Bill targets intelligence whistleblowers

Legislation currently pending in the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., would require federal employees working at intelligence agencies to sign a contract stipulating that they would forfeit their federal pensions if they were caught leaking even non-classified information to the press, outside groups like Wikileaks, or even Congress. The provision was reportedly added to the intelligence authorization bill during a closed-door mark-up session last Tuesday.

“This provision is so dangerous because intelligence agencies often retaliate against whistleblowers by accusing of them of leaking information. For example, prominent whistleblower Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, who blew the whistle on forensic fraud and misconduct at the FBI crime lab, was falsely accused of leaking information,” says Lindsey Williams, director of advocacy and development at the National Whistleblowers Center.

Whistleblower groups are also up-in-arms over the bill because it reportedly gives the head of each intelligence agency broad discretionary power to decide what a “leak” is – which could be defined as complaints about waste, fraud and abuse – or even risks to public safety.

Ironically, President Obama’s administration – which was supposed to be the most open and transparent ever – has become just the opposite in reality. TIME magazine says it “is rapidly establishing a record as the most aggressive prosecutor of alleged government leakers in U.S. history.”

Former FBI whistleblower Jane Turner charges that the Department of Justice is “conflating ‘leaking’ with actual spying” – pointing out that the legislation under consideration in Feinstein’s committee would result in harsher punishment for conscientious federal employees than actual spies like Robert Hanssen, whose wife, Bonnie, was able to claim half of his federal pension under a plea agreement even though her husband was convicted of espionage .

Whistleblower groups also fear that an anti-gag statute, which currently prohibits federal agency chiefs from retaliating against whistleblowers who bring their concerns to Congress, would become a “prohibited personnel practice” under the Senate bill.

The House version of the intelligence authorization bill would require the director of national intelligence to create an “automated insider threat detection program” that would use technology to detect any unauthorized access and/or transmission of sensitive information.

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