Obama, ‘national security’ metastasis, and the war on whistleblowers

U.S. Department of Justice (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

U.S. Department of Justice (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Within the Obama administration, the U.S. national security apparatus is winning a calculated, sustained, expanding war on whistleblowers, says Tom Devine in a must-read op-ed in today’s Guardian. And “the stakes have just been raised exponentially, [with] the administration seeking to rebrand virtually all federal employees as national security workers at the mercy of a McCarthy-era executive order, outside the civil service rule of law.”

In “Obama’s dangerously contradictory stance on whistleblowing,” Devine, Legal Director at the Government Accountability Project, writes:

In a film out this week, War on Whistleblowers, the New York Times’ David Carr says:

“The Obama administration came to power promising the most transparent administration in history … and began prosecuting [whistleblowers] every which way.”

The transparency administration’s legacy is being erased by an out-of-control national security bureaucracy. As this important documentary exposes, so far the tactic has been prosecuting or harassing national security whistleblowers. And there’s danger the full-scale crackdown could expand to canceling the independent job rights of nearly all government workers in the name of national security. Ironically, the threats are from an administration that championed historic whistleblower protection laws. …

[The] Obama administration has attacked more national security whistleblowers as Espionage Act criminals than all previous administrations combined, lumping them in with spies. …

While they are the fewest in numbers, we need national security whistleblowers the most. They expose the worst abuses of power: blanket illegal wiretapping, human rights abuses, military murder of journalists and war crimes. … Without national security whistleblowers, the media can’t do its job when the stakes are highest: threats to freedom from our own government.

Now, in court and under proposed rules, Devine says:

The [Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act’s] provisions, laws against race, sex and religious discrimination and the ban on political purges, all would lose relevancy. They’d be replaced by self-policing from agencies empowered to designate virtually any employee a “sensitive” national security worker. This means a civil service system vulnerable to replacement by a national security spoils system. The administration’s litigation and regulatory blitz seeks to turn all job and transparency rights into window-dressing.

Reinforcing the forces of light in this bizarre Obama v Obama war, his own appointees from the Office of Special Counsel and [Merit Systems Protection Board] are in court fighting the Justice Department over the national security exception.

Does it matter who wins the election, if no White House occupant appears willing and able to push back on the national security apparatus?

Devine concludes: “This is inexcusable.”

Amen to that.

In the world of federal climate science and science program management, I can think of a wide range of positions that might be classified as ‘security’-sensitive by an over-zealous security state apparatus – thus undermining civil service and whistleblower legal protections and subjecting the occupants of those positions to potentially chilling effects on freedom of communication in the public interest.

Federal scientists and research program managers tend to be a risk-averse crowd to begin with. The prospective changes Devine is describing would, at a minimum, very likely strengthen the ‘keep your head down and keep your mouth shut’ culture that we already see all too much of in the federal government.

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Robert Greenwald‘s new film, War on Whistleblowers, opens 19 April in New York City at the Quad and on 26 April in Los Angeles at Laemmle Music Hall. It will be available on DVD, from 3 May.

Climate Science Watch is a program of the Government Accountability Project.


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