Saturday, July 08, 2006

Sibel Edmonds: Dirty Dozen. Blowing the Whistle - Part 2

Dirty Dozen. Blowing the Whistle - Part 2 of 3
Interview with National Security Whistleblowers Coalition President Sibel Edmonds

In the first instalment we had a quick overview of the Dirty Dozen campaign, and we looked at three specific whistleblower cases. In this instalment, we discuss the NSWBC's frustrated efforts to get congress to investigate some egregious crimes, and we take an eye-opening look at the NSWBC's efforts to get some whistleblower protection passed in congress.

The NSWBC has a two-pronged approach for improving the situation for whistleblowing and for whistleblowers :
a) they try to force Congress to open investigations and hold hearings into the specific cases
b) they are trying to get Congress to pass whistleblower protection legislation.

Sibel describes the process for trying to get Congress to open hearings and investigations:
SE: You know, we've been begging the committees, giving them the details and relevant documentation of each of the whistleblower cases to the key offices and so on. Let's say the whistleblower is from the DoD, they report to the Armed Services Committee - so we send all the documents on a particular whistleblower and we say:
'We're asking you to launch an investigation into this whistleblower's case. Here is what we have so far, here are the issues, here are the documents etc. This person has already gone to the Inspector General, he or she has been put on administrative leave. Here's where we are so far '
If you're from the FBI, for example, you know that the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee has the oversight responsibility for the FBI. They have the power to withhold the funds from the FBI, they have the power to bring people in and hold hearings - and actually perform the oversight and accountability. So naturally you go to the Congress.

That’s why the NSWBC has had our entire focus on Congress - we write respectful letters, and follow-up with calls and emails and faxes, and sometimes we attend rallies in front of their offices - saying 'you need to meet with us'
How's that going?
SE: For 2.5 years, these people - particularly this Dirty Dozen - have done NOTHING. They have basically removed the only '911' that whistleblowers have - and in doing so, they have abdicated their oversight responsibilities.
There appears to be two different ways that Congress can avoid having the hearings. The powerful Republican leadership can simply block them:
SE: For example, in my case, when Senators Grassley and Leahy came out and said all this stuff about how the case was so credible, and we need to turn the FBI upside-down - this is 4 years ago - and they came on CBS 60 Minutes and all that stuff. And after the Inspector General report came out, they wanted to immediately hold public hearings on my case - both of them. Grassley is a Republican, Leahy is a Democrat - but the person who prevented the hearings was Senator Hatch. Orrin Hatch was the Chairman at the time - and he basically told Grassley - a Republican, so this isn’t even a partisan issue - but Hatch just said "No. No. No. I'm not allowing any hearing on this woman's case."

One of the most detailed articles that first came out about my case was Gail Sheehy's piece in the New York Observer. It's not a particularly comprehensive piece, but it does deal with the whistleblower aspect. Ok - so you know how diplomatic these Senators normally are - they don’t normally come straight out and say 'this person is blocking this' or whatever. Despite that, Grassley got so pissed off that he even went on the record and said to Gail Sheehy "The only reason that we aren’t having these hearings is because Senator Hatch - the Chairman - is preventing it - and without the Chairman allowing it, we can't have any hearings."
The other way that Congress can avoid having hearings and investigations is by employing what is commonly known as the 'ostrich method' :
SE: And so that is why we worded our message in the Dirty Dozen press release very specifically to say "Action OR Inaction" - on one hand we have people, like e.g. the Chair of the Intel committee, or in a leadership position like Hastert - who have actively opposed and said "No - I'm not going to put this up for a vote" or "No - I'm not going to allow this hearing." That's the active opposing. But we also have people who are actually aware of these whistleblowers cases by being in their position but by refusing to take any action. So even though they haven’t actively opposed, they've decided that they aren’t going to say anything about the cases, decided not to do anything about it, decided not going to give us a meeting. These people have the attitude that they don’t want to hear no evil, or see no evil. Again - so that's why we emphasize "Action or Inaction."
For example, here is Sibel describing Hillary Clinton and her office:
SE: So for the past 4 years these people (the Veterans Affairs doctors) have been trying to blow the whistle (on this murder, fraud & abuse in the hospitals) - boxes of letters, faxes, emails to Sen. Clinton’s office for the past four years. Not a response! Sometimes they get a canned response of 3 lines saying 'Sen. Clinton has always voted for an increase of budgets for the VA.'...

When we at the NSWBC found out about it, we were outraged - so we started sending letters. We called Clinton’s office, and we asked her to give us an appointment so that we could brief her and show her some of the patient files, together with the doctors. Nothing! No response...

