Whistleblowers in the Intelligence Community:
Basic Information You Should Know
Anthony J. Cipparone
Whistleblower is a term used to identify those public service employees and contractor employees who lawfully report fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement to those in a position to investigate and review such activity. Whistleblowers in the US Intelligence Community (IC) are those employees and contractor-employees who work in any of the 17 federal executive agencies that constitute the IC. Intelligence Community Whistleblowers play an important role in ensuring that intelligence programs and operations are accountable and conducted in accordance with federal law and regulations.
For important national security purposes, the most sensitive Intelligence Community programs and operations are often conducted in secret and, as a result, without the public oversight that occurs in most non-IC federal departments and agencies. The role of the Whistleblower may, therefore, be critically important to ensuring the integrity of important national security activities. The Whistleblower, however, like all federal employees and contractors in the IC, has a legal obligation to safeguard and protect classified information from unauthorized disclosure. That means the IC Whistleblower must ensure that s/he follow the proper security process and procedures within their respective agency when reporting any suspect activity.
Following are seven points that would-be Whistleblowers working in the Intelligence Community need to know:
1. Can a Whistleblower’s identity be protected?
Yes. Those charged with the investigation and review of Whistleblower complaints take great steps to ensure the confidentiality of a Whistleblower’s identity in accordance with the law and established regulations. However, there are rare instances when corroboration of the alleged complaint may only be achieved through the Whistleblower. Whistleblowers who are concerned about protecting their identity should make this known when they file their complaint.
2. To whom may the Whistleblower report their allegation of corruption?
Whistleblowers may report complaints of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement to their agencies’ Inspector General, the Intelligence Community Inspector General, their agencies’ General Counsel, as well as their government management.
If confidentiality is important, however, would-be Whistleblowers should realize that certain components are better equipped to maintain their confidentiality. Offices of Inspector General can provide the most protections of confidentiality under the law. Government managers, however, may find it more difficult to do so particularly if the agency decides to take action(s) based upon the complaint.
3. What happens to the Whistleblower’s complaint after it has been reported?
The complaint, which is an allegation of wrongdoing, must now be thoroughly investigated and reviewed by authorized officials to determine whether it has any basis in fact. This process may be lengthy depending upon the nature and scope of the allegation. Offices of Inspector General usually have a staff of professionally trained investigators who handle these matters.
4. Can you be fired or face reprisal for being a Whistleblower?
No. Whistleblowers are protected from reprisal by federal regulations through a Presidential Policy Directive known as PPD-19, as well as an Intelligence Community Directive, ICD 120. Whistleblower protections for military personnel are separately outlined in a Department of Defense Directive, DoDD 2050.06.
5. What should you do if you believe you were fired or reprised against for being a Whistleblower?
An employee or contractor who believes they were fired or reprised against because they reported a Whistleblower complaint should immediately contact the entity where they initially reported their allegation to report their concern.
6. Does the IC Whistleblower have any obligations when reporting allegations of wrongdoing?
Like all employees and contractors of the IC, the Whistleblower is obligated under federal law and regulations to protect classified information from unauthorized disclosure. The Whistleblower should follow his or her specific agency’s process and procedures for reporting allegations of corruption. An Agency’s Office of Inspector General is often a good source of information and guidance in these matters.
7. Should a Whistleblower hire an attorney to represent him or her?
It is not necessary for a Whistleblower complainant to hire an attorney when reporting their allegation. Anyone considering hiring an attorney, however, must follow their agency guidance since the attorney must be cleared before classified information may be shared and/or discussed.
Whistleblowers have played an important role in the conduct of oversight and accountability in the federal government and the Intelligence Community. Blowing the whistle, in a lawful manner, may result in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of important government operations.
The Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) public website contains a wealth of information about Whistleblowers, and their role and responsibilities.
Anthony Cipparone is a retired CIA Senior Intelligence Service Officer. He served as the Deputy and Acting Assistant Inspector General for Investigations
Council on Intelligence Issues Note: Readers should be aware that the Council, or CII, provides information about legal services and attorneys in the CII legal network to assist IC officers, including whistleblowers, who may be interested in seeking legal counsel. For information, refer to Legal Resources and Contact Us on this website.
Open Letter To the American People About the Importance of Protecting IC Whistleblower
An Open Letter to the American People:
We are former national security officials who proudly served in a wide array of roles throughout the U.S. Government. We are writing about the Intelligence Community whistleblower’s lawful disclosure, which was recently made public. While the identity of the whistleblower is not publicly known, we do know that he or she is an employee of the U.S. Government. As such, he or she has by law the right—and indeed the responsibility—to make known, through appropriate channels, indications of serious wrongdoing. That is precisely what this whistleblower did; and we applaud the whistleblower not only for living up to that responsibility but also for using precisely the channels made available by federal law for raising such concerns.
