- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2013

An advocate for government whistleblowers blamed the Obama administration Tuesday for failing to provide protections for intelligence employees who want to report abuses and wrongdoing, as authorities intensified their global manhunt for National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

For the second consecutive day, White House spokesman Jay Carney sought to deflect blame from the administration for Mr. Snowden’s unprecedented and unauthorized disclosure of secret surveillance programs by the NSA. He said Mr. Obama had strengthened protections for government workers who come forward through proper channels to air concerns.


SEE ALSO: Boehner describes NSA leaker as ‘traitor’


But Stephen Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblower Center in Washington, said the administration “is to blame in large part for the situation we now see.”

He said Mr. Obama retreated from a 2008 campaign promise to extend whistleblower protections to national security workers.


During negotiations on whistleblower legislation in 2009, Mr. Kohn said, he met at the White House with Norman Eisen, a law school classmate of Mr. Obama who was then the administration’s special counsel for ethics and government reform.

“I confronted Norm … that there had been a promise to protect national security whistleblowers and let them have access to court,” Mr. Kohn said. “He told me to my face that the administration was not going to honor that promise, and I was free to tell the world that they broke it. That’s what he said. The White House completely reversed their position. So the Enhancement Act that he is now praising does not cover NSA, CIA among others — it completely stripped out all protections for national security whistleblowers.”


SEE ALSO: PRUDEN: Would the government lie to you?


Mr. Carney blamed the law’s shortcomings on Congress. Mr. Kohn agreed that influential House Republicans at the time also opposed extending protections to national security employees.

Mr. Snowden, 29, who was last seen in Hong Kong, was officially fired Tuesday from his $122,000-per-year job by defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton for “violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy.”

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, publicly branded Mr. Snowden a “traitor,” and a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted that Moscow would consider granting him asylum.

Mr. Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, came forward for the first time to say that she has been “lost at sea without a compass” since her boyfriend’s disappearance. She described herself as a “pole-dancing superhero.”

At the White House, Mr. Carney enumerated the steps that Mr. Obama has taken to encourage government workers to report abusive policies and wrongdoing. As an example, he pointed to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which Mr. Obama signed into law Nov. 27. It provides for expanded judicial review and enhanced penalties when whistleblowers experience retaliation.

“The Obama administration has demonstrated a strong commitment to protecting whistleblowers,” Mr. Carney said. “There are established procedures that whistleblowers can employ that also protect, or rather, ensure protection of national security interests.”

Because the law wouldn’t cover national-security agencies, Mr. Carney said, the president in October 2012 signed a directive to extend “whistleblower protections to the intelligence and national security communities for the first time.”

“The directive prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers who report information through the appropriate channels and established procedures,” Mr. Carney said. “The president’s commitment on this issue far exceeds that of past administrations, which have resisted expanding protections for whistleblowers, and in doing so, have steered away from transparency.”

But Mr. Kohn said the executive order is “window dressing, or worse,” because it doesn’t provide for judicial review and the agency head retains authority over the whistleblower at all times.

Story Continues →