- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2000

President Clinton's recent pledge to airline pilots and mechanics, that they will be protected if they go to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as whistleblowers on safety problems, should be carefully examined by those workers before they put their jobs and reputations on the line. If past is prelude, Mr. Clinton's promise is worthless.

"When it comes to safety, everyone has a responsibility," Mr. Clinton told a White House audience on Jan. 14. "We want everyone on the team."

Mr. Clinton announced that the Aviation Safety Action Program would create a public-private partnership that would accept from industry workers reports of safety-related problems and concerns before these actually worsened. Those reporting the problems, he pledged, will be protected from possible reprisal. "They will be freed," he said, "from the fear of being disciplined for admitting that something went wrong."

Clearly airline safety is a special responsibility, and one that is in everyone's interest to promote. However, Mr. Clinton's word is not worth much.

Those with troublesome memories will recall that on May 23, 1993, USA Today published an interview with Vice President Al Gore in which he offered his "personal guarantee," and that of the president's, that those federal employees who challenged areas of inefficiency and ineffectiveness in government operations would be protected.

"In fact, the primary focus is on changing the culture at federal offices … Gore said that the [reinventing government effort] will produce a reduction of fear," USA Today reported. "Gore emphasizes that federal workers who report waste or abuse will not be punished. 'I give my personal guarantee and President Clinton's personal guarantee that an employee of the federal government who assists us will not suffer retribution,'" the vice president said.

I, and more than half a dozen other whistleblowers at the Department of Justice (DOJ), have come to find that this personal guarantee was worthless. Each of us well-educated, mostly politically-connected people have found that "committing the truth" under this administration is tantamount to professional suicide. Take, for example, that of a Yale-trained lawyer, herself a staunch friend of the administration during the transition from the Bush years, who was forced to admit herself "voluntarily" to a psychiatric ward as a result of her whistleblowing. No kidding.

In my case, I had been director of Latin American and Caribbean programs for the Democratic Party's International Institute. I served, with top secret clearance, as a senior advisor on defense and foreign policy to then-Senate Majority Whip Alan Cranston. In 1992, I served as an unpaid volunteer on the issues research and rapid-response staffs of the Clinton-Gore campaign.

I came to the criminal division of the Justice Department in 1995 with a high sense of purpose. Like my fellow DOJ whistleblowers, however, I quickly found that keeping faith with the agency's mission meant falling from favor with the department's top management.

The issues I brought to light were not trifling. They included a massive pattern of mishandling classified information, including the leaking of highly-sensitive CIA documents to uncleared contractors, at the department's international assistance programs, which were supervised by then-Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Richard. Mr. Richard has since been demoted, but at the time he was the department's liaison to the intelligence community. Also, high-priced and unbid-contracts were given to friends of Attorney General Janet Reno plum assignments for which federal workers were tasked with doing part of the work, which is a violation of federal law. Senior criminal division official Robert K. Bratt, whom Miss Reno personally presented to Congress as she sent the putative "Mr. Fix-it" to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in May 1997, subsequently was stripped of his functions and his security clearance suspended as a result of a now nearly-three-year long investigation by the department's Inspector General.

The issues also included a generalized pattern of sexual favoritism and harassment, with senior criminal division staff larding the payroll with boyfriends and would-be girlfriends and romantic liaisons overseas with suspected Russian secret agents.

My supervisors had awarded me with "outstanding" performance appraisals but after seeing secret classified documents for 18 months and having my supervisors sign country clearance cables to U.S. embassies that I did in fact possess a security clearance my clearance was suspiciously, and irregularly, "lost" after I made my supposedly protected disclosures. Notwithstanding, as I was shunted away to a do-nothing job during the period I was supposedly under review for rehire, I was placed in a criminal division office that used to store "burn boxes" that's right, boxes containing information so sensitive it needed to be destroyed.

When I finally lost my job I fought back, only to find that Frank Hunger, the assistant attorney general for the civil division and Al Gore's brother-in-law, was quarterbacking DOJ's case against me.

The safety of airline passengers, like the administration of justice, is a sacred trust. My own experience, and that of other DOJ whistleblowers, however, suggests that Mr. Clinton's promises may be more bent on flushing out potential whistleblowers than protecting them.

Martin Edwin Andersen is a former senior advisor for policy planning of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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