FBI whistleblower Frederic Whitehurst spent close to a decade fighting the Clinton White House to win limited protections for his brethren in the intelligence community willing to risk their careers to expose wrongdoing.
Now critics say the Obama administration is seeking to strip away those protections, and Mr. Whitehurst predicts the effort will set national intelligence employees back decades in their efforts to expose fraud and corruption.
“It’s very dangerous thing that [President Obama] has done. That he would allow that as touting himself as a president of the people is astonishing,” Mr. Whitehurst said.
Working with the administration, Congress is considering a new whistleblower-protection bill, and the protections afforded to national security and intelligence agency employees have emerged as a key sticking point.
Jane Turner, a decorated FBI agent who exposed property theft by federal investigators at the ground-zero site in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, said limiting the whistleblower protections will keep agents from exposing corruption.
“It is a huge issue; it should be a huge issue,” Ms. Turner said. “If you want the FBI to operate in the dark, this is one way to guarantee it. … You will go back to those days where they will fire whistleblowers and they don’t even have to show cause.”
The White House sought changes in a Senate bill to strip existing rights for FBI whistleblowers despite Mr. Obama’s campaign promises to increase such protections, according to administration e-mails first reported in The Washington Times.
A White House spokesman did not return multiple requests for comment, but Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt previously described the legislative language submitted to the senators as a “discussion draft” that compiled the ideas of lawmakers and whistleblower-advocacy groups.
The amended Senate bill provides new protections for other federal whistleblowers, but FBI employees who have fought their firings and demotions would lose the right to have their cases heard by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
Mr. Whitehurst, who worked as an explosives expert and chemist for the FBI on high-profile cases such as the Oklahoma City bombing, was demoted after he alerted supervisors about lapses by another top agent.
He said the changes backed by the White House would silence all future whistleblowers from the FBI.
“Nobody is going to say anything,” he said.
It was Mr. Whitehurst’s fight with the Clinton administration to implement a law passed in 1989 that ultimately established the standards now in place setting up new protections for FBI workers.
“Since Whitehurst broke through, there have been whistleblowers in the FBI continuously, and you don’t see that in the other agencies because they don’t have any law,” said Stephen M. Kohn, president of the National Whistleblowers Center, which has represented Mr. Whitehurst, Ms. Turner and other FBI agents. “That’s why this is so troubling.”
FBI workers who claim retaliation for exposing fraud and corruption go through a process distinct from other intelligence national security workers and other federal employees.
Ms. Turner said that the promise of protection from retaliation is what has emboldened agents like herself to come forward.
Under the bill that passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on a unanimous voice vote last month, whistleblowers with pending cases before a Justice Department review board, including Ms. Turner and other agents, would retroactively have their cases dismissed, Mr. Kohn said.