-up that ensued and exposes the incredible power wielded by giant corporations in society and “how unable, or unwilling, governments are to limit that power.”
The GAP report, Deadly Dispersants in the Gulf: Are Public Health and Environmental Tragedies the New Norm for Oil Spill Cleanups?, combines years of research, extensive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and dozens of interviews with whistleblowers who experienced the tragedies of the spill and its blundered aftermath firsthand. GAP interviewees include cleanup workers, doctors, industry leaders, federally-contracted divers, government officials and Gulf residents. Just a few of the findings include:
• Many cleanup workers and Gulf residents experienced serious health problems, coined “BP Syndrome,” that exhibits symptoms such as blood in urine, kidney damage, liver damage, memory loss and temporary paralysis, among many other serious afflictions.
• BP’s failure to protect its own workers, ordering them not to wear protective gear for public relations purposes, and wrongfully assuring them of their safety working in highly toxic environments.
• Ecological problems and food safety issues, including major concerns over seafood deformities and a massive decrease in reported catch from fishermen.
• BP’s massive faults in employee compensation, denying every single health claim brought by employees to its Gulf Coast Claims Fund.
An Executive Summary of the report can be found here. The Full Report is accessible here.
Key Quote:But BP had a problem: it had lied about how safe Corexit is, and proof of its dishonesty would eventually fall into the hands of the Government Accountability Project, the premiere whistleblower-protection group in the U.S. The proof? A technical manual BP had received from NALCO, the firm that supplied the Corexit that BP used in the gulf.
“[BP] opened the meeting with this upbeat presentation about how seriously they took their responsibilities for the spill and all the wonderful things they were doing to make things right,” says[GAP Legal Director Tom]Devine. “When it was my turn to speak, I said that the manual our whistleblower had provided contradicted what they just said. I asked whether they had ordered the manual withdrawn from work sites. Their attorneys said that was a matter they would not discuss because of the pending litigation on the spill.”
In a move that poses great risk to the security of American citizens’ personal information, the House of Representatives passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) yesterday. The bill allows giant corporations (banks, telecommunications companies) to share private information with one another and the US government, including the NSA and the CIA, under the guise of national cyber-security. The bill – which passed despite over 400,000 signatures petitioning against it – voids customers’ previously held privacy contracts with these corporations.
GAP Executive and International Director Bea Edwards has written extensively on the threat to privacy posed by this dangerous legislation.
In the wake of a press conference earlier this month, which featured GAP International Officer Shelley Walden speaking along with UN whistleblower James Wasserstrom, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has announced that the multilateral organization will review its policy on whistleblower protection. Walden explains the implications of the statement and encourages additional steps toward implementation in this blog post.
Key Quote:“GAP is encouraged by the Secretary General’s announcement, but notes that significant obstacles to its effective implementation remain. In selecting the appropriate consultants, the United Nations must choose qualified people with expertise in whistleblower protection.”
This recent review of War on Whistleblowers, the new documentary that tells the stories of four national security whistleblowers (including two GAP clients), focuses on the film's unsettling ability to reveal the US government’s submission to large corporate interests. Businessman and politicians are seen as of the same ‘ruthless and callous breed’ when it comes to being exposed for wrongdoing.
Jack Davis is Communications Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.