Washington Post: Intelligence Security Initiatives Have Chilling Effect on Federal Whistleblowers, Critics Say

This article shows how the federal Insider Threat Program – a monitoring initiative quietly started by the Obama administration after significant whistleblower disclosures – is threatening to federal whistleblowers. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and a growing number of lawmakers and whistleblower advocates warn that the program’s monitoring of government computers and employee behavior risks workers’ ability to report wrongdoing without retaliation.

Key Quote: In early April, Sen. Charles E. Grassley summoned FBI officials to his Capitol Hill office. He said he wanted them to explain how a program designed to uncover internal security threats would at the same time protect whistleblowers who wanted to report wrongdoing within the bureau. 

The meeting with two FBI officials, including the chief of the bureau’s Insider Threat Program, ended almost as soon as it began. The officials said the FBI would protect whistleblowers by “registering” them. When Grassley’s staff members asked them to elaborate, the FBI officials declined to answer any more questions and headed for the door.

“We’re leaving,” said J. Christopher McDonough, an FBI agent assigned to the bureau’s congressional affairs office, said Senate staff members who attended the meeting.

The episode infuriated Grassley (Iowa), a leading advocate for whistleblowers in Congress and the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Any effort to register whistleblowers, he said, would “clearly put a target on their backs.”

Grassley said the episode with the FBI illustrates how federal agencies are setting up internal security programs without giving careful consideration to whether they could dissuade whistleblowers from coming forward.

“The Insider Threat Program has the potential for taking the legs out from underneath all of the whistleblower protections we have,” Grassley said in a recent interview.

NPR: The Challenge of Keeping Tabs on the NSA’s Secretive Work

This piece from NPR’s Morning Edition examines the relationship between the NSA and Congress, which is supposed to oversee the secretive world of federal intelligence. Although congressional leadership and high-ranking members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are briefed on classified programs and information, these meetings are behind closed doors, which makes holding the NSA accountable extremely challenging. GAP client and former NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake is quoted in the piece.

Key Quote: “Everything is vetted, left and right,” says NSA briefer Bill Combs of the electronic surveillance carried out there. “The courts look at everything we do, the general counsel, the Department of Justice — we have watchdogs everywhere, and we’re glad to have them.” 

According to [an NSA official], the oversight that the NSA welcomes includes Congress. But that’s not Thomas Drake’s recollection.

Drake worked at the agency as a computer expert and ended up a whistleblower. In 2002, the same year he testified before Congress, Drake says the NSA set up its own war room to respond to requests for information from Congress.

“And the joke that went around NSA was who are we at war with, right, the terrorists or Congress?” Drake says. “It was clear that the priority by NSA leadership was, we’re at war with Congress — we’re not going to let them know what the truth is. NSA had a lot to hide.”

Bangor Daily News (Maine): West to Vote on Settlement for Firefighter Who Sued Under Whistleblower Act 

On July 31, citizens of a Maine town will vote on whether to accept a settlement with a local firefighter who is suing under that state’s Whistleblowers’ Protection Act after reporting the misuse of equipment and funds.


Michael Riley is a Communications Intern for the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.