(Washington, D.C.) – The Government Accountability Project (GAP) and a group of bipartisan watchdog organizations released a letter to the Senate yesterday strongly opposing a provision in the Intelligence Authorization Bill (S. 719) that would threaten First Amendment rights for current and retired intelligence community workers, and deny due process to challenge agency retaliation.
Section 403 of the legislation grants the Director of National Intelligence and intelligence agency heads the unprecedented authority to penalize federal employees in the intelligence community - including depriving them their pensions - based simply on the Director's own “determination” or discretion that an employee knowingly disclosed classified information to an unauthorized party.
The government already is authorized to strip pension benefits from employees or former employees convicted of illegally disclosing classified information. However, under current law the agency must first prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged misconduct took place. In stark contrast, the letters warns:
This legislation would remove independent due process by giving the DNI the power, even where no charges are brought against the employee, to establish the procedures for fact finding, appeal, or review of an agency determination that classified information was improperly disclosed to unauthorized persons. Such procedures do not provide the independent due process and public accountability afforded in criminal trials.
GAP Legal Director Tom Devine commented, “This provision is a blank check to silence any current or former intelligence agency employee through unchecked power to impose any other punishment short of jail for disclosing classified information. It provides no definitions for controversial terms such as what is classified, or who is an ‘unauthorized’ recipient. That is significant, because agencies sometimes deny that any member of Congress is authorized to receive classified information.
"Nor is there any independent review of how agency chiefs translate these terms. The provision does not even provide a ceiling for punishment. The minimum is cutting off pensions -- and from there the sky’s the limit. National security whistleblowers’ free speech rights and risks from whistleblowing would reflect agency chiefs’ whims, no more and no less.”
The good government coalition warned that if the Senate approves this act, the chilling effect on would-be whistleblowers would be immeasurable.
GAP applauds Senator Wyden for putting a hold on the Intelligence Authorization Act until Sec. 703 is removed. It is underdetermined at this time whether his colleagues will follow suit.
The full letter can be viewed here.
The legislation can be viewed here.
Contact: Tom Devine, Legal Director
Phone: 202.457.0034, ext. 124
Contact: Shanna Devine, Legislative Campaign Coordinator
Phone: 202.457.0034, ext. 132
Contact: Dylan Blaylock, Communications Director
Phone: 202.457.0034, ext. 137
Government Accountability Project
The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.