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Intelligence agency whistleblower’s anonymity and safety threatened

Donald Trump Laconia Rally, Laconia, NH 4 by Michael Vadon July 16 2015

For weeks, President Trump and supporters have demanded unmasking of the anonymous intelligence agency whistleblower whose disclosure triggered the ongoing impeachment investigation. Now, there are concerns for the whistleblower’s safety after conservative sources and the president’s eldest son claim to have outed him.

In an October 14 tweet,  the president appeared to issue an order to “determine the Whistleblower’s identity.”

 

Subsequently, Senator Rand Paul (Rep.) alleged the whistleblower’s name is known and urged news media to print it.

This morning, Donald Trump, Jr., went further, publicly tweeting a link to an article that named the alleged whistleblower. The same name had been floated previously as the whistleblower by Real Clear Politics. RCP claims the individual “left his National Security Council posting in the White House’s West Wing in mid-2017 amid concerns about negative leaks to the media.”

With Ciaramella’s name long under wraps, interest in the intelligence analyst is so high that a handful of former colleagues have compiled a roughly 40-page research dossier on him. A classified version of the document is circulating on Capitol Hill, and briefings have been conducted based on it. One briefed Republican has been planning to unmask the whistleblower in a speech on the House floor. (RCP)

If that indeed is the case, it is an alarming development…although far from unusual. Government officials routinely compile negative dossiers AKA “smear files” on employees who reveal government wrongdoing, particularly when senior officials are implicated. Smear files typically are filled with innuendoes and false statements viewed as sufficiently shocking to threaten whistleblowers’ careers and personal safety, thus terrorizing any other potential whistleblowers into silence. For that reason, and in the absence of accountability for retaliating officials, anonymity is a vital element of whistleblower protection.

NPR today cited experts who concluded that it is not a crime under federal law to expose the identity of a whistleblower.

“There is no overarching protection for the identity of the whistleblower under federal law,” said Dan Meyer, a lawyer and the former executive director of the intelligence community whistleblower program. “Congress has never provided that protection.”

John McLaughlin, the former acting director of the CIA, observed that compliance “as with so many of our supposed laws…depends largely on a sense of integrity and voluntary compliance.” That is true enough, but his allegation of “longstanding deference to the protection of whistleblowers who risk their jobs to expose corruption, waste and abuse,” (NPR) is a jaw-dropping inaccuracy.

In Politico, former CIA employee and whistleblower Patrick Eddington states, “So far as I’m aware, from [Daniel] Ellsberg to the present day, there hasn’t been a single case in which a genuine whistleblower who exposed major problems in the intelligence community has experienced anything other than retaliation.”

Author Tom Mueller explains in detail why “we might all regret” revealing this whistleblower’s identity.

Like Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons,” lawyer Kohn cautions against letting political expediency trump whistleblower laws. “These questions go to the heart of democracy and the rule of law,” he told NPR.  “This is an existential issue because you have the person with the legal responsibility to enforce and protect turning around and using that very authority to destroy.”

Cross-posted from Whistleblowing Today.