Report: Top US intelligence officer attempts to quash criminal investigation

Air Force Maj. Gen. Susan Mashiko, deputy director of the intelligence agency responsible for coordinating U.S. spy satellite operations, sought to terminate four mid-level agency directors for bringing fraud allegations to the organization's inspector general. 

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“Four directors went to the IG,” NRO Inspector General Lanie D'Alessandro quoted Mashiko as saying to a senior officer. “I would like to find them and fire them," according to a report by McClatchy Newspapers. 

The agency's was in the midst of a criminal investigation looking into the NRO's ties to private firms regarding the organization's polygraph program. 

The NRO second-in-command attempted to backtrack those threats, telling the senior officer that the agency whistleblowers should have approached her office before reaching out to the IG, according to documents obtained by McClatchy. 

But during her investigation, D'Alessandro noted a "history of intimidation" within the agency, established by Mashiko and the alleged target of the IG inquiry, according to agency documents. 

Neither the two-star general or agency officials would comment on the IG's inquiry into the polygraph program or possible threats or intimidation by Mashiko's office.

News of the NRO fiasco has only inflamed concerns that newly-proposed congressional legislation to crack down on information leaks could be used to bully whistleblowers within the intelligence community. 

The Senate bill, if passed, will strip intelligence officials of their clearances for leaking to the press. It also would block national-security officials from making contact with the media even after they've left the government.

The Senate bill also required congressional notification of all authorized classified disclosures, and threatened to revoke federal pensions for members of the intelligence community who leak classified or otherwise sensitive national security information to the media and are convicted by a federal court for such crimes.

But more than a dozen civil-liberties groups sent an open letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee in July, claiming the anti-leak measures could instigate "suspicion, speculation or ... retaliation" against members of the intelligence community.

To that end, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are considering changes that would cut the teeth out of the legislation. 

A spokesman for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Intelligence panel, acknowledged senators are taking these criticisms into account. The spokesman declined to comment on specific changes to the bill, but suggested they were possible.

The full Senate is expected to consider the bill in the tight, eight-legislative-day window in September when lawmakers return from the August recess.