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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:

Fact Check: GAP Legal Filing Falsely Claims Intelligence Workers Lack External Avenues to Blow the Whistle

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In a friend-of-the-court filing dated Dec. 17, the Government Accountability Project argued that a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 should be declared unconstitutionally vague as it might chill whistleblowers’ speech. In describing the legal landscape affecting whistleblowers’ rights, however, GAP painted an unduly narrow picture of the avenues currently available.

On page 11, counsel for GAP described the protections in the Whistleblower Protection Act as follows:

The primary legislation affecting federal whistleblowers, the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (“WPA”), provides certain federal employees who report evidence of violations of law, rule or regulation including gross mismanagement, waste of funds, or substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety with some protection, including judicial review.  See 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8).

It noted that “employees in the intelligence community are excluded from the WPA’s protections.”

The brief then continued to state that

[W]histleblowers in the intelligence community . . . are limited to internal administrative avenues. The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998 (“ICWPA”) is toothless and creates bureaucratic procedures that makes blowing the whistle an exercise in futility. [Emphasis added.]

This particular claim is false. By law, all executive branch employees have the right to make disclosures of classified (or unclassified) information externally–to the Office of Special Counsel. See 5 U.S.C. § 1213(a)(2). The exemption of intelligence workers from protections against reprisal, found in 5 U.S.C. § 2302(a)(2)(C)(ii), does not affect their right to make disclosures to the Office of Special Counsel.

As such, the ICWPA is not the only avenue to blow the whistle in the intelligence community. Though the WPA does not provide protections against reprisal to intelligence community employees, it does guarantee confidentiality, and an unfiltered channel to the National Security Advisor and relevant intelligence committees in Congress for intelligence-related disclosures. See 5 U.S.C. §§ 1213(h), (j).

Moreover, OSC recently accepted a disclosure from a former FBI employee (FBI is one of the agencies listed in 5 U.S.C. § 2302(a)(2)(C)(ii)), further demonstrating that disclosures by intelligence community employees may be made outside the ICWPA.

Update: In a YouTube video posted Dec. 18, OSC official Bruce Fong (at the 3:31 mark) said that

If your disclosure involves information that you believe might be prohibited from public disclosure, be very careful. You must use a protected channel in order to benefit from the protections of the whistleblower laws. So, if you have information in your disclosure that includes classified information, for example, make sure you use one of the protected channels. The office of inspector general is always a protected channel. So is the Office of Special Counsel. [Emphasis added.]

Dissenters’ Digest for July 8-21

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Dissenters’ Digest takes a look back at news stories covering whistleblowers, watchdogs, and government accountability. Look for it every other Saturday evening at www.dissentersdigest.com.

Chilling Effect: Acting ATF Director B. Todd Jones spoke in an internal video to ATF employees where he appeared to admonish his subordinates not to blow the whistle outside the chain of command, lest they face “consequences.” He did not mention they have the right to do so under numerous laws, including the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and the Lloyd-La Follette Law of 1912, which allows civil servants to communicate with Congress without prior restraint. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa are investigating.

If Nixon had Keylogging Software: The New York Times reported last week that the Food and Drug Administration’s suspected surveillance of whistleblowers is bigger than previously believed, and includes tracking of sources outside the agency.

The FDA reportedly has developed an “enemies list” to push back against negative coverage of its oft-criticized review of drugs and medical devices. The list includes not only scientists employed within the FDA, but also congressmen, journalists, and outside medical researchers. These efforts have resulted in the collection of some 80,000 pages of documents that include private emails to Congress, draft whistleblower retaliation complaints, and communications with journalists and attorneys.

Senator Chuck Grassley took the lead in expressing outrage against what he previously called FDA’s “Gestapo” tactics.

Grassley’s review includes a demand for the legal memo authorizing the spying campaign, which began in mid-2010. Expect the focus to shift to FDA’s past and current chief counsels.

What’s In Your Wallet?: The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau announced its first enforcement action: a $210 million settlement with Capital One for deceptive marketing practices.

The allegations include misleading consumers about the benefits of Capital One products, which were not always depicted as optional. Some consumers were knowingly sold products they could not utilize, and others succumbed to “high-pressure tactics” to buy add-ons like payment protection and credit monitoring. In some instances, Capital One enrolled consumers in products without their consent, or led them to believe there was no additional cost.

Capital One will fully refund its customers at a cost of $140 million and pay another $25 million to the CFPB and another $35 million to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, totaling $210 million.

In other news, in-house corporate attorneys are concerned about CFPB enforcement actions.

Full disclosure: I have a Capital One card in my wallet.

Below the Fold:

–An environmental watchdog takes a look at Governor Romney’s anti-civil service track record in Massachusetts.

–24 percent of Wall Street executives believe they need to break the law to succeed; 16 percent would commit insider trading if they could get away with it, according to a survey done by the whistleblower law firm Labaton Sucharow.

–The Justice Department and the FBI are reviewing thousands of criminal cases to determine whether any defendants were wrongly convicted because of flawed forensic evidence. The whistleblower who first brought this to light almost 20 years ago will be monitoring progress. Legislation has already been introduced.