The second issue with Clinton is that she's on the Armed Services Committee. We have had many DoD whistleblowers - both on a) big - very big - Halliburton related contract issues, and b) we have had whistleblowers on torture issues, for example Sergeant Provance who I mentioned earlier. He testified in the hearings in the House - it's just outrageous. These cases have been mailed to her office - and to this day, her office has not requested a single hearing into any of these DoD whistleblowers cases - some of them high profile. To this day they have not released a single press release, they have not responded to us, they have not responded to these whistleblowers (when I say 'they' I mean the staff members and Clinton’s office.)
We want to go to her constituents in NY and say 'let's look at this woman’s track record, really!' a) where does she stand? Because she's a woman who takes NO ACTION - that should be her motto! and b) she pretends she's a hawk - but on the other hand, she sits and watches these people being abused and being screwed up, and murdered in VA hospitals in her own state! c) she doesn’t even respond to any whistleblower cases and therefore she's anti-accountability - and is against oversight, and against the public's right to know.
When we request to go and brief her, and her staff - see with her office she doesn’t want to know. She’s not even giving appointments. Why? Because we are not defense contractors, we are not contributing to her campaign. Mrs. Clinton - why is it that your staff - being on the Armed Services Committee, and therefore responsible for DoD whistleblowers - why is it that they don't want to even become aware of the issues? or even give an appointment for half an hour? To me, that says a lot.
Not surprisingly, the Dirty Dozen list is populated with people on National Security- related committees, particularly the Judiciary Committee:
SE: The Judiciary Committee is the most important committee when it comes to whistleblowers - you see, you have specific whistleblowers areas - like if you're DoD you go to Armed Services Committee, if you’re CIA you go to Intelligence Committee, but the Judiciary Committee has a broader oversight area which covers all of those because it also deals with the court. Considering the fact that all these whistleblowers also have to deal with classification, states secret privilege, National Security being invoked, being prevented to file in certain courts etc - so there are two committees that are most relevant to whistleblowers issues period, regardless of the agency that the whistleblowers is from. The number one committee is the Judiciary Committee, the other one, as the name suggests is Government Reform - the House Government Reform Committee and in the Senate the Government Reform Committee and the Homeland Security Committee are under one name - which is called the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee - which is the same as the Government Reform Committee. So with the Judiciary Committee, every single one of those members are in the position and they have the responsibility - more so than any other committee in terms of whistleblowers issues.
And also not surprising, the Committee Chairs are the very important. Here's why:
SE: So when we deal with Chairmen - even if you get bipartisan support, the Chairmen, and the Leadership, are in a position to block it and simply say "No - I'm not going to have any hearings on this" or "No I’m not going to bring this particular bill for a vote." So even if a lot of people on the committee agree with a particular bill and want to vote for it, the Chairman can simply refuse to schedule voting on it. So these Chairmen are really powerful.
As I mentioned earlier, aprt from trying to instigate hearings, the other function that NSWBC performs is trying to get effective National Security whistleblower legislation passed. The first step was to develop the perfect legislation:
SE: See we already have these two great bills proposed on whistleblowers - because we worked with all the whistleblowers and the whistleblower experts outside the congress - we sat down and created our own proposed model legislation. We call it the 'model bill' which includes all whistleblowers - including National Security, and it also includes contractors and subcontractors. It provides for accountability - not only that, one provision criminalizes retaliation against whistleblowers who report criminal activity.

So lets say that it's illegal to eavesdrop without warrants - and let's say Whistleblower X is reporting this illegal conduct (because you can also report government waste/fraud/abuse - which is not necessarily illegal, or criminal) - but if they are reporting something that is criminal or illegal - and they are retaliated against - then, there should be criminal investigations into those who retaliate against this whistleblower. If you report a crime, and those people above you retaliate against you - then those people should be criminally prosecuted too, because not only was there this original crime, but they were also trying to cover-up too - so this model legislation is fantastic.
The next step is to try to get the model legislation passed:
SE: We presented this model legislation to several offices until we found some to sponsor it. In the House - our legislation was sponsored ("Paul Revere Freedom to Warn Act") by Congressman Markey and Congresswoman Maloney (both Democrats) - and they are trying to find sponsors because it has to be co-sponsored by Republicans - but the Republicans are just not supporting it at all.
And if passing your own legislation doesn't work, the alternative is to try to tighten up other legislation:
SE: We had one very interesting case with the House Government Reform Committee. The Chair is Tom Davis - Republican from Virginia - and the ranking minority leader is Henry Waxman from California, Democrat. Last September, Chairman Davis brought this quasi-whistleblower bill - HR 1317 - which they said was a bill to protect whistleblowers, and as soon as we looked at it we noticed that all the National Security Whistleblowers - FBI, NSA, DHS - everybody is excluded from it. So in the committee, they had the markup hearing - this was when they put it up for vote - and during the hearing Henry Waxman and Congressman Maloney - the Democrat leadership in that committee - they introduced amendments to the bill proposing to remove the exemption language so the National Security Whistleblowers are included, and another amendment that both contractors and subcontractors should also be given protection.

So there were 3 or 4 excellent amendments that we had been pushing for, and the Democrats introduced them, and the Chairman said "No - we're not even going to look at those amendments - we don’t deal with National Security Whistleblowers. That's for the Intelligence Committee - so we aren’t even going to look at them and we're just going to pass the bill the way it is" - and it passed immediately.
And if at first you don't succeed:
SE: Then we had a massive campaign against Chairman Davis - we had faxes, letters, interviews etc etc. and surprisingly, after we'd spent so much effort and energy on it - Tom Davis changed his position just a month ago - because Waxman introduced the amendments again - and this time Davis said "I agree with you" and he put his name on it! Lo and behold! Our campaign worked, see! He came to his senses and it passed the committee. Great!

