National Security Conference
Reported in U.S. News & World Report
"One of the biggest names of the conference never even uttered a word. Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer is the military intelligence operative who recently went public with a controversial claim that a year before September 11, his top-secret task force "Able Danger" was able to identify the man who later turned out to be the lead hijacker as being connected to al Qaeda. He is gagged from talking to Congress."
-- U.S. News & World Report, 10/11/05
As a government whistleblower, I was most interested to hear that courageous fellow whistleblower Sibel Edmonds organized a recent national conference for whistleblowers. As the revealing article below states, "current and former officials at the conference said that today's climate in Washington has never been worse for whistleblowers." Let us do all we can to support these courageous individuals who have risked their jobs, careers, and reputations to stand up against special interests in government and to support what's best for all in our nation and world. For my own whistleblowing action which drew international media attention, see https://www.WantToKnow.info/050226fredburkswsj
National Security Watch: Disquieted whistleblowers
By Kevin Whitelaw
CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. – The first annual National Security Whistleblowers Conference, held on this tiny resort island, has to be one of the more unusual gatherings of intelligence veterans in recent years. The nearly 20 current or former officials from the FBI, CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and even the supersecret National Security Agency who make up the core of the conference share an unusual distinction: They are all deeply out of favor with their longtime employers.
After speaking up, either internally or publicly, about alleged wrongdoings, many have been pushed out, typically under a cloud of usually unrelated but classified personal allegations. Many are still fighting to preserve their careers or at least their reputations. Most cannot discuss the allegations they are making in detail because the specifics are highly classified. Some even have trouble outlining the alleged violations that ended their own careers. The agencies they work for also refuse to answer questions about the specific cases.
So this disparate lot of intelligence and law enforcement veterans came together this week to see what they might all have in common. The tone was deeply pessimistic. In the wake of 9/11, many in Washington had voiced strong support for whistleblowers like Colleen Rowley, the FBI analyst who wrote a memo laying out a series of failures in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, who had been arrested while attending flight school a month before the al Qaeda attacks. But the current and former officials at the conference said that today's climate in Washington has never been worse for whistleblowers. Citing what many referred to as the Bush administration's penchant for secrecy amid their war on terrorism, several panelists bemoaned the difficulty of government officials raising allegations of government abuse, fraud, or incompetence without suffering retribution in their careers.
One of the biggest names of the conference never even uttered a word. Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer is the military intelligence operative who recently went public with a controversial claim that a year before September 11, his top-secret task force "Able Danger" was able to identify the man who later turned out to be the lead hijacker as being connected to al Qaeda. Shaffer is a veteran of top-secret operations against terrorists, including some in Afghanistan, and several of his DIA colleagues have come out publicly to confirm that they remember Mohamed Atta being identified in 2000 as part of a project that combed through public databases looking for hidden links. But these allegations have been vigorously denied by the Pentagon and the White House, while several members of Congress are investigating. Shaffer was slated to speak but instead sat quietly by as his lawyer, Mark Zaid, spoke for him.
"Tony is not allowed to talk," Zaid said. "He is effectively gagged from talking. He is gagged from talking to Congress."
Indeed, while Shaffer's case is being championed by Republican Rep. Curt Weldon, the Pentagon has prohibited him from speaking further to members of Congress without prior approval. He has already watched the Pentagon revoke his security clearance. Zaid says that the Pentagon cited a series of old, unsubstantiated claims that had been addressed during his routine security screenings earlier in his career. "When he was 15, he took some pens from the U.S. Embassy where he was doing an internship," Zaid said. "This is one of the reasons" Shaffer was given for the revocation. Officials also brought up several newer allegations, including two small claims of unauthorized expenses, as well as an allegation that he accepted an award to which he was not entitled. Zaid says that Shaffer disputes all the allegations and can offer evidence in his defense.
Still, several lawyers agreed that there is not much room for appeal when a security clearance is revoked. Now, Zaid says, Shaffer– who is still employed by the DIA –is worried about getting fired from his job.
"We're trying to figure out what we can do," Zaid said, "which is not much." But he added that he will most likely appeal the clearance revocation. Zaid is also looking into filing a class action suit related to the revocations of security clearances in whistleblower cases. "It's the mentality of how the executive branch works," he said. "You can show a pattern."
It's something that several other panelists had in common. Russ Tice worked as an analyst at the NSA, which houses the nation's international eavesdropping capabilities. He worked on some of the nation's most secret intelligence-collection projects. But while he was on temporary assignment at the DIA, he said, he became concerned that an analyst there might be spying for the Chinese government.
"She exhibited the classic signs," he said, including unauthorized foreign trips, apparently living well beyond her means, and voicing unusually strong negative opinions about Taiwan. But after raising concerns to counterintelligence officials over several years, he suddenly found his own career in trouble after an unusual emergency psychiatric evaluation concluded he was a psychotic paranoid. "How could something like this happen? I implicated a lady whose mother was well-connected," he said. He was sent to work at the NSA motor pool and eventually lost his security clearances.
Another panelist, John Cole, was an 18-year veteran of the FBI before he raised allegations that several bureau translators might be engaged in espionage, including at least one who worked on South Asian issues.
"Nobody wanted to hear what I had to say," he recalled. "I hand carried a letter to [FBI Director Robert] Mueller's office." He was reassigned several times, and after raising the cases with several senators, he was eventually pushed out of the FBI under a cloud. As with Shaffer and several other panelists, the FBI revoked Cole's security clearance after a few security allegations. Cole now works counterintelligence and counterterrorism issues for the U.S. Air Force, even though he says the FBI still treats him with disdain.
"I never thought I would be a whistleblower," he said. "There has to be some way to get people to listen and make a change, because otherwise there will be another 9/11."
The conference was organized by Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator who was pushed out of the bureau after raising accusations of wrongdoing by other FBI translators. She has been barred from discussing the details of her case by the FBI, which denies her allegations and says the entire issue is classified. She created the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition www.nswbc.org to bring whistleblowers like her together to push for legal reforms and bring together other advocacy groups.
"9/11 changed a lot," she said. "It was a big catalyst for national security whistleblowers coming forward. These people go through the chain of command and Congress and usually the media as a last resort."
But government whistleblowers, especially those in the national security area, do not enjoy nearly as much legal protection as their corporate counterparts. Many complain of significant retaliation. Her group now boasts at least 60 members, all of whom are current and former intelligence and law enforcement officials. Several remain undercover and cannot be identified publicly.
Note: For a detailed article in Vanity Fair on Sibel Edmonds' courageous efforts to expose the truth:
For an excellent
news summary of Able Danger—the Pentagon program which linked the lead 9/11
hijacker to Al Qaeda over a year before 9/11:
See the exceptional collection of resources in our Inspiration Center
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Whistleblowers National Security Conference