Here's a Tip For You

This week's cover story in the paper edition of Unfair Park -- on newsstands beginning tomorrow -- deals in part with a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent who was demoted, passed over for promotions and eventually forced into retirement because he blew the whistle on two different cases of alleged wrongdoing. This sort of retaliation against whistleblowers who work in national security or law enforcement happens all the time, says Bill Weaver, the senior advisor to the National Security Whistleblowers Association. Weaver's group consists of about 100 former national security personnel who have blown the whistle on various forms of wrongdoing they either witnessed or became aware of during their time of service.

"For these people, there's no protection under the Whistle Blower Protection Act," says Weaver, who is also a law professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. "They may be retaliated against with impunity, and there's nothing that will be done with them.

"So with the most important agencies, the ones where the stakes are highest for society and for our government, are the exact cases where people don't have any protection."

For this reason, when national security agents call Weaver and ask him if they should expose wrongdoing, he often says no. "Most of these people end up getting fired, and they lose all their friends at work. They become a pariah, and their friends are retaliated against. It's a complete destruction of their lives, so I can't in good conscience tell people to do it. No, I generally say, 'Don't do it. Keep your head down.' But most of the time they do it anyway."

Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers, is perhaps the most famous member of the National Security Whistleblowers Association. All members are either former law enforcement or national security personnel. Typically, national security agents who speak out against their supervisors or colleagues are retaliated against by losing access to information, Weaver says.

"When you're a national security employee you live or die by access, by your clearance," he tells Unfair Park. "And your clearance is an arcane kind of process, that is neither scientific nor purely artistic about determining whether or not someone has the requisite features necessary to allow them access to national security information. And it's controlled, the access and clearances are controlled by a really small group of security officers at these agencies, and it's a rather clubby group. So if you decide to embarrass the organization, they can find anything to revoke your clearance. Once your clearance is revoked, that's it, you're out of business. You lose your job automatically, you're terminated. Not only that you've lost your career. Without clearance, which is handled centrally, generally by the U.S. government, you can't get any other job in the U.S. government. So they have you really, just completely at their mercy."

For this reason, Weaver's group is now involved in a project called Wiki-leaks. As Weaver describes it, it would be a site similar to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, but it would function as a place where national security types could post information anonymously, without fear of retaliation.

What's most disturbing to Weaver is the way the government, especially the current administration, has used the label of national security to cover up wrongdoing and retaliate against whistleblowers.

"It goes hand in hand with a lot of things that are occurring in government, which is the expansion of national security, the notion of national security. Sidney Souers, the first director of central intelligence, called national security a mood. Well, right now we're in the mood.

"The real question is, does the government have a right to use national security to cover up criminal activity to prevent the disclosure of information that would show the government was engaging in serious crimes? And the answer seems to be yes. And so it can have a tremendous impact and undermining effect on democracy." --Jesse Hyde

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams

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