The case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers
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The Follow the Rules Act, which passed in the House of Representatives this month, would expand the protections against retaliation that are currently given to whistleblowers who refuse to violate federal laws. Under this bill, those protections would extend to employees who refuse to violate federal rules and regulations.

But, conspicuously absent from the bill is the expansion of whistleblower protections for those who serve our country in agencies that have national security and or intelligence functions, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and National Security Agency (NSA), just to name a few.

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It is critical that full, concrete whistleblower protections be given to those agencies not included in the Follow the Rules Act because injustice, crime, gross mismanagement and impropriety can occur in any agency within our federal government. Whistleblower protections must not and cannot be a tiered system. Without the bill’s whistleblower protections for all agencies, our national security and the welfare of the American people could be placed in jeopardy.

 

This is something with which I am all too well familiar. During 2008 and 2009, while serving as a unit chief in the FBI’s records management division, I made numerous disclosures of violations of federal law, rules, and regulations. My disclosures focused upon my concerns with irregularities and departures from protocol in the way that name (or background) check cases were being conducted, closed, and disseminated. These cases were being closed for the sake of expediency. Name checks were being concluded prematurely in order to meet a 40-day name check deadline, known as the “steady state” timetable.

As a result of this practice, the records management division was providing name check reports to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) without following through on identified FBI name check investigative case leads. Case leads included, but were not limited to, espionage, counterespionage, and criminal activity, which could result in a terrorist, foreign agent, or a known criminal being potentially cleared for federal employment. This name check practice clearly sacrificed quality for quantity and jeopardized our national security as well as presented a substantial and specific danger to the public. Incidentally, the FBI’s records management division was being monetarily compensated by OPM for each name check report presented to OPM.

I reported these national security concerns on numerous occasions during my tenure in the FBI to my superiors, including to a fellow unit chief, two assistant section chiefs, and the section chief. But instead of taking corrective action, I was subjected to retaliation, which led to my resignation and subsequent retaliation weeks later in the form of a constructive discharge.

After my FBI service, I met personally with representatives of the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and communicated this national security issue to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Moreover, I have either met with or have been in communication with representatives of Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyTrump Jr., Manafort still haven't agreed to testify before Senate panel Feinstein: Trump Jr. will be subpoenaed if he refuses to testify The next battle in the fight against human trafficking MORE (R-Iowa), Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinFeinstein: Trump Jr. will be subpoenaed if he refuses to testify The next battle in the fight against human trafficking Trump's FBI nominee passes committee, heads to full Senate MORE (D-Calif.), Sen. Bob CaseyBob CaseyDem leaders amp up calls for bipartisan ObamaCare fixes Let’s not roll back bipartisan progress on global food security Vulnerable senators raise big money ahead of 2018 MORE (D-Penn.), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), Sen. John McCainJohn McCainSen. Flake's GOP challenger: McCain should resign The Hill's 12:30 Report Armed Services leaders appoint strategy panel members MORE (R-Ariz.), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and other legislators.

If in 2009 the FBI had halted, corrected, disclosed to the public and held those responsible to account for this national security name check debacle, the inaccurate background checks and vetting of Edward Snowden, Aaron Alexis, as well as the 665,000 flawed background checks conducted by security firm USIS might never have occurred.

The expansion of whistleblower protections must be immediately given to those who proudly serve our country in federal agencies which have national security and or intelligence functions. If a federal government employee has taken an oath to protect and defend the Constitution and the American people, why would we not respect and value their voices when they uncover wrongdoing? Federal government-wide whistleblower protections will not only ensure the protection of all whistleblowers, but will prevent similar national security debacles from manifesting in future. No one should ever suffer the loss of their career as I did for being impelled to do the right thing.

As a United States naval officer, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, as well as to protect my fellow citizens. I kept my oath. As an FBI employee, I took a similar oath. I am keeping that one as well.

Michael F. McMahon served as a unit chief in the records management division at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He also served as an officer in the U.S. Navy.


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