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WASHINGTON, D.C.—Galvanized by the case of FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, intelligence agents representing more than 50 current and former federal employees—calling themselves the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition—stormed Capitol Hill yesterday to demand Congressional protection from retaliation by their dead beat bosses in the intelligence bureaucracy.
Many of these whistleblowers have tried to get someone to listen to what they know about national security issues, from cover-ups to possible espionage. More often than not, they say, their protests result in vicious, demeaning, ruinous retaliation by the bosses. In any number of cases, they’re put under gag orders.
Edmonds, a translator hired to bolster the FBI’s weak languages staff after 9-11, says she was forced to go public with accusations that the work she was observing was not just flawed but was actually dangerous to national security. The government responded by firing her and classifying all of her attempts to speak out, including an interview with 60 Minutes. She is suing the feds for violation of First Amendment rights. A judge this month moved to close the hearings, over the objections of national media.
The list of her supporters yesterday ran the gamut of the federal intelligence community, including more than half a dozen FBI agents along with federal employees from the National Security Agency, Customs, Homeland Security, Army intelligence, Navy intelligence, Defense Intelligence, Department of Energy, the FAA, and the CIA.
The theme was the same throughout: How to stop their supervisors from retaliating against them for protesting wrongdoing within their agencies. One NSA agent told how when he raised questions about a fellow worker, saying he’d spotted the telltale signs of possible espionage, he was ignored, then sent for an emergency psychological examination and stripped of his security clearance because he was found to be crazy.
Demoted from his job as an analyst, he was dispatched to the motor pool and made to drive the higher-ups around. Coleen Rowley, the FBI agent who blew the whistle on the bureau’s handling of warnings before 9-11. John Vincent, a retired longtime FBI counterterrorism agent from Chicago who currently works for Judicial Watch, came to speak for—not himself but for fellow agent Robert Wright, who is under a gag order. A former U.S. marshal told how his supervisors retaliated against his protests and “left me on a stakeout to die.”
No one in the intelligence community has whistleblower protection of any kind. Most observers would think it sheer madness for these people to speak out. According to a new study by the Project on Government Oversight, what happens is a slow stigmatizing of the whistleblower. It begins with marginalizing the employee by taking away his or her job. Next, the security clearanced it taken away, effectively firing him. A lie detector test is given. If the whistleblower persists, he or she is subjected to a retaliatory investigation.
The employee’s mental health is questioned. In certain instances, agencies actually try to entrap the employee. For example, Sibel Edmonds tells the story of how she was accused by her FBI superiors of carrying classified materials to Congress. How did the bureau know that?
Easy, said the investigating supervisor. Agents had been dispatched to tail her (she at that point was just a bothersome woman), and they heard her discussing the contents of the classified documents over lunch with her visiting sister and mother. However, Edmonds is Turkish-American and her mother and sister are Turkish citizens. They were talking in Turkish. The agents didn’t speak Turkish.
The coalition wants federal legislation protecting their right to speak out and granting the right to sue for damages to themselves and their careers in federal court.