National security employees form whistleblowers coalition

More than 50 former and current government officials from more than a dozen agencies have formed a new coalition to protect and support national security whistleblowers.

The group, called the National Security Whistleblower's Coalition, is planning a series of meetings with House and Senate lawmakers and a press conference on Thursday to put forward its proposals. The coalition was spearheaded by FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, who was fired after alleging security breaches, mismanagement and possible espionage within the FBI's translation service in late 2001 and early 2002.

"We believe that the biggest and the most important thing is individual accountability," Edmonds said Wednesday. "As long as a few bad apples are allowed to hide behind the wall of the agencies, you can't pass any law, any regulations. It's not going to do any good. Laws are meaningless without accountability."

Government Executive first reported on the emergence of a national security whistleblower's movement last year after the 9/11 Commission released its final report on intelligence failures.

Whistleblowers associated with the coalition come from agencies such as the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency, Defense Department, Energy Department, Transportation Security Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, and former U.S. Customs Service.

"I call them left-wing, right-wing, no-wing, I don't care. We all have a common cause," Edmonds said. "Tomorrow we are going to be coming in the hundreds. And then we are going to come in the thousands. How long are they going to ignore us?"

Most officials in the coalition are on administrative leave or have already been fired from their agencies. Seventeen of the whistleblowers hail from the FBI, more than any other agency.

Edmonds sued the Justice Department after being fired from the FBI in 2002. Her case was dismissed last summer by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after former Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the state secrets privilege, which allows the government to withhold information to safeguard national security. Edmonds and her team of lawyers have asked a federal appeals court to reinstate the lawsuit, arguing that it was unjustly dismissed.

The Justice Department's inspector general issued a summary report in January concluding that the FBI failed to properly investigate charges made by Edmonds. The report also concluded that the FBI fired Edmonds mainly for bringing forth the accusations.

Edmonds has said that her information, if aggressively pursued, would lead to criminal prosecutions.

Edmonds said the new coalition will seek legislation that empowers national security whistleblowers to sue individual agency managers who retaliate against them or block investigations.

"We want [Congress] to pass legislation that will let us directly sue the wrongdoers and bring our claims against them," she said.

The coalition also wants the Government Accountability Office to report on how much the government has spent to litigate national security whistleblower cases from 2000 to 2005. Edmonds estimated the amount could be upwards of $700 million.

"This is when the taxpayers are going to say, 'This is affecting us,' " Edmonds said. "This is going to mobilize the taxpayers."

If Congress does not take action, Edmonds said, the coalition is prepared to run newspaper ads publicizing the names and salaries of individual managers who are alleged to have committed wrongdoing.

"Without individual accountability, we will not bring about any reform," Edmonds said.

Edmonds emphasized that the coalition is only for whistleblowers who have raised national security issues, not for government workers who have complaints that they were individually discriminated against or wrongly passed over for a promotion.

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