Whistleblowers

FBI Hangs Whistleblowers Out to Dry, Says Government Watchdog

The feds take up to 10 years to handle whistleblower retaliation complaints, and toss many out for bureaucratic reasons

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psistrm / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

The FBI takes up to 10 years to handle whistleblower retaliation complaints, warns the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Worse, many of the complaints are tossed in the trash because the initial disclosure of wrongdoing—that puff on the whistle, so to speak—was made to somebody (often a supervisor) other than one of nine officials formally designated as worthy of such information. That lack of protection for reports to officials outside the anointed nine isn't even made clear to FBI employees, leaving them working in an environment where reports of wrongdoing seem to draw nasty consequences as a matter of course.

This, frets the GAO with much justification, may have a bit of a chilling effect on FBI employees who want to see wrongs put right.

Reading between the lines, the FBI seems to have an informal "no snitching" policy. Even when it ultimately supports whistleblowers, it seems to drag the matter out long enough for complainants to abandon their careers or die. Cautions the GAO in a report released Monday:

Whistleblowers help safeguard the federal government against waste, fraud, and abuse—however, they also risk retaliation by their employers. For example, in 2002, a former FBI agent alleged she suffered retaliation after disclosing that colleagues had stolen items from Ground Zero following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. DOJ found in her favor over 10 years after she reported the retaliation.

In that case, by the time her complaint was approved, Agent Jane Turner had long since retired from the Bureau after negative performance reviews and threats of dismissal. Staying in her job would have required a decade of career purgatory (if she wasn't actually fired) waiting for vindication.

What the fuck?

You see, the FBI, like all good bureaucracies, has strict procedures. It even has strict procedures for reporting that people are violating the strict procedures. To be eligible for protection, whistleblowers must "reasonably believe that they are reporting wrongdoing," and they must "report the alleged wrongdoing to one of nine designated officials or offices."

Any FBI agent who steps outside that dotted line—say, by giving a heads-up to a trusted boss—"is not protected and the person does not have a right to recourse if the individual should experience retaliation as a result." That's right, it's open season on their asses for reporting fouls by colleagues without going through the (very narrow) proper channels. FBI agents don't necessarily even know that, since "DOJ and FBI guidance is not always clear that FBI employees reporting alleged wrongdoing to a supervisor or someone in their chain of command may not be a protected disclosure."

This is a pretty big problem, says the GAO. "By dismissing potentially legitimate complaints in this way, DOJ could deny some whistleblowers access to recourse, permit retaliatory activity to go uninvestigated, and create a chilling effect for future whistleblowers."

Actually, looking over the complicated bureaucratic maze set up by the Department of Justice and the FBI for whistleblowers, that would seem to be an intended outcome.

Below, NSA whistleblower William Binney found that shitty attitudes toward reporters of wrongdoing extend throughout the federal government.

NEXT: John Stossel on the Kochs and Unions

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  1. OT, but:

    http://news.yahoo.com/nyc-cabb…..12596.html

    Thank God she was thrown from the cab by a state-sanctioned, background-checked ride provider, and not some unwashed anonymous Uber thug!

    1. Well, is it really OT? Part of the problem is the specificity of the topic. The obscure FBI “policy” on this issue reflects our general cultural confusion as to the moral status of accusations. We speak glibly of press freedoms as beyond question, but the freedom to be a whistle-blower oddly appears far more controversial… Consider the efforts of New York prosecutors to criminalize a batch of inappropriately deadpan Gmail parodies disseminated by an academic whistle-blower, documented at:

      https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com

  2. ” You see, the FBI, like all good bureaucracies, has strict procedures. It even has strict procedures for reporting that people are violating the strict procedures.”

    Guards! Bring me the paperwork I need to fill out to have her taken away.

  3. Incentives matter. The people having the whistle blown on them don’t have much incentive to investigate the whistleblowers’ claims. Why do all law enforcement agencies get to investigate themselves for complaints made against them? Because no one else has as many armed thugs?

    1. It would seem legislators should have an interest in making sure the state’s enforcement agencies — the ones that are delegated the so-called monopoly on violence the State possesses — are actually functioning justly.

      So I think it’s incompetence on the part of legislators (as opposed to actual malice since most major bureaucratic problems are from negligence/incompetence). Perhaps they assume a law enforcement agency is capable of effectively investigating allegations of wrongdoing within its ranks? I really have no idea.

  4. This is a pretty big problem, says the GAO. “By dismissing potentially legitimate complaints in this way, DOJ could deny some whistleblowers access to recourse, permit retaliatory activity to go uninvestigated, and create a chilling effect for future whistleblowers.”

    Uh yeah, that’s the point.

  5. This country needs a fucking Federal Bureau of Whistle-blowers.

    The original concept behind the goddamn separation of powers was to inhibit tyrannical urges often inherent in large bureaucracies. Well, you can fuck that original concept into the void of human indifference.

    Current constitutional philosophy is a twisted verbose mess of junk bullshit.

  6. So this article admits that procedures were followed… So what’s the problem?

    /sarcasm (in case not obvious)

  7. All monopolies will close ranks and crush whistleblowers because it is in their best interests to do so. They have no competition, so for them, it’s best to hide wrongdoing and fuckups rather than root them out and get rid of the perpetrators. Because they have no need to reassure the public that they can be trusted. Because the public has no choice regarding them.

    Since all government is monopolistic, it ALL does this. It can’t be avoided. No special policies will fix this. Because the very monopolistic nature causes and encourages it.

    Welcome to government. This is it. This is what you get. Enjoy.

    1. I like to refer to government as the 8th deadly sin. (And religious organizations as the 9th).

      But really all seven deadlies are embodied in government and churches as their basic tenets.

  8. You misunderstood me, agent. When I told you to go to hell, I merely meant that the 9 people who can receive whistlblower complaints are in a field office on the other side of the River Styx. What’s that? No, the agency can’t pay the fee for the crossing, you’ll have to cover that yourself. Say hello to the SAIC for me when you get there…

  9. This, frets the GAO with much justification, may have a bit of a chilling effect on FBI employees who want to see wrongs put right.

    It’s not an accountability office if it insists on using weasel words.

    There is NO DOUBT it has a chilling effect. But the last the the Government Accountability Office wants to do is expose any accountability.

    The use of weasel words is the perfect example of the chilling effect.

  10. the FBI seems to have an informal “no snitching” policy

    All cops have a “no snitching” policy.

  11. Staying in her job would have required a decade of career purgatory (if she wasn’t actually fired) waiting for vindication.

    My father was a fed gov whistleblower. For his brave act of pointing out lax safety measures at fed gov nuclear plants (before the Three Mile Island incident), he was rewarded with career purgatory.

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