Friday, November 24, 2006

Take Your Mouth Off That Whistle

As anyone who has read my discussion on certain 4th Circuit precedents knows, retaliation cases are a major pet peeve of mine. While I've focused primarily on reprisals in cases of racial discrimination complaints, the principle against it holds true generally. Retaliation against parties who complain about something that would be, if substantiated, a bona fide wrong (e.g., racial discrimination, corruption, graft) is almost never justified. Retaliation chills workers from pursuing necessary reforms or correcting wrongs against them, virtually insures that bad policies will continue, and deprives the public of important information about practices by the government or corporation that they might not tolerate were they made public.

That's why I was so upset to read (thru Steve Benen) this article on the growing number of whistleblower and whistleblower retaliation claims being filed in our intelligence agencies--and how they're being dealt with. Whistleblowing complaints have risen by 43% since 9/11, and reprisal complaints have grown along with, jumping 21%. Whistleblowers often face harassment at best and career destruction at worst, and the law seems unable to help them. The Whistleblower Protection Act does not apply to intelligence officers (why?), and even if an internal investigation substantiates a retaliation charge, the investigators don't have the power to enforce any remedy (why?). Perhaps most amazingly, the federal circuit court that hears retaliation cases has ruled against intelligence whistleblowers 98.425% of the time (125/127).

It goes without saying that an agency whose members are afraid to call out mistakes is an ineffective agency, and when that agency is America's intelligence services (whose street cred at the moment is already a bit off), that makes our nation less safe. Giving these brave public servants the protections they deserve should immediately move to the top of the Democratic Party agenda. It's not just Congress that needs reform, and helping our intelligence agencies clean up house would be one of the fastest ways to make our nation stronger and safer at the same time.

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