Secrecy News

A New Intelligence Award for “Reporting Wrongdoing”

Organizations give out awards not only in order to recognize individual excellence, but also to advance and reinforce values prized by their sponsors.

So it is both telling and somewhat unexpected that the U.S. intelligence community is creating a new award for certain kinds of dissidents and whistleblowers.

“The intelligence community has […] committed to establishing a National Intelligence Professional Awards program to recognize superior service by an intelligence professional in effectuating change by speaking truth to power, by exemplifying professional integrity, or by reporting wrongdoing through appropriate channels,” according to a new Self-Assessment Report on the Third Open Government National Action Plan that was released by the White House last week.

Professional integrity may be welcome everywhere, but “speaking truth to power” is rarely welcomed by “power.” Often it is not even acknowledged as “truth.” (Apparently, the IC envisions itself here as the domain of truth, and not of power. Or will those who challenge the IC leadership itself be eligible for the new award?) Meanwhile, “reporting wrongdoing” often seems to end badly for the reporter, as the frequency of whistleblower reprisal claims indicates.

Just last week, the DoD Inspector General released a redacted report on a whistleblower reprisal case at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade. According to a summary, “We substantiated the allegation that [name deleted] downgraded Complainant’s FY14 performance appraisal in reprisal for Complainant’s disclosures….”

But perhaps that is the point. Whether or not the IC intends to celebrate its own internal critics, it seems to want to encourage and now incentivize them, providing improved channels for dissent and whistleblowing that will not inevitably be career-enders or needlessly disruptive in other ways.

“ODNI has developed a new training curriculum concerning protections for whistleblowers with access to classified information. ODNI will coordinate the training curriculum with the relevant government departments and agencies. ODNI has met with civil society members to gather input,” the White House report said.

More than a dozen official intelligence awards already exist, as described in Intelligence Community Directive 655, National Intelligence Awards Program, amended February 9, 2012. But none of those existing awards explicitly encompasses “speaking truth to power” or “reporting wrongdoing.”

The House Intelligence Committee receives dozens of whistleblower complaints each year, The Intercept reported last week. The consequences of those complaints, if any, were not disclosed.

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The new White House report on the Third Open Government National Action Plan identified a series of intelligence-related transparency measures that will be taken to “make information regarding foreign intelligence activities more publicly available while continuing to protect such information when disclosure could harm national security.”

So, for example, “ODNI is building out content for the Intelligence.gov website and will launch the site by January 2017.”

More generally, “ODNI has coordinated and participated in ongoing engagement with civil society stakeholders including open government organizations, privacy and civil liberties advocates, community organizations, and academia. Representatives from the intelligence community also regularly participate in public events. ODNI continues to develop avenues to make such engagements a more institutionalized part of the intelligence community’s work.”

The White House report and a companion report on New Open Government Initiatives identified various other incremental steps that are planned or already in progress.

In order to “increase [the] transparency and quality of [U.S.] foreign aid data,” the ForeignAssistance.gov website has recently been established. It is already quite informative, and it is expected to grow in depth and coverage, with several additional agencies contributing new data fields.

Among other initiatives, the U.S. has also been releasing new data related to climate change, and on the Arctic.

“More than 250 high-value, Arctic-related datasets are now easily and openly available. In addition, more than 40 maps, tools, and other resources designed to support climate-resilience efforts in Alaska and the Arctic are also available.”

Publishing such information should be comparatively easy, since doing so does not directly threaten any institutional interests. But it doesn’t happen by itself, and so credit is due to the agencies involved for making it happen.