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Dissenters’ Digest for February 2013

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Dissenters’ Digest takes a look at last month’s top stories covering whistleblowers, watchdogs, and government accountability.

Clear Conscience: U.S. Army whistleblower Bradley Manning pled guilty to 10 of 22 charges against him, offering a 35-page testimonial explaining why he released hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and other evidence of government misconduct to Wikileaks in January 2010.

Guilty of Purging Evidence: Former Special Counsel Scott Bloch pled guilty to erasing 3 government computers that may have contained whistleblower disclosures, retaliation complaints, and other sensitive memos. The charge may involve up to six months in jail.

30 Months in Prison: Ex-CIA spy John Kiriakou reported to prison to begin a 30-month sentence for disclosing the identity of an undercover CIA agent. Kiriakou came to prominence in 2007 for publicly reporting about the CIA’s torture program.

Below the Fold:

Dissenters’ Digest for May 20-June 9

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(photo: caribbeanfreephoto/flickr)

Dissenters’ Digest takes a look back at the week’s stories covering whistleblowers, watchdogs, and government accountability. Look for it every other Saturday evening at www.mspbwatch.net/digest .

Beyond Reproach: Efforts to pass the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act came under scrutiny this week after it was disclosed by the lead lobbyists that the bill will not contain any jury trial provisions, a long-sought reform. The admission came after the Make It Safe Campaign Steering Committee objected to an open letter to Congress which highlighted flaws in the current bill. However, grassroots efforts, led by this author, pointed out that the Steering Committee has failed to engage the whistleblower community and the public in its lobbying activities, as well as practice transparency and accountability, the values it publicly champions. It remains to be seen whether the Steering Committee will take heed of suggested reforms, the rejection of which may well cost it considerable influence and credibility with the lowest common denominator that truly matters: federal whistleblowers.

Below the Fold: Read the rest of this entry →

Dissenters’ Digest for April 22-28

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Dissenters’ Digest takes a look back at the week’s stories covering whistleblowers, watchdogs, and government accountability. Look for it every Saturday evening at www.mspbwatch.net/digest.

Congress Troubled by Suspicious Death of Russian Whistleblower: Congress seeks to use legislative authority to punish Russian officials allegedly involved in the suspicious 2009 death of Russian whistle-blower and lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, according to the The Hill. NPR reports that the bill in question could complicate US-Russian relations, jeopardizing Hillary Clinton’s 2009 “reset” with the Russian government. However, a person interviewed by NPR said a “reset … with Russian society” is required instead. The story of Magnitsky’s death has been chronicled in an award-winning documentary. Elsewhere, Firedoglake takes on the Congress for selective concern about civil and human rights.

Below the Fold:

–A whistleblower conference is scheduled for May 20-22 in Washington, D.C.

–A recently-unearthed FAA powerpoint presentation says the FAA “must evolve our safety oversight system and embrace the view that industry — not the regulator — is responsible for ensuring safety,” despite decades-old law placing safety regulation as the FAA’s highest priority.

–The first criminal charges are filed in the Deepwater Horizon gulf oil spill.

–Bradley Manning’s trial continues to be shrouded in secrecy.

–The Non-Federal Employee Whistleblower Protection Act reports out of a Senate committee. The bill would expand whistleblower protections for federal contractors.

–The House of Representatives passes the DATA Act, which would create a five-member commission to oversee federal spending.

–Vermont becomes the third state to call for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United v. FEC.

–Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein vows to pardon Bradley Manning as president.

–A Countrywide whistleblower laments the lack of accountability and ethics in the financial sector.

–A Missouri bill to restrict common law whistleblowing protections is passed in the General Assembly. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Kevin Elmer, who has a record of sponsoring discriminatory and birther legislation.

–The Securities and Exchange Commission was accused this week of blowing a whistleblower’s cover. The SEC responds.

–The summary judgment provision in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 comes under scrutiny.

–A federal employment attorney advises employees to violate the law when ordered to by superiors (notwithstanding their conscience or oath to the Constitution).