–A Navy whistleblower is now in charge of investigating whistleblower cases in the Defense Department.

–Penn State officials knew.

–A federal district court judge blew the whistle, in a way, about coercive plea bargain tactics that demand waiver of appeal rights in lieu of going to prison on unreasonably heavier charges.

–Some news outlets let political operatives approve quotes before they appear in print. Why not also let them write the articles?

FDA isn’t the only agency snooping on its employees.

Treasury officials, unauthorized gifts, prostitutes, and golf.

–The American Federation of Government Employees reached an agreement with the TSA to provide TSA officers personnel appeal rights at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

–The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approved an 18-year-long race discrimination class action lawsuit brought by U.S. Marshals against the U.S. Marshal Service.

–The White House issued a memo to strengthen the rights of service members who return home and seek to reintegrate into the working force.

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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 May 13-19

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Whistle Suits (image: Truthout.org/flickr)

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.

Federal Judge Strikes Down NDAA’s Indefinite Detention Provision: A federal judge in Brooklyn, New York struck down the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act, saying it constitutes an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment. The suit was brought by several journalists who feared their activities might fall under the reach of the law — substantially supporting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces – without even knowing it, and facing indefinite detention for many years. The judge, Katherine Forrest, repeatedly offered government lawyers the opportunity to rebut the reporters’ fears, but they declined to do so.

Below the Fold:

–A Malaysian tribunal found George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfel, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington and William J. Haynes guilty of war crimes.

–The Washington Post editorial board calls on the Federal Aviation Administration to take whistleblowers’ complaints seriously.

–The ACLU is weighing in on behalf of Peter Van Buren, the State Department whistleblower who wrote a book and blog critical of his employer’s exploits in Iraq.

–A Homeland Security House subcommittee looks at corruption inside DHS.

–Employees at a nuclear waste site in Washington state are coming forward, saying too many shortcuts are being taken in the construction of a facility to dispose the waste.

–An FBI crime lab whistleblower’s 20 year campaign to expose and correct violations of defendants’ due process rights is beginning to bear fruit.

–House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa is alleging the Federal Maritime Commission may be “an agency in crisis.”

–Union protectionism in 1994 may haunt whistleblowers and the Office of Special Counsel in 2012.

–Several whistleblowers and advocacy groups will host an annual conference in Washington, D.C., May 21-23.

Send tips to tips@mspbwatch.net.

Dissenters’ Digest for May 6-12

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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.

Senate Passes the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012: In a rare show of unanimity, the Senate passed S. 743, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, this week, the latest attempt to update the Whistleblower Protection Act in 13 years. The last attempt, in December 2010, was defeated by a secret hold in the Senate, according to the Government Accountability Project. Not all are enthused with the bill’s protections, which “fall[] short of the comprehensive whistleblower law reforms promised in the 2008 political campaign,” notes Stephen Kohn of the National Whistleblowers Center. Now it’s up to the House to pass their version, H.R. 3289, before the two bills can be reconciled and sent to the President’s desk.

OSC Reports the FAA is Slow in Correcting Whistleblower Complaints: In a rare move, the Office of Special Counsel combined seven whistleblower disclosures from FAA employees into one report to the President and the Congress, citing “an ongoing series of troubling safety disclosures by air traffic controllers and other FAA employees” which have not been rectified by the Department of Transportation. The Special Counsel stated that the “FAA has one of the highest rates of whistleblower filings per employee of any executive branch agency: OSC received 178 whistleblower disclosures from FAA employees since FY 2007, 89 of which related to aviation safety. OSC referred 44 of those to DOT for investigation. DOT ultimately substantiated all but five of those referrals — 89 percent – in whole or in part. In four of the seven cases presented today, the whistleblower had to make repeat disclosures with OSC because the FAA took inadequate steps to correct the concern or failed to implement any corrective action.” The Washington Post has additional coverage.

Below the Fold:

–An internal Pentagon report claims the DoD left whistleblowers vulnerable to reprisal.

–Two F-22 pilots who refuse to fly the aircraft appeared on 60 minutes, claiming a malfunction causes oxygen deprivation aloft.

–The above notwithstanding, the Air Force is in the process of disciplining the F-22 pilots. Congress is expressing concern.

–An EPA scientist who lost her job after blowing the whistle on health dangers to 9/11 first responders prevailed at the Merit Systems Protection Board and will be reinstated.

–The media is silent when the Obama Administration goes after whistleblowers.

–An employment lawyer looks at the fuzzy definition of “gross waste of funds.”

–Thomas Drake speaks with Eliot Spitzer about the DOJ being used to cover up crimes of the Bush and Obama Administrations.

–The FBI is the most effective lobbyist against whistleblower protections, according to a radio interview with National Whistleblowers Center Executive Director Stephen Kohn.

–Former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary will file a whistleblower suit against the university over its handling of the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal.

–The Fourth Circuit revives claims by former Iraqi detainees against contractors who are alleged to have tortured them.

Send tips to tips@mspbwatch.net.

