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July 29, 2006
Whistleblowing Does Not Mean Going To The Press

The Washington Post reports that a federal grand jury has issued a subpoena to Russell Tice, an officer in the National Security Agency whose employment was terminated after stories about classified programs began appearing in the press. The Department of Justice has tasked the panel with investigating possible violations of the Espionage Act, and Tice's admissions of contacts with journalists appears to be a good place to start:

A federal grand jury in Alexandria is investigating unauthorized leaks of classified information and has issued a subpoena to a fired National Security Agency officer who has acknowledged talking with journalists about the agency's warrantless surveillance program, according to documents released yesterday.

The 23-member grand jury is "conducting an investigation of possible violations of federal criminal laws involving unauthorized disclosure of classified information" under the Espionage Act and other statutes, according to a document accompanying the subpoena.

The demand for testimony from former NSA officer Russell Tice provides a sign of the Justice Department's aggressiveness in pursuing the leak investigation, which follows a series of controversial news reports on classified programs. It also marks the latest potential use of the espionage statute to combat such leaks.

Tice is a member of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, which claims that the government has begun a "witch hunt" for whistleblowers with this action. The group's director, Sibel Edmonds, said in a statement on the web site that "to prevent the public’s right to know, they [the government] now are getting engaged in a witch hunt targeting these patriotic truth tellers.” The New York Times quotes the ACLU as describing Tice as a "courageous federal employee' and his leaks as a "valuable public service".

Simply put, neither the NSWBC nor the ACLU has a clue about whistleblowing, especially in a national-security context -- and their actions will leave our nation defenseless in an asymmetrical war on terror if they succeed.

Contrary to public opinion, whistleblowers have many legal options open to them to get attention to potentially illegal operations within classified programs. They can address the issue with their superiors, which they should do first. If that does not succeed, the whistleblower can contact the lawyers for the intel unit to which they belong. Failing that, they can contact the FBI and/or the DoJ's attorneys. If that doesn't work, a whistleblower can then contact one of the Congressional committees on intelligence.

In fact, we saw an example of that earlier this month. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Commitee, scolded the White House for not briefing him and the ranking member on his committee (Jane Harman) on a "major" national-security program. The information came to Hoekstra from a participant in the program concerned about its legality and the lack of involvement by Congress -- in other words, a real whistleblower.

Anyone who holds a national-security clearance knows how to work within cleared channels to gain the proper attention to a problem of legality. The one option that whistleblowers never have is to expose the secrets to the public, and therefore to our enemies. At regular intervals, cleared personnel get briefed on proper procedures, and they receive warnings at each briefing about the perils and penalties for violating their clearances.

If Tice did blow these programs, and he has admitted as much publicly, then he has violated a number of laws protecting sensitive information. Contrary to the clams of the ACLU and the NSWBC, the public does not have an unfettered "right to know". American law and centuries of court rulings allow the government to classify information so that sensitive information regarding our security does not get revealed, especially on the pages of the New York Times. Classification decisions come from the elected executive, who answers to the voters. They do not get made by individuals who answer to no one and work from their own personal agendas.

Real whistleblowers in the cleared community know how to work within that system. Russell Tice broke the law, and he should pay the penalty for doing so. Otherwise, clearances will mean nothing, and our efforts to stop our enemies from attacking and killing us will get parried with ease -- and Americans will pay a steep price for Tice's ego trip and the partisanship of the New York Times. (via Just One Minute)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 29, 2006 10:25 AM

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» NSA Surveillance Leak Case Watch: Former National Security Agency (NSA) Intelligence Analyst Subpoened to Testify Before Federal Grand Jury from FullosseousFlap's Dental Blog
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» NSA - En- “Ticing” from Macsmind - Conservative Commentary and Common Sense
Via the Washington Post more details on the Grand Jury that is conviening to investigate the leaks of the NSA Surviellance program as well as the CIA prison leak. “A federal grand jury in Alexandria is investigating unauthorized leaks of classifi... [Read More]

Tracked on July 31, 2006 2:40 PM


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