–The Make It Safe Campaign will hold a general membership meeting this Tuesday, May 1.

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Dissenters’ Digest for April 15-21

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Dissenters’ Digest takes a look back at the week’s stories covering whistleblowers, watchdogs, and government accountability. Look for it every Saturday evening at www.mspbwatch.net/digest.

Justice Department Withheld Evidence of Flawed Forensic Procedures Used in Criminal Cases in the 1990′s: The Washington Post reports that the Department of Justice failed to notify defendants or their attorneys of possibly exculpatory evidence of flawed forensic procedures. FBI whistleblower Dr. Frederic Whitehurst disclosed improper procedures in the FBI crime lab almost 20 years ago, which led to a nine-year DOJ task force to determine if any defendants were wrongfully incarcerated. The Post notes in a separate article that the DOJ task force “operated in secret and with close oversight by FBI and Justice Department brass — including [then-Attorney General Janet] Reno and [FBI Director Louis] Freeh’s top deputy — who took steps to control the information uncovered by the group.” The National Whistleblowers Center, which counts Dr. Whitehurst as a director, has more coverage of this story.

Office of Special Counsel Roundup: The Office of Special Counsel issued a rare subpoena in the case of Pinal County (Arizona) Sheriff and Congressional candidate Paul Babeu, who is being investigated for violating the Hatch Act. The Arizona Republic reports that ”[t]he special counsel is looking into allegations that Babeu and several key aides were working on his congressional campaign with county resources or while on the clock.”

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner is quoted in a Federal News Radio article about the GSA conference spending scandal. Lerner states that “[t]he value of this isn’t just about the $820,000. It’s really also about the scrutiny it brings to government waste by this one example. . . . Congress is holding hearings. Agencies now are going to be treading more carefully about the way they are spending money.”

Elsewhere, Senior Legal Advisor to the Special Counsel Jason Zuckerman speaks at a panel about ethical culture in government. Zuckerman notes that “[w]e are seeing a huge increase now in people who blow the whistle” and that “[w]e are getting about 2,800 in prohibited personnel practice complaints annually; two years ago, it was about 2,200. In 2002, it was about 1,600.”

Below the Fold:

–The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs reports S. 743, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, to the Senate.

–The prosecutor in charge of the bungled Thomas Drake whistleblower prosecution is leaving the Department of Justice.

–A whistleblower who exposed GSA’s excessive conference spending testifies in front of Congress.

–Following the conference scandal at the GSA, the nonprofit watchdog Cause of Action wrote to OMB seeking a government-wide audit of agencies’ adherence to whistleblower laws. Separately, CoA is seeking from the Office of Special Counsel any whistleblower complaints it received about the GSA.

–LGBT activists plan to press the White House to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from sexual orientation discrimination. Here’s a profile of one of the groups involved.

–A U.S. soldier blows the whistle on photos of troops posing with corpses in Afghanistan.

–A whistleblower from the Department of Veterans Affairs files a retaliation complaint with the Office of Special Counsel after disclosing “improper accounting measures regarding PTSD treatment of veterans.”

–Despite promising to strengthen the Federal Election Commission and “nominate members committed to enforcing our nation’s election laws,” President Obama has yet to come through on either promise.

–Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, launches a talk show on Russia Today.

–A State Department whistleblower alleges a high-level U.S. official engaged in sexual relations on the roof of the U.S. embassy in Iraq.

–The chief of police at UC-Davis is stepping down following a scathing report about the widely-condemned pepper spray incident there last November.

–A federal judge rules against CIA whistleblower “Ishmael Jones,” who wrote a scathing book without the agency’s permission. The whistleblower will forfeit all book profits to charity.

–NSA whistleblower William Binney discusses the agency’s billion dollar surveillance facility in Bluffdale, Utah.

–The Center for Progressive Reform looks at how OSHA became stymied by anti-regulatory causes.

Slate looks at how America came to torture its prisoners.

