Whistleblower Advocates Defend Embattled Intelligence Ombudsman

The intelligence community whistleblower ombudsman threatened with firing last year has received a show of support from two nonprofits long critical of enforcement of disclosure rights in the national security workforce.

The Government Accountability Project and the Project on Government Oversight on March 2 teamed up to send a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats saying that Dan Meyer—who is on administrative leave pending a decision on his future by Coats’ deputy—deserves a delay until a new intelligence community inspector general is sworn in.

“Staff and leadership hostile to robust whistleblowing programs may use this period of time to ‘dig in’ and front-load their agencies with freshly minted hires in order to limit the exercisable authority of new confirmees,” the groups wrote, sending copies to the congressional intelligence and homeland security panels as well as the Senate Whistleblower Caucus. “Likewise, valued executives may be terminated just short of a new confirmee’s arrival to prevent those executives from assisting the new leadership.”

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Meyer last November found himself escorted from the building amid vaguely detailed charges related to workplace conduct and handling of classified material cited against him by acting intelligence community Inspector General Wayne Stone and Counsel Jeannette McMillian. An experienced whistleblower who spent years as an ombudsman for the Defense Department inspector general’s office, Meyer has made his share of enemies in whistleblowing reprisal investigative circles.

President Trump’s nominee for the permanent post of Intel Community watchdog, Michael Atkinson, was approved in February by both the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence. His nomination is on the executive calendar awaiting a full Senate vote.

The groups asked that the final decision on Meyer be postponed for 30 days so that the new IG has an “opportunity to serve as referee in this matter that has received so much attention over the past few months.”

The request came after lawmakers such as Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, expressed concerns about the enforcement of whistleblower disclosure rights and duties in the intelligence area. And Atkinson at his confirmation hearing appeared sympathetic to that view. “In his opening statement, he presented the impression that the office is not currently functioning as effectively as Congress intended,” the letter recapped. He promised to “right the ship” by “clearing house.” 

Asked for a reaction to the letter on behalf of Meyer, ODNI spokesman Brian Hale told Government Executive, “DNI Coats unequivocally supports Intelligence Community whistleblower programs. Indeed, it is in the IC’s interest to have a robust whistleblower program that ensures all IC personnel have the lawful means available to report wrongdoing without compromising national security and without fear of reprisal. ODNI does not comment on personnel actions.” 

Meyer, whose official title before his placement on leave was executive director of IC whistleblowing and source protection, had been nominated for a promotion to the Senior National Intelligence Service level, and his papers for that move were just delivered, despite his state of limbo. He has argued that the move against him—technically a non-renewal of his post following a two-year probation—violates procedure and was introduced abruptly after years of positive performance reviews. An initial review board heard testimony on his behalf but did not reach a conclusion, and a second review board ruled against him.

Meyer’s fate rests with Sue Gordon, Coats’ principal deputy.

Several former colleagues have come forward to defend Meyer, among them a former IC whistleblower who declined to use his name. “Without this independent program of IG oversight, and the strength of the leadership of Mr. Meyer, I am concerned that others will not come forward in the right way since they will not have any confidence in the whistleblower program,” he told Government Executive. “While a program should stand by its own, Dan Meyer in this case is the program due to his ethics and commitment to the whistleblower reprisal program.”

An attorney for a former CIA officer working with the new nonprofit Whistleblower Aid also weighed in on the larger picture, saying: “We are concerned that the ICIG has not provided the individual/whistleblower with the appropriate due process under Presidential Policy Directive 19 [signed by President Obama in 2012], and that the matter is yet another example of the ICIG dismantling the Intelligence Community whistleblower protection program.”

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