9/11 investigation spawns whistleblower movement

A growing group of government whistleblowers has emerged in the wake of the 9/11 commission's investigation, making allegations that include everything from corruption and mismanagement within federal agencies to espionage within the FBI's Washington field office.

The whistleblowers acknowledge their claims and reputations depend on presenting facts and evidence, and say they plan to submit information to Congress and the media in the coming weeks.

More than two dozen former and current government employees have joined forces since the 9/11 commission issued its final report and recommendations in July. Most of the whistleblowers met or learned of each other through the 9/11 investigation, and several gave testimony to the commission or Congress. Ironically, they are now highly critical of the commission's final report, saying it does not reflect testimony they gave, offers misguided recommendations and fails to hold any individuals accountable.

"People are at the root of this problem," said Melvin Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy who worked at the CIA for 41 years as a senior analyst and division chief. "People in the American government helped to create this tragedy. Until we understand that and get to the bottom of this, the chances of another 9/11 will remain."

Twenty-five former federal workers, including Goodman, released a letter Monday saying the commission's report "deliberately ignores officials and civil servants who were, and still are, clearly negligent and/or derelict in their duties to the nation." The letter is equally critical of Congress for not having front-line intelligence and national security employees with knowledge of corruption and mismanagement testify during the recent hearings on sweeping recommendations for reform.

The letter argues that reforms such as creating a new national intelligence director post will not be effective if individuals within the government are not held accountable for failures and mismanagement.

"The [9/11] report simply does not get at key problems within the intelligence, aviation security and law enforcement communities," the letter states. "If these individuals are protected rather than held accountable, the mindset that enabled 9/11 will persist, no matter how many layers of bureaucracy are added, and no matter how much money is poured into the agencies."

The letter was signed by former officials of the military, FBI, CIA, Customs Service, Federal Aviation Administration, Homeland Security and Energy Departments, and sent to the Senate and House committees on Intelligence, Judiciary, Armed Services and Government Reform.

Several officials who signed the letter also called on federal employees last week to come forward with information exposing government wrongdoing, especially with regard to Iraq. The group has created a whistleblower support network, with free legal counsel from the American Civil Liberties Union and advice from the Project on Government Oversight.

Goodman noted that the joint congressional inquiry into the terrorist attacks required inspectors general at several agencies to investigate whether individuals should be held responsible for failures. "That was nearly two years ago," he said. "Where are these IG reports? Where is the accountability process?"

Allegations made by the whistleblowers range from mismanagement to intentional cover-ups of wrongdoing within agencies.

For example, former FBI intelligence specialist John Cole alleges that a possible spy worked in the FBI's Washington field office as a language specialist. In an interview Monday, Cole said the individual, who he declined to name, allegedly gave sensitive information to officials working at a foreign government's embassy in Washington.

Cole, who joined the FBI in 1985, said he requested a full investigation of the individual in August 2003. The bureau refused to launch an investigation, and the individual has since left the FBI and now works for another agency, Cole said.

Cole has since left the FBI, but remains a government employee doing counterintelligence work for the Air Force.

During the late 1990s, Cole said he worked undercover for a unit overseas that was so starved for funding and personnel that one employee tried to commit suicide and another had a nervous breakdown. Employees with the unit informed FBI headquarters of their needs and conditions, but nothing was done to make improvements, according to Cole. Instead, one of his co-workers was reprimanded for criticizing bureau management.

Cole met with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding management at the FBI. He said he was "extremely displeased" that the 9/11 commission's report did not hold any FBI individuals responsible.

"Even to this day, I'm talking to people in the bureau and they say morale is so low they are just putting in their time and can't wait to get out," Cole said. "If nothing is done now, we can expect that there will be future attacks here."

The FBI declined to comment on Cole's allegations Monday.

Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project, said hundreds of whistleblowers have contacted his organization.

"The silent recommendation of the 9/11 commission really is: end the silence," he said. "Secrecy enforced by repression is a severe threat to national security because it sustains bureaucratic negligence that leaves us vulnerable to tragedies."

He acknowledged, however, that many whistleblowers are ostracized or lose their jobs. "If 2002 was the year of the whistleblower, 2004 is the year of the gag," he said.

He also told Government Executive that efforts are being made to include new protections for government whistleblowers in legislation under consideration by Congress in response to the 9/11 commission's final report.

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