NSA Thwarts Whistleblower

Leah A. Nelson

NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland.

Russell Tice has something to say, but there is no one he can talk to.

He explained as much at a mid-February hearing before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations. Tice is a 20-year veteran of the United States intelligence network, having worked for Naval Intelligence, the Department of Defense and, most recently, the National Security Agency, where he held the position of intelligence analyst and capabilities officer. He has intimate knowledge of the innermost workings of the intelligence community, and wants to tell Congress about an NSA program that, he says, is unconstitutional and possibly criminal. 

What [the American people] know about is Hiroshima,” he says. What I’m going to tell you about is Nagasaki. I’m going to tell you about three Nagasakis.” He is gagged, however, by the non-disclosure agreement he signed before becoming privy to top-secret government activities.

Anyone who comes forward is really made into a martyr,” says Beth Daley, Senior Investigator at the Project on Government Oversight, who works with whistleblowers. It discourages other people from coming forward.”

Tice’s story is complex. In 2001, he suspected a co-worker at the Defense Intelligence Agency of being a double agent. He discreetly notified a DIA counter-intelligence officer, who told him that the FBI had investigated and there was nothing to his concerns. He still had his doubts, but when he brought up the matter again in 2003, the NSA’s security office called him in for an emergency psychological evaluation. Despite having cleared him for duty after a routine examination nine months earlier, they declared him to be suffering from paranoia, and downgraded his clearance to red badge” status. (An independent psychological evaluation has refuted this diagnosis.) He was reassigned to do odd jobs at the NSA motor pool, where he began to talk to other demoted red badge employees, and his supervisor accused him of trying to form a union.

Tice asked the Inspectors General at both the NSA and the Department of Defense to investigate the matter, and neither claimed to find any impropriety. In February 2004, he told the NSA’s security office that if he didn’t receive a new investigation or get his security clearance back, he was going to talk to the press. Shortly after that, he lost his job.

The NSA denies that it practices retaliation against whistleblowers. Yet, Tice is still being monitored by the agency. In a January 9 letter to Tice, Renee Seymour, Director of NSA Special Access Programs Central Office, reminded him that he was required to report problems to appropriately cleared individuals” at the NSA or Department of Defense before talking to any congressional committees – and reinforced that no one in either the House or the Senate Intelligence Committees was cleared to receive the information he wished to divulge.

James Bamford, author of Body of Secrets and The Puzzle Palace, is an expert on the inner workings of America’s intelligence agencies. The congressional intelligence committees have lost total control over the intelligence communities,” says Bamford. You can’t get any oversight or checks and balances; the Congress is protecting the White House and the White House can do whatever it wants.”

Bamford notes that the last time congressional hearings on potential abuses of power were commonly held was when the Democrats controlled the executive branch and Republicans controlled the legislature. Because the same party controls both branches, he says, there is little incentive to investigate.

This is not entirely for lack of trying. At the subcommittee’s hearing on national security whistleblowers, ranking Democrat Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) asked Chairman Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) to join him in writing a letter to both the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees regarding Tice’s case. Shays agreed, and Kucinich spokesman Doug Gordon says they are currently discussing the matter.

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but that’s not the attitude in this town,” Tice says. I fear for us.”

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Leah Nelson graduated from Columbia University’s J-school in 2006. She is currently freelancing and job-hunting, and is cautiously optimistic about the future. Nelson lives in New York with her fiancé, Jason, as well as lots of books and an unreasonably large TV. This is her third article for In These Times.
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