For the first time in the history of the secret agency that was rocked by the 2013 Edward Snowden scandal, the National Security Agency’s inspector general has declassified a version of its semi-annual report.
Robert Storch, after six months on the job, said the goal was “to be as transparent as possible about how the NSA OIG conducts rigorous independent oversight that detects and deters waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct within the agency, and how we promote the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of agency operations pursuant to the IG Act.” Future such releases are also planned.
The report summarizing the watchdog’s audits and investigations from Oct. 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018, also included fresh language encouraging agency whistleblowers, a move cheered by activists at outside whistleblower groups.
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Storch, who had performed similar outreach to whistleblowers while at the Justice Department, wrote in the introduction that “Whistleblowers perform a valuable service to the agency and the public when they come forward with what they believe to be evidence of wrongdoing, and should never suffer reprisal from doing so.” The report described a new whistleblower protection page now on the NSA employees’ classified website with videos on procedures and reporting forms. He also created the position of whistleblower coordinator. “Agencies like the NSA are simply too big, their operations too diverse, for an IG to know what is happening throughout the organization,” he noted.
Other audits listed in the report involve such issues as travel budget controls, improper payments and emergency management procedures.
Overall, the IG during the six-month period opened 30 investigations and conducted 99 inquiries, closing 43 existing investigations and 98 inquires. Three of the investigations involved whistleblowers (none were found to merit referral to the Justice Department), and two involved nepotism. The NSA IG did substantiate a whistleblower reprisal case involving two managers and referred it to Justice in June 2017, the report noted.
Irvin McCullough, a national security analyst at the nonprofit Government Accountability Project, told Government Executive that “Storch truly values whistleblowers’ role in Intelligence Community oversight. The powerful language in his first report to Congress praising brave whistleblowers truly demonstrates his commitment. We believe NSA employees, after reading this report, should feel comfortable speaking up to Mr. Storch when they witness impropriety.”