Email warned would-be FBI surveillance program whistleblower of retaliation

An email warned an FBI agent, a would-be FBI surveillance program whistleblower, that reporting abuse of authority could bring down the retaliation hammer, even though that's illegal. A Senate committee heard testimony today about the FBI's ongoing war on whistleblowers.

Credit: FBI

When an FBI agent wanted to blow the whistle about a “secret terrorism and counterintelligence surveillance program,” the FBI flat-out warned him that the retaliation hammer could come down on him. “This whistleblower works in one of the FBI’s ‘G-teams,’ which investigate counterterrorism cases, a topic on which the FBI is notoriously resistant to whistleblower complaints,” reported the Washington Times.

An email to the would-be FBI “G-team” whistleblower was obtained and validated by the Washington Times. It stated:

“The main question would turn on the reasonableness of your belief; that is, would a reasonable person, in your situation, believe that the conduct at issue demonstrated mismanagement or abuse of authority?” the FBI attorney, within the Office of Integrity and Compliance, wrote in an email responding to the whistleblower’s inquiry. “In my opinion, yes.”

Then came the kicker: “I’m sure you know, though, this does not guarantee that you will not be retaliated against, even though retaliation/reprisal for making protected disclosures is illegal,” the attorney concluded in the August email to the whistleblower. 

In the past, the DOJ dismissed 44 of 62 FBI whistleblower complaints for allegedly failing to meet regulatory requirements, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) whistleblower protection report (pdf). 17 were kicked aside due to faulty chain of command issues, because the would-be whistleblower made the complaint to someone “not authorized” for the disclosure; the report added that a mere nine FBI officials are “formally designated” to receive whistleblower complaints. It also took the DOJ two to 10.6 years to resolve four complaints.

FireDogLake’s Kevin Gosztola previously reported, “An FBI legislative affairs official in 2014 suggested to Senator Chuck Grassley—when he raised concerns about the Insider Threat Program intercepting whistleblower communications—that whistleblowers should register with the Program in order to be protected. This just shows how the FBI is not open to accountability whether it comes from whistleblowing or oversight by an IG.”

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony about the FBI's whistleblower retaliations and protections; this follows a report about elite surveillance teams being frustrated by internal politics and nepotism. I listened to it as I wrote this; shaking my head at testimony that blamed the DOJ for mishandling whistleblower cases instead of the FBI. The same FBI with whistleblower retaliation that results in changing an agent's performance reviews from outstanding to underwhelming if he or she dares to blow the whistle....or worse, firing them.

Senator Chuck Grassley testified (pdf) that the FBI has a “pattern of stonewalling the Inspector General” and of failing to comply “with its legal obligation to provide timely access to all records requested.” He cited an example of it taking four months for the FBI to finally “cough up the documents.”

Grassley also pointed out that the recent GAO whistleblower protection report (pdf) found that “it took the Department more than 10 years to finally uphold Jane Turner’s retaliation claim, after she was fired for reporting that FBI agents took ‘souvenirs’ from Ground Zero after 9/11.”

He added:

Two of our witnesses today tried to disclose waste or wrongdoing only to be told that their whistleblowing was not protected under FBI rules. Mr. Kiper went to the Assistant Director of the Training Division. That was the most senior person in his office at Quantico and ranked higher at the FBI than a Special Agent in Charge. But that official is not listed in the FBI whistleblower regulations. Similarly, Special Agent Mike German tried to blow the whistle to the Special Agent in Charge as required under the rules. But, the FBI said it didn’t count because the initial contact went through the Assistant Special Agent in Charge. So, the FBI’s so-called whistleblower protections did not protect these whistleblowers simply because of a technicality.

The feds made a formidable foe in Mike German as he the former FBI special agent became the ACLU’s Senior Policy Counsel; years before Snowden blew the whistle, German was outspoken about the feds routinely spying on citizens. As part of its Spy Files, the ACLU keeps track of the FBI’s “overzealous and unaccountable national security surveillance.”

If FBI whistleblowers don’t seem to be tech-related, then pause for a second and consider the FBI has repeatedly claimed that it’s “going dark” and is vehemently opposed to encryption. The agency formed a secret surveillance unit, the Domestic Communications Assistance Center, which works on “developing new electronic surveillance technologies, including intercepting Internet, wireless, and VoIP communications.” And the agency conducts oversight on the NSA’s PRISM email surveillance program. There have also been numerous National Security Letter and Patriot Act abuses by the agency, whose Next Generation Identification (NGI) database “may include as many as 52 million face images” this year.

Then consider that the EFF previously reported the FBI may have committed more than 40,000 intelligence violations from 2001 – 2008. That doesn't even probe the allegations that the FBI develops its own domestic terrorist plots and then takes credit for dismantling them in order to keep big government funding coming its way. So if an FBI agent who works on a team which investigates counterterrorism cases is so upset about something the agency is doing that he wants to blow the whistle, it’s sort of a big deal. Any unconstitutional FBI actions could potentially affect all Americans.

The march toward exascale computers
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