National security whistleblowers boycott upcoming hearing

Groups representing national security whistleblowers are urging a boycott of an upcoming congressional hearing, saying their concerns and experiences will not be adequately represented by the witnesses who are scheduled to testify.

The House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations plans to hold a hearing Dec. 6 to examine whether agencies are unjustly revoking or suspending security clearances in retaliation against employees who speak out against wrongdoing.

Advocacy groups such as the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition and Concerned Foreign Service Officers, however, say the hearing should be postponed because the witness list lacks whistleblowers with firsthand knowledge of problems.

Whistleblowers sent at least 17 letters to the subcommittee Monday protesting the upcoming hearing.

"The National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, together with supporting organizations and over 100 national security whistleblowers, respectfully urges you to postpone this hearing," Sibel Edmonds, founder and director of the coalition, wrote in a letter to Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., the subcommittee chairman. "We stand ready to work with your office to do the work necessary to schedule a meaningful event where valuable testimony and information may be provided to Congress."

Lawrence Halloran, subcommittee staff director and counsel, said he was surprised and confused by the opposition.

The hearing will include witnesses who are qualified to testify, Halloran contends, such as representatives from the Project on Government Oversight, the Government Accountability Project and the inspectors general for the departments of Justice, Defense and Energy. Attorney Mark Zaid, who has represented national security whistleblowers for a dozen years, and former FBI agent Mike German, who resigned from the bureau in 2004 after reporting violations of policy and possibly the law, also will testify.

"It's just too bad they can't take yes for an answer," Halloran said. "This is the hearing that the whistleblowers wanted."

"We're not a perpetual platform for organizational building," he added.

Several letters sent to the subcommittee said the hearing could do more harm than good.

"None of the witnesses on the panels you have proposed has current, firsthand knowledge of the issues," wrote Daniel Hirsch, a GS-15 level foreign service officer at the State Department. Hirsch earlier this year founded Concerned Foreign Service Officers, a group of more than 40 officers who have had their security clearances revoked or suspended.

"None of your panel members can truly testify to the real problems, real issues, real cases, that need your attention and need to be addressed," Hirsch added. "On the contrary, the hearing, as scheduled, will only confuse the issues, or worse, hide them, and prevent the repair to our systems and security that our nation requires."

Halloran said that despite the letters, the subcommittee does not plan to change the witness list.

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