A CIA onetime chief of station who filed complaints about supervisors found himself terminated last Thursday.
The case of a man known by the agency-provided pseudonym James Pars has drawn scrutiny from whistleblower advocates concerned about what some see as a no-win situation for national security space employees who expose wrongdoing.
Pars, who had originally complained that his supervisors in an unnamed war zone were exposing underlings to unnecessary danger, told Government Executive that he was called in to the office on June 28—after months at home on administrative leave—and told he was being fired. “Security came after me and revoked my clearance. I have 10 days to appeal and 90 more days of paid leave until officially terminated,” he said.
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He said he had “made it very clear” to newly installed IC watchdog Michael Atkinson that he is “not playing games.” He said the CIA inspector general, Office of General Counsel, Equal Employment Opportunity Office and Office of Security “have a criminal system in place to bully and beat a complainant until they send in security for the knockout blow.”
CIA and inspector general spokespeople declined to comment to Government Executive.
Pars, a Cuban-American and 18-year veteran CIA operative, has since written letters to Atkinson, as well as Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who deal with whistleblower and intelligence matters. “I will be going public if the IC IG fails to do its duty. I have been taken as a crank, not knowing who I am and what I am made out of,” he said. “I know I have been very combative over this issue. However, I have paid a very high price for simply doing what is right, lawful, appropriate and humane.”
Pars had left the CIA and worked from September 2015 through April 2017 as an inspector at the intelligence community’s IG office “when Acting IG Wayne Stone and Acting Deputy IG Jeannette McMillian booted” him out and sent him back to the CIA, where he faced “a very difficult situation,” he said.
The Pars case drew attention last August from the Project on Government Oversight, whose reporter laid out details based on a Pars lawsuit about unresponsiveness of the CIA regarding his complaint that an inexperienced supervisor had ordered staff to visit dangerous territory with little operational need.
Pars alleged that his disclosures brought retaliation in the form of being sent home and his requests for a new transfer denied. He then tried to use the whistleblower procedures under President Obama’s 2012 Presidential Policy Directive 19, designed to provide intelligence community employees a legal venue for whistleblowing, arguing that the procedures require that the CIA IG open a probe into his complaint. That plan was thwarted when the agency declined to investigate his case, arguing that PDP-19 bestows no such rights to IC employees filing complaints.
Pars’ lawyers also tried to use the Administrative Procedure Act to get him access to courts in a private action, a move a judge rejected in February. The case is now in its 41st month, and Pars is still fighting to preserve his health and retirement benefits, while whistleblower advocates remain concerned that IGs may not be acting with sufficient independence.
“Whistleblowers in the Intelligence Community who use proper channels to disclose alleged wrongdoing deserve protection and due process,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley told POGO in discussing the Pars case. “Long delays at the CIA OIG underscore serious weaknesses in the system, and raise concerns over accountability at the CIA.”
Pars has until July 9 to file an appeal of a recommendation by the CIA’s Personnel Evaluation Board that he be terminated and his security clearance revoked due to personal conduct issues under intelligence community Directive 704, which gives the director of the Office of National Intelligence authority to deny access to security clearances..
Since the departure of the acting team at IC IG that “toppled the traditional channels for whistleblowing protection,” Irvin McCullough, a national security analyst at the Government Accountability Project, told Government Executive, “we haven’t seen any signs that things are getting better. Whistleblowers need another protected outlet, like the courts, that are truly independent. Instead, Mr. Pars is trying his luck with the internal mechanisms for review, which haven’t worked for him—or many people in his situation.”
Adam Zagorin wrote last year that the Pars case “highlights the need to strengthen whistleblower protections in the intelligence community. The Trump administration wants to crack down on government leaks, but with a broken system for intelligence officials to report dangerous practices as well as waste, fraud and abuse, the incentives for employees to go to the media anonymously, instead of using official channels, are out of balance.”