WASHINGTON – ­Today, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) is sharing its serious concerns over the effect of the Executive Branch’s investigation into alleged leaks by Legislative Branch staffer James Wolfe to a number of journalists, and the potentially negative impact the investigation will have on both whistleblowers and a free press.

James A. Wolfe, the former Security Director for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) aide, who was arrested this week in an investigation on “leaks” to multiple reporters, may have been privy to whistleblower disclosures made under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998, which allows Intelligence Community whistleblowers who face inaction from internal intelligence watchdogs and agency-heads to share information with and appear before the congressional intelligence committees’ members and staffers; these whistleblowers assist SSCI in overseeing the Executive Branch.

By granting Executive Branch investigators full access to these disclosures during the course of their leak investigation, SSCI may open whistleblowers to retaliation if their disclosures are circulated across the Intelligence Community. We do not know whether the information and identities of whistleblowers taken to SSCI have been compromised by law enforcement.

“Any disclosures shared with SSCI were in confidence, and intended to assist their oversight over the Intelligence Community. We are concerned that the content of these disclosures, during the investigation into Mr. Wolfe, may be collected by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and referred to the whistleblowers’ agency of origin,” said GAP’s Executive Director Louis Clark. “Violating whistleblowers’ confidentiality through the course of a leak investigation would be an incorrigible threat to Intelligence Community oversight, chilling potential whistleblowers from approaching the congressional intelligence committees, and damaging active congressional investigations. This would be an irreversible blow to the division of powers.”

The leak investigation itself is also problematic. As GAP noted in a Washington Post op-ed, the DOJ is targeting civil society’s transparency and good-governance requests in the course of their leak investigations. Attorney General Jeff Sessions bragged that his department was conducting three times as many leak investigations as his predecessor.

These increasingly aggressive leak investigations do not serve to stop the unlawful dissemination of classified information, but rather threaten would-be whistleblowers who wish to reveal serious abuses of power and illegality. These leak investigations will have the effect of chilling whistleblowers from even approaching the congressional intelligence committees. If whistleblowers approach an overseer outside the Executive Branch, then nothing is to stop the Executive Branch from investigating the whistleblower.

Compounding matters, the leak investigations do not only target the whistleblowers and congressional overseers.

“Reporters exercising their First Amendment rights have been vilified as conduits and co-conspirators who cause catastrophic damage to our national security. This depiction could not be farther from the truth,” stated Clark. “The media play an active role in pressuring the government for accountability, whether by advancing whistleblowers’ cases or exposing serious wrongdoing and corruption. Targeting journalists’ work and sources through federal investigations is another battle in the war against free speech and oversight that the American people cannot afford to lose.”

Contact: Louis Clark, GAP CEO
Phone: 202-457-0034

Government Accountability Project

The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.