WASHINGTON, D.C.—Russ Tice, an intelligence analyst for the heavily secret National Security Agency, has announced that he was fired from his job earlier this week after he stood up to protest the way the agency harassed him. Tice was one of several intelligence agents who had joined former FBI translator Sibel Edmond’s new group, the National Security Whistleblowers. He appeared at an April 28 press conference on Capitol Hill to describe how the NSA treats employees it doesn’t like, specifically ones who dare to be critical.
Tice’s security clearance was taken away and he was ordered out as of May 16. In the intelligence community, having your security clearance lifted is like being sent to Siberia.
“Until the [intelligence community] can no longer use security clearances as weapons of retaliation without any fear of any form of oversight, there will be no incentive for them to stop this outrageous practice,” he said at last week’s press conference.
His problems started when he asked the agency to look into the activities of an employee he thought might be engaged in espionage. Instead, the NSA called him in for an emergency psychological evaluation, one of the usual procedures in blackballing an employee. He was duly determined to be crazy and put on administrative leave. Tice was later assigned to unload furniture from trucks at a warehouse, where he hurt his back. He also served an eight-month tour of duty in the NSA motor pool, where the analyst worked at maintaining the agency’s fleet of vehicles, gassing them up, cleaning them and checking the fluids, and driving NSA big shots around town.
Tice had done intelligence work for nearly 20 years with the Air Force, with Navy intelligence, and with the Defense Intelligence Agency, before landing at the NSA. He has conducted intelligence missions related to Kosovo, Afghanistan, the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, and the Iraq war. Most recently he was nominated for an award for outstanding service because of his work on Iraq. It has since been withdrawn, along with the security clearance.
Tice says there are some 24 other intelligence employees in the NSA who have been blackballed on spurious charges and had their careers wrecked by the removal of their security clearances. The Pentagon Inspector General’s office is looking into Tice’s treatment, and it’s always possible he could get his job back. Last year he sent a letter to Congress saying others in the intelligence community were being punished by having their security clearances lifted.
The NSA, still regarded as the shining star in the intelligence world because of its code-breaking skills, is reported to be in a mess, with old computers unable to keep up with the workload and, as with other intelligence agencies, a staff with an out-of-date Cold War mentality.
Like similar agencies, the NSA operates along Kafkaesque lines. The people who sat on the panel sacking Tice were among those who had been after him all along. Needless to say, it was all done behind closed doors, and Tice had to snoop around to find out who the members were. NSA officials refused to tell him who selected the people on the firing panel, how they made their decision, or why they made their decision.
“Currently, no oversight exists to counter the abuses of the intelligence community’s security offices and, as I’ve come to find out, in many other national security organizations as well,” Tice told the crowd on Capitol Hill. “If this conduct is pervasive throughout the [intelligence community] and others tasked to protect our country, it is our national security that is being placed in jeopardy by denying experienced officers and analysts from performing their critical duties.”