One of the claims made by Edward Snowden was that there were no effective channels in the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) to point out probably illegal programs of spying on US citizens, and morally questionable uses of commercial spying against allied nations. This claim appears to have been spectacularly validated on thursday with a POGO report that the NSA’s Inspector General, its final whistleblower protector, has been suspended for retaliating against another whistleblower.
While this report from POGO hasn’t been confirmed as far I can see 1. However they are a reputable organisation, so I have no reason to mistrust it. In fact their mission reads like what the Taxpayers Union is meant to be like if it wasn’t a Act/National partisan front.
Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.
The POGO article states
Until just a few months ago, George Ellard occupied a position of trust as top watchdog of the National Security Agency, America’s principal collector of signals intelligence. Ellard was not only NSA’s Inspector General, but an outspoken critic of Edward Snowden, the former contract employee who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified emails to publicly expose the agency’s domestic surveillance program. Snowden claimed, among other things, that his concerns about NSA’s domestic eavesdropping were ignored by the agency, and that he feared retaliation. Ellard publicly argued in 2014 that Snowden could have safely reported the allegations of NSA’s domestic surveillance directly to him.
Then last May, after eight months of inquiry and deliberation, a high-level Intelligence Community panel found that Ellard himself had previously retaliated against an NSA whistleblower, sources tell the Project On Government Oversight. Informed of that finding, NSA’s Director, Admiral Michael Rogers, promptly issued Ellard a notice of proposed termination, although Ellard apparently remains an agency employee while on administrative leave, pending a possible response to his appeal from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
The closely held but unclassified finding against Ellard is not public. It was reached by following new whistleblower protections set forth by President Obama in an executive order, Presidential Policy Directive 19. (A President Trump could, in theory, eliminate the order.) Following PPD-19 procedures, a first-ever External Review Panel (ERP) composed of three of the most experienced watchdogs in the US government was convened to examine the issue. The trio — IG’s of the Justice Department, Treasury, and CIA – overturned an earlier finding of the Department of Defense IG, which investigated Ellard but was unable to substantiate his alleged retaliation.
“The finding against Ellard is extraordinary and unprecedented,” notes Stephen Aftergood, Director of the Secrecy Program at the Federation of American Scientists. “This is the first real test drive for a new process of protecting intelligence whistleblowers. Until now, they’ve been at the mercy of their own agencies, and dependent on the whims of their superiors. This process is supposed to provide them security and a procedural foothold.”
“The case, which is still in progress, offers hopeful signs that the new framework may be working,” Aftergood added.
POGO learned of the decision against Ellard from sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. The information was later confirmed by government officials. POGO has been told that mention of the finding will appear in a semiannual report (SAR) of the Intelligence Community IG (ICIG) that should be released in the near future. It makes brief mention of the case without citing Ellard by name.
CommonDreams has a pretty good analysis of the implications in the US. In particular to the extent that it shows that Edward Snowden was correct in not pursuing attempts to point out the legal and ethical issues with various NSA programs within the whistleblower frameworks at the NSA.
Politico reported on Ellard’s 2014 comments:
“We have surprising success in resolving the complaints that are brought to us,” he said.
In Snowden’s case, Ellard said a complaint would have prompted an independent assessment into the constitutionality of the law that allows for the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata. But that review, he added, would have also shown the NSA was within the scope of the law.
“Perhaps it’s the case that we could have shown, we could have explained to Mr. Snowden his misperceptions, his lack of understanding of what we do,” Ellard said.
Yet documents confirmed earlier this year that Snowden had, indeed, reported concerns to several NSA officials—who took no action and discouraged him from continuing to voice concerns. Moreover, as Snowden toldVice News: “I was not protected by U.S. whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about law breaking in accordance with the recommended process.”
Ellard’s 2014 criticism of Snowden appears particularly threadbare after he has been found personally guilty of whistleblower retaliation.
Hopefully the NZ intelligence community have taken notice. Having people who operate with organisational malice towards whistleblowers inside organisations is a damn stupid idea. Sure they may be mistaken in their analysis. However having vindictive idiots trying to prevent short-term damage to their organisations is just a route to causing long-term harm to them. Whistleblowers may be people with a grudge (god knows that I get a lot of email like that) or with ethics that aren’t those of the organisation. However they will also act as the conscience against the embedded group-think of any organisation.
If you can’t operate with reasonable levels of transparency and clarity towards your own employees and contractors when they have issues with what the organisation is doing, why and with what authority, then you are really going to have issues when it eventually becomes public. In the connected world of today and the future, even more so than in antiquated historic (ie last decade) eras, everything becomes public.
It doesn’t matter if it is Russia trying to distort the US elections 2, the US taking stupid excesses with both their own citizens and apparently just about everyone else, or China breaking into commercial systems for cheap R&D. It always becomes public. These days it just becomes public a lot faster.