Intel Community Whistleblower Ombudsman Formally Fired

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is one of two senators who requested a stay on Meyer's termination. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is one of two senators who requested a stay on Meyer's termination. Susan Walsh/AP

Longtime national security whistleblower specialist Dan Meyer finally got the word last week that he was officially out as intelligence community whistleblower ombudsman in the inspector general’s office.

The long-threatened decision not to extend his probationary period was first put forward by acting intelligence community IG Wayne Stone, but was formally implemented by Sue Gordon, principal deputy director of national intelligence, following the convening of two review boards.

Sources close to Meyer told Government Executive the termination notice was issued just before the close of business on March 2, but that Meyer didn’t receive it until he returned from travel on Saturday.

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Though the reasons for his firing have not been made clear, they appear related to concerns brought up by Stone and Counsel Jeannette McMillian about his workplace conduct and handling of classified material. His case has drawn the attention of lawmakers and whistleblower advocacy nonprofits concerned that his dismissal will harm whistleblower rights in the highly secretive atmosphere of the national security space.

"While we do not comment on personnel matters,” ODNI spokesperson Timothy Barrett told Government Executive on Monday, “ODNI and the IC IG adhere to all applicable laws and policy in all personnel decisions. Any allegations to the contrary are false."

Meyer’s years of experience in whistleblower training and outreach, first at the Defense Department watchdog’s office, prompted two senators last week to write to National Intelligence Director Dan Coats asking for a stay of Meyer’s termination until after the pending confirmation of Michael Atkinson to be permanent IC inspector general.

“We write to express deep concern about the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General,” Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote to Coats on March 6. The termination of Meyer as executive director of intelligence community whistleblowing and source protection was done using “a process marked by procedural irregularities and serious conflicts of interest,” they said. “We are concerned that any preemptive steps taken by the acting leadership risk undercutting the constitutional authority of the U.S. Senate to provide advice and consent through the confirmation process.”

They stressed the promise made by nominee Atkinson that he would address concerns about the whistleblower outreach program set up after the Edward Snowden leaks to educate the national security community employees about proper channels for disclosing wrongdoing.

Grassley had earlier asked Coats to preserve documents on the Meyer case, but has so far received no response, his new letter noted. He and Wyden now delivered “urgent requests” that ODNI turn over all related documents. Finally, they urged that “all personnel decisions made by the OIG since the nomination of Mr. Atkinson, including the termination of the executive director, be stayed pending his confirmation.”

(Atkinson was approved by two Senate committees in February, but a floor vote has not been scheduled.)

Coats’ office has said it values the whistleblower outreach program.

Meyer has made his share of enemies over the past two decades. Some of his defenders “may not understand that he is ethically prohibited from continuing his duties,” former CIA contractor and whistleblower John Reidy told Government Executive. “Meyer must avoid all ‘appearances’ of a conflict of interest. There are no remedies at law for this type of conflict. As a former whistleblower, Meyer cannot escape the perception he may favor whistleblowers,” which is inescapable “if a third party can reasonably infer that there will be potential bias.”

But Meyer also has loyal followers among former colleagues. “I view Dan as a highly respectable individual with a lot of courage that’s been established throughout his entire career,” said Andrew Bakaj, a former employee of the Defense Department IG and the CIA IG who helped Meyer launch the ombudsman program after President Obama signed Presidential Policy Directive 19 in 2012.

Bakaj said he worries that the acting decision makers at the intelligence community IG’s office misinterpret Meyer’s advocacy as a defense of illegal leaking. “Whistleblower is a polarizing term,” Bakaj told Government Executive. “When they hear the word, a lot of folks think of Edward Snowden or [Chelsea] Manning. But the program’s two-fold purpose is to encourage folks to come forward with information on a problem that the agencies needs to know about, and is also a mechanism to prevent people from making classified information public.”

Bakaj, now a managing attorney at Compass Rose Legal Group, said it was difficult for intelligence agencies to relate to a ground-breaking program, which made Meyer a “lightning rod” after the names of senior officials and political appointees began appearing in news articles about possible misconduct.

 It doesn’t help, he added, that acting IG Stone is a part-time leader who is studying at Harvard University. “The U.S. government has a lot of folks going to universities to obtain degrees, and I don’t begrudge them that,” Bakaj said. But if someone has risen to the level of being acting chief of an agency, he should already have the qualifications. “It’s confounding—who’s in charge of the office while he’s at Harvard?”

The intelligence community IG’s office did not respond to inquiries about the impact of Stone’s part-time status.

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