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Pentagon Inspector General Moving to Shut Down Key Whistleblower Advocate in Washington

Pentagon inspector general Jon T. Rymer (US Government Photo)

A well-respected advocate for whistleblowers in the United States government, he served the inspector general of the the Pentagon as the first director of civilian reprisal investigations and also as director of whistleblowing and transparency.

He now serves in the position of Executive Director for Intelligence Community Whistleblowing and Source Protection (ED-ICW&SP) and directly reports to the inspector general of the intelligence community. But the Pentagon inspector general is reportedly moving to shut Dan Meyer down by suspending him and revoking his top secret security clearance in possible retaliation for his diligent efforts to represent whistleblowers.

According to McClatchy Newspapers, the moves by management at the Pentagon stem from the fact that “Meyer and other Pentagon inspector general employees were grilled about whether they leaked a draft of a report that concluded that former CIA Director Leon Panetta and the Defense Department’s top intelligence official disclosed sensitive information” to Zero Dark Thirty filmmakers. The report was not classified, but the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) did manage to obtain a copy of the report and posted it on the organization’s website in 2013.

The draft report, which was not classified, was obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group, and posted on its website last year.

Meyer denies that he is the one who leaked the draft report, but the Deputy Chief of Staff Brett A. Mansfield of the inspector general’s office referred to this “unauthorized disclosure” in a memo and contended that Meyer had acknowledged providing the draft report to a Senate Intelligence Committee staffer and to the chief of staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The whistleblower advocate has shared that he was found to have made an “unauthorized disclosure” to Congress.

At an event at Georgetown University Law Center on February 25 called “Whistleblowers, Leakers and Traitors: An Evolving Paradigm,” Meyer spoke on a panel the “current legal framework” for whistleblowers. The fact that former CIA officer John Kiriakou is in jail for his unauthorized disclosure while former Pentagon chief Leon Panetta and a former top adviser to Panetta, Michael Vickers, have not been punished at all for their unauthorized disclosures was raised at the panel.

Meyer stated, “I have been found actually to have made an unauthorized disclosure to the Congress with the insider threat protocol. It was on Zero Dark Thirty. So I can’t really comment on some of the investigations, but I was completely shocked when I saw that finding because in doing what I did with both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee I was working at the behest of my boss.”

He added that “about a month later” he realized that the “game” had “broke in a different direction.” Now he was on the other side of the choices and options management wanted to make going forward.

Meyer also said, “I have to be careful on this because this touches on some of my former cases,” but the reason why someone like NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake might be prosecuted while Panetta is not is because of a “broader game.”
“It’s game theory actually,” Meyer added. “A whistleblower becomes a piece in a larger game in Washington and some of those pieces are moved in a way that’s perfectly permissible to the establishment and the power elite.”

McClatchy detailed how Lynne M. Halbrooks, then the acting Pentagon inspector general, authorized an investigation in December 2011 into Panetta and Vickers. A final report was prepared along with talking points to be used when it was released, but this version was not released. It was sanitized. Details on Panetta and Vickers that were politically sensitive, particularly to their careers or reputations, were removed and that ignited a dispute.

“As the disagreement escalated,” Taylor reported, “Meyer in September 2012 accompanied one of Halbrooks’ staffers to a meeting on Capitol Hill, at which the staffer told congressional aides that Halbrooks and her general counsel, Henry Shelley Jr., were trying to delay the investigation until Panetta left office.” Then, Meyer “accused Halbrooks of preventing her office’s interview of Army Col. Mark Fassl, then the inspector general for the training command, who had alleged that his supervisors tried to interfere with his ongoing investigation of the Afghan National Military Hospital, according to two sources.”

“Fassl had presented evidence of the medical neglect of allied Afghan soldiers, including the starvation of one. The inspector general later substantiated his allegations, but Fassl was not treated as a whistleblower.”

Inspector generals are the officials in government, who the White House, Congress, other government officials and pundits in media say whistleblowers should go to when making disclosures. But often these are people who end up working to stifle and prevent good government employees from blowing the whistle and having any meaningful impact in an agency.

Meyer’s current job is to make the most of some of the whistleblower protection reforms approved by President Barack Obama. He “hears appeals and oversees investigations into whistleblower retaliation complaints from intelligence community employees and contractors, including the NSA and the CIA.”

Previously, Meyer has investigated or provided oversight to cases involving disclosures on the September 11th attacks, the use of security clearances as form of reprisal or discrimination against an employee and the treatment of soldiers and their remains after injury or death.

Before 2004, he was the general counsel for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and argued a case before the First Circuit Court of Appeals that changed how protections for whistleblowing could be extended to federal government employees.

Meyer survived the 1989 explosion on board the battleship Iowa, which resulted in the deaths of 47 of his shipmates. He became a whistleblower after the explosion when he alleged in a disclosure to the Senate Armed Services Committee that misdirection of the investigation into the explosion had occurred.

During the Georgetown Law Center panel, Meyer expressed his belief that the “most important thing to get adequate whistleblower protection is culture change.” That takes five to seven years, and it is possible with intelligence agency employees. He is “far more pessimistic in getting the supervisors and managers to understand their role in this process. By far the pride of our federal officials is a much bigger impediment.”

The reason it is so difficult is because supervisors and managers have this kind of “caveman mentality” and this visceral reaction to their loyalty being violated. They feel like they then need to smash the person who is whistleblowing.

“What you have to be able to do is change the culture so the official knows that when they hear the allegations they sit on their hands and they keep their mouth shut for about three to four weeks and by that time all the processes have kicked in and they’re not going to do anything hasty,” Meyer said.

Some employees have never been exposed to the “nastiness of Washington.” They can wander into this environment and not be prepared. So, Meyer talked about how he has provided “complete anonymity” to whistleblowers by taking their disclosures and putting his name on them.

Government officials have objected to this practice, but he has told them that all they need is the information to investigate what an employee is alleging. The identity is unimportant and the longer that person’s identity remains “out of circulation” the safer they will be.

If the Pentagon succeeds in exiling Meyer from government, indisputably, efforts to protect whistleblowers will be set back significantly.

There aren’t many people in government willing to be tenacious and fight on behalf of those at the bottom in defense against illegitimate or improper acts of those at the top. But Meyer believes that whistleblowers “complete the constitutional feedback loop.”

“Whistleblowers are the transmission between the Congress and the people. So, when a whistleblower comes to me and they want to go to the Congress,” they are completing a key component of this country’s representative democracy.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."