–An ex-UK ambassador comes out in support of Bradley Manning.

–The mastermind behind the Watergate efforts to discredit Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg has died at the age of 80.

–Walmart covered up a massive bribery scandal in Mexico.

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Dissenters’ Digest for April 1-7

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Dissenters’ Digest takes a look back at the week’s stories covering whistleblowers, watchdogs, and government accountability. Look for it every Saturday evening at www.mspbwatch.net/digest.

Justice Department Indicts Former CIA Officer, Whistleblower, and Torture Opponent: NPR reports that John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer and outspoken torture opponent, has been charged with violating the Espionage Act by sharing secret information with reporters. The Government Accountability Project notes that Kiriakou is the first and only person to be indicted by the U.S. government who is associated with the Bush Administration’s torture program. GAP further notes that Kiriakou is the sixth whistleblower to be prosecuted by the Obama Administration. Emptywheel has additional coverage.

Watchdog Uncovers State Department Memo Casting Doubt on Legality of Bush Administration’s Interrogation Techniques: As reported by Firedoglake, a 2006 State Department memo casting doubt on Justice Department arguments approving the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” has been uncovered. The author of that memo, Philip Zelikow, was a counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It is believed that the Bush Administration attempted to destroy all copies of that memo, but the non-profit National Security Archive obtained one from the State Department through a Freedom of Information request. Emptywheel has additional coverage. Zelikow’s memo can be found here.

New York Times Report Portrays FDA as Victim of White House Politicization: The New York Times reports that FDA officials were instructed to reverse decisions such as publicizing the caloric content of movie-theater popcorn. The overall tenor of the piece portrays White House officials as shrewd and pragmatic, with FDA officials seen as public-minded, if not “naive.” However, there may be some image management going on following recent and troubling reports of retaliation and spying on whistleblowers, who came forward to allege corruption within FDA and the improper approval of unsafe medical devices. The Office of Special Counsel has opened an investigation into these allegations. GAP and the National Whistleblowers Center have coverage of the FDA.

Below the Fold:

–President Obama signs the STOCK Act, requiring financial disclosure by members of Congress and federal executives.

–Lavish Las Vegas conference costs top GSA officials their jobs. Congress is said to investigate.

–The Obama Administration quietly appoints a new FAA chief counsel with extensive ties to the White House.

–EEOC is urged to tackle conflicts of interest in discrimination complaint process.

–The U.S. government aims to protect secrecy in Bradley Manning’s court martial.

–The Office of Special Counsel is currently experiencing an 8-9 month delay in processing FOIA requests, according to recent communications with its FOIA officer.

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Veal Pen Watch: POGO throws Bradley Manning under the bus

5:14 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

From POGO spokesman Joseph Newman:

Newman said he believes the Obama administration is spooked by the WikiLeaks case and is using the Espionage Act to send a message to other employees to “button it up” — though some of these cases pre-date the Manning case.

He acknowledged that the six defendants are not “apples to apples,” clarifying that the Project on Government Oversight “doesn’t necessarily condone” what Manning did. But for others, he questioned whether the information they leaked was being overlooked in the rush to punish.

This is from an organization that relies upon and, from time-to-time, supports whistleblowers (though some argue, not without merit, that POGO exploits whistleblowers in its efforts to cozy up to the powers that be).

For a different take on the Manning case, see this:

A generation before Bradley Manning, Daniel Ellsberg understood that some laws were worth breaking to expose and bring accountability to far greater crimes. Ellsberg tried to voice his grievances within his chain of command, as Manning did, before being ignored.

I have heard many people justify the government’s treatment of Manning simply because of the risks he allegedly took. “He should have known better,” they say, missing the point. Asked in 1971 if he was prepared to go to prison for releasing the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg’s reply was simple: “Wouldn’t you go to jail to end this war?”

Future posts will explore POGO’s financial ties and its role in the veal pen that is the whistleblower community.

P.S. This isn’t the first time that POGO throws its values out the window to please the power structure.