ACLU Tells Congress to Strengthen Whistleblower Protections

May 21, 2008 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – Testifying at a hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security today, the American Civil Liberties Union urged members to extend whistleblower protections to intelligence and law enforcement employees. ACLU National Security Policy Counsel and FBI whistleblower, Mike German, was joined on the panel by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Bassem Youssef, another whistleblower who currently works in the FBI’s counter-terrorism division. Both German and Youssef complained to superiors at the FBI about the handling of counter-terrorism investigations. The ACLU is calling on Congress to offer better protection for government employees who uncover wrongdoing or national security breaches.

“My experience with the FBI’s treatment of whistleblowers is all too personal,” German testified. “I had worked within the system for two years to try to get the deficiencies I saw addressed, with no success. My career was effectively ended while the managers responsible for the failed investigation and the cover-up that followed were promoted.”

The ACLU noted there are several flaws in current law that leave national security whistleblowers unprotected. In particular, the Whistleblower Protection Act, which was passed by Congress to encourage government employees to disclose wrongdoing, does not apply to employees of most agencies involved in intelligence and national security, including the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the Defense Intelligence Agency. National security whistleblowers can be retaliated against even for disclosing wrongdoing to Congress.

The few national security whistleblowers covered by the law are still often left unprotected because the administrative and federal circuit courts that oversee whistleblower claims consistently interpret the Whistleblower Protection Act too narrowly, and have been hostile to whistleblower claims. Congress has already amended the act at least twice to correct narrowing interpretations of the law.

The ACLU also charges in its report, “Disavowed: The Government’s Unchecked Retaliation Against National Security Whistleblowers,” that the Bush administration is using secrecy as a tool to shield itself from the disclosure of embarrassing and even criminal information. In the past few years, the government has aggressively argued that its need for absolute secrecy prevents the disclosure of information pertaining to the torture and abuse of detainees, NSA warrantless wiretapping, the CIA’s practice of kidnapping people and sending them to other countries for torture and interrogation, and the FBI’s use of the Patriot Act’s expanded surveillance powers.

“Protecting FBI whistleblowers is the first step in fighting corruption within the bureau,” said German. “Misconduct in the law enforcement and intelligence communities can have dire effects on the American people. The role of whistleblowers has been historic in bringing government abuses to light. Protecting that role, especially in light of this administration’s flagrant disregard for the rule of law, should be of paramount importance.”

A copy of the ACLU’s testimony can be seen at:

To read the ACLU’s report on whistleblowers and to learn more, go to:

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