So here we have a bill that even Republicans voted for - right - so the next stage is to take the bill to the next committees and to the House floor and let's get it passed. Well - they had to first send it to the House Rules Committee and they simply said 'No - we are not going to bring this - we're not even going to look at it'. A week later the House Government Reform Committee sent it again, House Rules Committee refused again, without any reason. The third time it was sent it was refused again, so now it's dead. This bill is dead! - even though it was bi-partisan. That is the power that the Leadership has. See - these are all learning experiences for me too. I was not planning to be in the middle of this sin-city and doing this - and hopefully I won’t have to be doing it for too long! Hopefully we will cause enough changes and bring about enough change here that I can turn around and leave before I just drown in it.
How is the model bill going in the Senate?
SE: In the Senate, Sen. Lautenberg crafted his own bill - based on our model - and it is the best, the most comprehensive bill out there.

However, in Lautenberg's own committee - the Democrats all turned their back on it - saying 'We don’t want to touch this issue, its too controversial - we don’t want to piss off the Republicans', and of course the Republicans say 'We're not even going to look at it' - so unlike the House, nobody in the Senate does anything! The senators are just there to make each other happy. The Senate, in a way, is just like one party. It's rare to see someone like Feingold or Sen. Lautenberg - but because of the climate in the Senate - people like that are being shunned, and isolated, even by their own party members - which is awful!

For example, I sat through this one senate meeting - personally - with the directors of four other organizations - and during this meeting, (I won't name these people) the staff of the chairman of this committee started bad-mouthing some really good people like Sen. Lautenberg - and the other Democrats' staff sat there nodding and they were applauding - it was just disgusting! So basically you just have this one party system as far as the Senate is concerned. Less so in the House - it's a totally different pattern in the House.
What's happening with the Collins / Lieberman bill in the Senate?
SE: That bill is S494 - it came out of the Homeland Security Committee - so Senators Collins, Lieberman and Akaka. They said 'OK - these whistleblowers are making a lot of noise, let's give some whistleblower protection' so they drafted the bill - of course, there is this chunky paragraph there saying 'however, the following agencies are all exempt for any Whistleblower protection. FBI, NSA - every National Security and law enforcement agency!'

Not only that - we also caught this one deadly paragraph which says that any agency, not just National Security agencies has the right to open an investigation against any government employee who goes to congress and discloses any information - classified or unclassified! Basically it's giving carte blanche to the executive branch to investigate anyone who goes to congress! Well - this actually legitimizes retaliation - it is such a dangerous thing!

We sent Collins and Lieberman a letter saying 'please take out that paragraph, this is very dangerous, please don't do this - it's worse to have a bill like this, under the mask of ‘Whistleblower protection’ than having no bill at all - because this legitimizes retaliation.' Collins refused to take the language out - and they also said that they will never deal with National Security Whistleblowers - they won’t even discuss the issue. And when I say 'they' - Lieberman and Collins. And then they sneaked it behind our back and they attached it to the defense bill!

The bill hasn’t passed the entire senate yet - the conference is going to happen in September, I believe. So we still have two months to fight Collins and Lieberman - and anybody else who is pushing the bill.
And why is Congress so opposed to having effective whistleblower protection?
SE: The Congress of the United States was established to provide checks and balances. However, the people in the leadership positions in all of the committees are in bed with the executive branch, the White House. If you look at all of their actions, they seem to see their job as protecting the President and the White House - rather than acting as an oversight body. You have people like Hastert and Dreier in the House, and also Pat Roberts in the Senate - they see themselves as the guardian angels of the White House - so you have all these people lined up against whistleblowers.

But you see, there are the other powerful actors who hate whistleblowers - the defense companies and the rest of the military industrial complex. Do you think they like to see any whistleblower protection? Of course not! These companies take advantage of the situation. It is these companies that are doing these deals that are fraudulent or unfair.

Do you know the Bunnatine Greenhouse / Haliburton case? That's a good example of why these companies also don’t want effective whistleblower legislation.

You see, when you have the proper oversight and accountability, then of course there are fewer crimes, and there will be less fraud and waste - because these people committing the crimes will know that someone is watching and they won't be able to get away with it. They don't want that!

Hmmm. I wonder if defense contractors are disproportionately represented as the financiers of the Dirty Dozen.

That's it for this instalment. In part three, we go through the Dirty Dozen list and document the atrocities for each person on the list.


Miguel said...

It occurs to me reading this interview how much the NSWBC has accomplished with so few resources. Think about it: a small group of ex-government employees has managed to push a bill through a key House committee.

How much further could this be taken if Sibel and her fellow whistleblowers could generate some support from the grassroots?

lukery said...

they really have done a great job.

imagine if they could get some support from the Republican leadership ;-)

Anonymous said...

I wonder why neither one of the various Wikipedia entries on Hillary Clinton does mention the Dirty Dozen campaign? There is already an item called "Hillary Rodham Clinton controversies", so I guess it would fit in there?