A responsible whistleblower makes all Americans safer by ensuring that serious wrongdoing can be investigated and addressed, thus advancing the cause of national security to which we have devoted our careers. What’s more, being a responsible whistleblower means that, by law, one is protected from certain egregious forms of retaliation. Whatever one’s view of the matters discussed in the whistleblower’s complaint, all Americans should be united in demanding that all branches of our government and all outlets of our media protect this whistleblower and his or her identity. Simply put, he or she has done what our law demands; now he or she deserves our protection.
Review the List of 88 Officials who signed the open letter.
Whistleblower Complaint Dispute: Legal Analysis
Read two separate pieces with the analysis of Robert Litt, former General Counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, about the dispute between the ODNI and the House intelligence committee over access to a whistleblower complaint on a matter of "urgent interest."
CII Panel Attracts Broad Interest
Former intelligence officers, government and private sector officials, lawyers, academics, and members of the press attended the CII's expert panel on "Intelligence Operations in a Digital Age" held June 24, 2019.
Panelists agreed that cyber has fundamentally changed how we think about intelligence and how we conduct intelligence operations. As one panelists noted, “Cyber changes everything. Everywhere today, everything is out there, and there are lots of opportunities for getting it.”
The panel was part of CII’s efforts to educate the public about the practical, policy, and legal factors that influence the planning and conduct of clandestine intelligence operations. Participants addressed how technological advances can affect operations in an increasingly transparent world, and the challenges and risks that confront intelligence officers, their agents, and others who assist them to support U.S. national security objectives.
Moderated by former CIA head of the national clandestine service Michael Sulick, the panel included former government officers with extensive public and private sector experience --
- NSA Director of Information Assurance Daniel Ennis,
- DNI General Counsel Robert Litt,
- CIA Deputy and Acting General Counsel John Rizzo,
- DHS Undersecretary Suzanne Spaulding, and
- CIA Information Operations Center chief Kevin Zerrusen.
Participants addressed how technological advances can affect operations in an increasingly transparent world, and the challenges and risks that confront intelligence officers, their agents, and others who assist them to support U.S. national security objectives.
For more about the panelists and the event, READ PANEL HIGHLIGHTS
Also Quandaries: Deep Fakes and Cyber Conflict (The Duelfer Blog, July 12, 2019 posting provides an attendee's perspective on issues raised during the June 24 panel) (See http://www.charlesduelfer.com/blog/)
WORLDWIDE THREAT ASSESSMENT
The Director of National Intelligence and other IC Leaders recently testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Intelligence Community's Annual Threat Assessment. (See DNI Statement, April, 2021)
The DNI's statement in 2019 before the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Intelligence Community's World Wide Threat Assessment may be found here: DNI Statement on WWT, January 29, 2019.
Remembering Mike Spann
(excerpts from https://www.wsj.com, 25 May 2019)
". . . . .Johnny “Mike” Spann, a CIA officer who deployed to Afghanistan early in the war was killed on November 25, 2001 . . . . . when Taliban prisoners rioted. He was 32 years old.
"Spann was the first American killed in combat in Afghanistan. Before joining the CIA, Spann was a Marine, leaving with the rank of captain. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery alongside other American men and women who have served their nation in war. He is further honored with a black star on the CIA’s Memorial Wall at its Virginia headquarters, along with 132 other fallen agency colleagues.
"So this weekend, as we enjoy our barbecues and kick off the summer, let us not forget how extraordinarily blessed we are to have men and women such as Mike Spann, who willingly placed themselves in harm’s way to preserve our freedom—and paid the ultimate price." Appeared in the May 25, 2019, print edition. ©2019 https://www.wsj.com. All Rights Reserved.
CII Board of Directors
The CII's Board of Directors is an integral part of the exciting steps being taken to become a vibrant and effective voice to support CIA and other intelligence officers for their good faith service to the Nation and to offer informational programs that enhance the public's awareness of the challgenges and risks facing intelligence officers. The Board consists of John Gannon (Chairman), George Jameson (President and Co-Founder), Bill Murray (Vice President and Co-Founder), Vaughn Bishop, Chuck Campbell, Mary Corrado, Dawn Eilenberger, John Nelson, and Alan Wade. Francie Schilling is CII's Corporate Secretary, and Robert Rizzi is the Legal Advisor. (See more about CII's mission, vision, and directors and officers.)
CII on Federal News Radio
Listen to Federal News Radio's interview with CII's co-founders about CII (broadcast September 7, 2018, here's how FNR characterized CII: "Occasionally intelligence practitioners find themselves caught in legal trouble not totally of their own making. That’s the idea behind a new legal referral service called Council on Intelligence Issues.").
Gina Haspel outlined CIA priorities in her first major speech (click for link to full text).
CIA's then-chief information officer and now the deputy chief operating officer stresses the need for a data-savvy CIA workforce (December 4, 2018).
Protecting Defectors is a Moral Obligation
Following recent media allegations, a former official points out that there is a "moral" obligation to help protect foreign spies who have risked their lives to help the CIA. View this YouTube video of Rachel Maddow's interview with Joe Augustyn, former head of CIA's defector resettlement center, on how CIA takes steps to protect defectors and others whose assitance put them at risk: