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.

Insider Threat Program Inches Forward

The Department of Defense “is moving forward with the development of its insider threat and personnel security reform efforts,” wrote Michael G. Vickers, then-Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence) in an April 2015 report to Congress that was released last month under the Freedom of Information Act. “The Department recognizes the magnitude and complexity of these challenges, the need for multi-agency solutions, and is marshalling needed resources,” he wrote.

An insider threat is defined as someone who uses his or her authorized access to damage the national security of the United States, whether through espionage, terrorism, unauthorized disclosures of classified information, or other harmful actions.

The Department of Defense “is directing multiple pilots and concept demonstrations using both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ capabilities to conduct CE [continuous evaluation] on approximately 100,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel” in an effort to identify potential insider threats, the April 2015 DoD report to Congress said.

The overall, government-wide insider threat program is advancing rather slowly, judging by the program’s latest Quarterly Report (for the 4th quarter of FY 2015) that was just published. Several anticipated program milestones have been missed or deferred, the Report indicates.

The most effective way to limit the insider threat may be to reduce the number of “insiders.” If so, substantial progress has been made in that direction, with the elimination of 800,000 security clearances at the Department of Defense between FY2013 and the 3rd quarter of FY 2015, according to the Report. (The very latest security clearance totals have not yet been published.)

The 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill passed by Congress last month included a provision requiring expanded reinvestigations of security clearance holders, Federal News Radio reported last week (“Agencies directed to use social media in security clearance reviews” by Nicole Ogrysko, December 28).

“The enhanced personnel security program of an agency shall integrate relevant and appropriate information from various sources, including government, publicly available and commercial data sources, consumer reporting agencies, social media and such other sources as determined by the Director of National Intelligence,” the legislation instructed.

Numerous advocacy and whistleblower defense organizations this week wrote to the Intelligence Community Inspector General urging him to investigate whether the insider threat program “has been improperly used to target or identify whistleblowers. Additionally, we ask that you lead the initiative to properly distinguish between whistleblowing and insider threats.”

Letter: Israel Should Allow Vanunu to Emigrate

Mordechai Vanunu, who revealed aspects of Israel’s nuclear weapons program to the press three decades ago and served a lengthy prison term as a result, is again entangled with Israeli legal authorities over the contents of a recent TV interview. See “Nuclear Whistle-blower Vanunu Arrested Over Channel 2 Interview,” Haaretz, September 10.

Vanunu should be allowed to emigrate from Israel, as he has requested, wrote Charles D. Ferguson, president of the Federation of American Scientists, and Frank von Hippel of Princeton University.

“We realize that Vanunu’s past actions are susceptible to different interpretations, including negative interpretations, and that he in fact violated the laws of the State of Israel. But the essential fact is that upon conviction he served his full sentence in prison, as he was required to do. Under the circumstances, we believe it is unjust for Israel to continue to punish him over and over for the same crime,” Ferguson and von Hippel wrote in an October 12 letter to the Government of Israel.

Govt Employees Turn to OSC in Record Numbers

Federal employees turned to the Office of Special Counsel in record numbers last year to file complaints of whistleblower retaliation, prohibited personnel practices, and other violations of law and policy.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent federal agency whose “primary mission is to safeguard the merit system by protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially reprisal for whistleblowing.” It has been led by Special Counsel Carolyn N. Lerner since 2011.

“Fiscal year (FY) 2014 was a record-breaking year for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC),” according to the FY 2014 OSC annual report that was transmitted to Congress last month.

“For the first time, OSC received over 5,000 cases, a 17 percent increase from the previous fiscal year. The number of prohibited personnel practice (PPP) complaints was also at an all-time high, 3,371, nearly a thousand more than just four years prior. We also received significantly more whistleblower disclosures in FY 2014 than in past years.”

OSC said it has effectively intervened in a growing number of cases, which tends to inspire even more complaints to be filed, perhaps to the point of unsustainability.

“The number of favorable outcomes for whistleblowers and other employees across the government continues to break all-time records,” the report said. “OSC secured 177 favorable outcomes in 2014 helping to restore the careers of courageous public servants who blew the whistle on fraud, waste and abuse, or encountered another form of prohibited conduct in the government. This total represents an increase of 185 percent over six years ago.”

“These victories for whistleblowers, the taxpayers, and the merit system showcase OSC’s effectiveness and increase awareness of the agency in the federal community. As a result, the number of employees seeking OSC’s assistance continues to grow, posing daunting challenges to the agency.”

“We anticipate receiving over 6,000 new cases in FY 2015, more than a 60 percent increase over the ten-year averaged annual case load level. OSC already faces the largest case backlog in agency history,” the OSC annual report said.