Stripped Provision in Authorization Act Would Have Provided Agency Heads With Sweeping New Powers to Retaliate
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, GAP is praising the actions of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) for successfully protecting the rights of national security whistleblowers. Wyden fought against a broadly crafted provision in S. 719, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (IAA) that, if passed, would have given Intelligence Community agency heads sweeping new power to retaliate against those employees they personally believe made unauthorized disclosures.
In this year’s IAA, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had inserted language permitting agency chiefs to punish current or even retired employees, whenever the chief decides that such an employee has made an unauthorized disclosure. The minimum penalty would be removing their pensions. Traditionally, past legislation has called for internal agency due process. But no statutory rights for employees were included in the IAA draft. In terms of due process, internal agency proceedings have typically been honor systems that routinely rubberstamp retaliation in the context of security clearance actions.
The committee included legislative history specifying that existing whistleblower laws would not be cancelled out by this provision, but agencies have routinely ignored this as unenforceable "cheap talk" in the past.
In other words, agency heads gained sweeping new authority to strip national security whistleblowers of all free speech rights, and to shield secrecy through fear.
Senator Wyden blocked passage of the legislation through a non-secret, public hold on the bill until the provision was removed. The House passed a nearly identical bill without anti-whistleblower language. Last week, the Senate approved the House version, ending the threat. GAP raised awareness of this issue (http://bit.ly/lK1elP) and teamed up with other good government groups in the Make It Safe Coalition to oppose this measure (http://bit.ly/g6mJv3).
GAP Legal Director Tom Devine commented, "The entire whistleblower community owes a debt of gratitude to Senator Wyden. Too many legislators have acted as politicians, rather than leaders, by jettisoning principles of freedom, transparency and justice whenever they hear the words national security. Unlike those imposing secret backroom holds, Senator Wyden’s hold was a profile in courage. Bureaucratic abuses of power sustained by secrecy are a clear and present danger to national security. Senator Wyden made a difference protecting our nation, as well as whistleblowers.”
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.