Dissenters’ Digest for April 29-May 5

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(photo: Steven DePaulo/flickr)

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.

Torture is Back in the News: The Government Accountability Project calls for the prosecution of admitted CIA torturer Jose Rodriguez, who recently crowed about destroying 92 video tapes of torture footage in a new book. Separately, Rodriguez alleges in his book that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi lied about tacitly approving waterboarding in 2002, according to the Washington Post. Further, UCLA law professor and torture memos author John Yoo is immune from liability in the United States for the torture of Jose Padilla, according to a recent opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Below the Fold:

–The Administrative Conference of the United States is teaming up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on regulatory reform. The Center for Progressive Reform objects.

–FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds overcomes FBI pre-approval for the publication of her book criticizing the FBI over 9/11 missteps.

–EPA whistleblower William Sanjour looks at why agencies fail to regulate properly, and offers prescriptive advice.

–The Department of Health and Human Services is in violation of the No FEAR Act of 2002, and has been since 2002, according to a recent Freedom of Information Act response.

–A federal court in New Orleans will preliminarily approve the $7.8 billion settlement with victims of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill.

–House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is preparing a contempt of Congress charge against Attorney Eric Holder over the Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal.

–The Drug Enforcement Administration leaves a college student in a jail cell for five days without food or water.

–The Make It Safe Campaign, an umbrella group of whistleblower and government accountability advocates, is considering enfranchisement and open-process reforms following a general meeting last Tuesday.

Send tips to tips@mspbwatch.net.

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.

Send tips to info at mspbwatch dot net.

Dissenters’ Digest for March 25-31

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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.

Department of Justice’s Recent Actions Worry Accountability and Transparency Advocates: A number of actions taken by the Department of Justice have caught the attention of government accountability groups and civil libertarians this week.

First, Wired reports that the FBI advised its agents in training materials that they may “bend or suspend the law and impinge upon the freedom of others” under certain situations. That training material has since been changed.

Next, a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing focused on the misconduct of federal prosecutors in the trial of the late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. A $1 million525-page court-appointed report found that these prosecutors withheld key evidence from Stevens’ defense counsel, in violation of ethical rules. The Stevens case was dropped by Attorney General Holder in April 2009. Following the publication of the report on May 15, Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced legislation to prevent the reoccurrence of the same prosecutorial misconduct, which was met with anonymous opposition by DOJ officials. Emptywheel and the Blog of Legal Times have coverage of that opposition.

Finally, a DOJ proposed rule has caught the attention of Senators and FOIA advocates, who noted that DOJ seemed to be usurping the role of the newly-created FOIA ombudsman, the Office of Government Information Service (OGIS). OGIS is an agency within the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and was created by the OPEN Government Act of 2007 to mediate disputes between requesters and federal agencies. Its station with NARA is not without purpose, as housing it within DOJ – which is responsible for defending federal agencies in FOIA lawsuits – would have created a conflict of interest. Senators Patrick Leahy and Jon Kyl sent a letter to Attorney General Holder, the Project on Government Oversight reports. DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs responded to POGO with a clarification that seems to put that particular matter to rest, but another FOIA matter is still under dispute.

Supreme Court Weakens Privacy Act: In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that the Privacy Act does not authorize damages for emotional distress, NPR reports. The suit was brought by a pilot who sued the Social Security Administration for disclosing information to the FAA relating to his HIV status, causing him to lose his license and suffer emotional distress. In a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor writes that the ruling “cripples the Act’s core purpose of redressing and deterring violations of privacy interests.” The Washington Post has additional coverage.

Congressmen Support Long-Suffering Whistleblower: Three House members recently submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in support of TSA Whistleblower Robert MacLean, according to the Orange County Register. In 2003, MacLean disclosed to the press a TSA plan to cut back on federal air marshals at a time of heightened security alerts. This prompted congressional outrage and the TSA plan was scrapped. MacLean’s case has been tied up in litigation since 2006, when he was terminated from the TSA. GovExec and GAP have additional coverage.

Obama Official Declares “Zero Tolerance” on Veterans’ Discrimination: John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, declared “zero tolerance” for discrimination against uniformed service members returning to their civilian jobs. Berry’s comments follow a report last month by The Washington Post that the U.S. government is the top offender of USERRA, the Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which is designed to protect service members from discrimination in the workplace.

Below the Fold:

–The State Department moves to fire a prominent critic and whistleblower.

–GAO: Air Force has a disproportionate number of whistle-blower complaints within DOD.

–OccupyEPA takes to the streets, demands administrator’s resignation.

–A foreclosure fraud whistleblower reports being harassed by mortgage lender despite winning an $18 million award.

–A whistleblowers’ lawyer and a corporate lawyer mix it up on a whistleblower panel.

–Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) introduces a bill to reform the Senior Executive Service.

–The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board took no action to study work conditions at the Office of Special Counsel following the controversial tenure of ex-Special Counsel Scott Bloch, according to a recent FOIA request.

–A House Subcommittee hearing on low morale at the Department of Homeland Security but fails to call any employees as witnesses.

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