Peters, Wyden Urge Protection for Intelligence Community Whistleblowers

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Ron Wyden (D-OR), member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, are urging the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) to protect the identity of intelligence community whistleblowers, including a whistleblower who revealed that President Trump asked the President of Ukraine to investigate a political rival for personal and political gain. Following the disclosure, President Trump subjected the whistleblower to an unprecedented string of attacks – including reported attempts to uncover his or her identity. The whistleblower’s attorneys have expressed concern for the whistleblower’s safety. Such threats could clearly have a chilling effect on others in the intelligence community from coming forward with whistleblower complaints.

Wyden serves as co-chair and Peters is a member of the bipartisan Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus, which was launched in 2015 to raise awareness of the need for adequate protections against retaliation for private sector and government employees who call attention to wrongdoing.

“Whistleblowers help hold the federal government accountable to the law and to the American people. Whistleblower processes and protections are especially important in the Intelligence Community, where they serve a dual purpose: encouraging reporting of fraud, waste, and abuse, while ensuring that classified information is not shared inappropriately,” the Senators wrote. “In other words, having a reliable, lawful whistleblower process for members of the Intelligence Community is critical for protecting our country’s national security.”

In their letter, Peters and Wyden are seeking information on measures taken to protect the confidentiality of whistleblowers who play a vital role in protecting national security. Confidentiality is especially important in the Intelligence Community, where whistleblowers not only report instances of fraud, waste and abuse, but also have a responsibility to safeguard classified information. Additionally, the letter noted reprisal against any whistleblower who makes a lawful disclosure is prohibited under the law. The Senators also expressed concern that the President’s behavior could impact the willingness of future civil servants to report wrongdoing in the future.

Text of the letters is copied below and available here:

 

October 24, 2019 

 

The Honorable Michael K. Atkinson
Inspector General of the Intelligence Community
1500 Tysons McLean Drive
McLean, VA 22102

Dear Inspector General Atkinson:

On August 12, 2019, your office received a disclosure from a whistleblower in the Intelligence Community. In accordance with legal requirements, you performed a preliminary review and determined that the disclosure appeared credible and met the definition of an “urgent concern.” According to public news reports, a second whistleblower who has shared related information with your office has also obtained legal counsel.

As you know, reprisal against whistleblowers who make a lawful disclosure to your office or the Congressional Intelligence Committees is prohibited under the law. However, since the first whistleblower complaint became public, the whistleblower has been the subject of repeated attacks from the President of the United States—including attempts to identity the whistleblower and questioning his or her motivations and loyalty to the nation. The President even stated, in reference to individuals who spoke with the whistleblower, “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.” We are deeply concerned by the impact these comments could have on individuals’ willingness to report wrongdoing through authorized channels.

Whistleblowers help hold the federal government accountable to the law and to the American people. Whistleblower processes and protections are especially important in the Intelligence Community, where they serve a dual purpose: encouraging reporting of fraud, waste, and abuse, while ensuring that classified information is not shared inappropriately. In other words, having a reliable, lawful whistleblower process for members of the Intelligence Community is critical for protecting our country’s national security.

As the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, you have been charged with investigating whistleblower claims, protecting whistleblowers’ confidentiality, helping whistleblowers contact the appropriate congressional committees, and investigating allegations of retaliation. I appreciate your diligent efforts to comply with the law.

To ensure that the brave men and women who have followed the law and reported wrongdoing to your office are being sufficiently protected from retaliation, I ask that you respond to the following no later than November 14, 2019:

  1. Please explain the importance of confidentiality for whistleblowers, and what impact efforts to violate that confidentiality can have, particularly in the Intelligence Community.

  2. What steps does your office take to protect the confidentiality of whistleblowers?

  3. Whistleblowers who make lawful disclosures are entitled to protections from retaliation.
    1. Please describe the steps that supervisors are expected to take to ensure that whistleblowers do not face retaliation.

    2. Please explain what steps your Office has taken to help ensure that whistleblowers are protected from retaliation.

  4. As stated above, the President has repeatedly disparaged a whistleblower in the Intelligence Community and reportedly attempted to find out his or her identity. What impact do you anticipate this will have on the following, as these relate to members of the Intelligence Community: (1) lawful disclosures made by whistleblowers; (2) willingness to identify and report potentially illegal and/or improper activity; (3) the perception that lawful disclosures will be shared with appropriate officials and investigated; and (4) the perception that whistleblowers who make lawful disclosures will be protected?

Thank you for your dedicated service, and your prompt attention to this matter. 

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