from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2012, Issue No. 53
June 5, 2012

Secrecy News Blog:


Last week the House Oversight Committee reported out the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, a bill that is intended to increase protections for government employees and contractors who "blow the whistle" and disclose illegal or improper government activity. Among other things, the bill would require intelligence agency heads to advise employees on how to make lawful disclosures of classified information without retribution.

"Whistleblowers are crucial in helping to expose waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement and criminal activity across the Federal government," the May 30 House Committee report stated. "Their disclosures can save billions of dollars, and even human lives. It is vital that Congress encourage--not discourage--these well-intentioned individuals from coming forward."

The pending bill would bolster the comparatively flimsy provisions of the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act. Establishing improved channels for lawful disclosures of illegal activity could serve to diminish incentives for unauthorized disclosures of classified information, the Committee suggested.

"These modifications are intended to reduce the often destructive disclosures that occur through anonymous leaks by providing an alternative in which institutional channels can be used by whistleblowers assured of certain safeguards," the report said.

The House Committee did not approve a provision that would have allowed whistleblowers who have suffered retaliation for their actions to request a jury trial.

Last month, the Senate passed its version of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act by unanimous consent.

"Approximately 450 whistleblower cases and around 2,000 complaints about prohibited personnel practices (including engaging in reprisals against whistleblowers) are filed against the federal government each year," according to a Senate report on the bill.


Shamai Leibowitz was the first person in the Obama Administration to be charged under the Espionage Act with leaking classified information to the press. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a jail term that he completed last year. ("Jail Sentence Imposed in Leak Case," Secrecy News, May 25, 2010).

Leibowitz, an Israel-American who has been a vocal, even radical critic of Israeli government policies, was employed as a contract linguist and translator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was charged with disclosing secret documents concerning "communication intelligence activities of the United States." The precise nature of those documents was not disclosed even to the judge who sentenced Mr. Leibowitz.

Last September, the New York Times reported that Mr. Leibowitz had "passed on secret transcripts of conversations caught on FBI wiretaps of the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Those overheard by the eavesdroppers included American supporters of Israel and at least one member of Congress," the Times reported, based on information from blogger Richard Silverstein. See "Leak Offers Look at Efforts by U.S. to Spy on Israel" by Scott Shane, New York Times, September 6, 2011.

But that's not true, Mr. Leibowitz wrote in his blog today.

"Unfortunately, many people consider whatever they read on the web or in the newspapers as the truth set in stone. What can you do against it? Not much!" he wrote. By the terms of his plea agreement, he is not permitted to publicly discuss the contents of the leaked documents.

"All I can say is that my work had nothing to do with the Israeli Embassy and I certainly never listened to wiretaps of the Israeli Embassy."

"I never did anything against the State of Israel, as I am a proud Israeli citizen... I have no problem - as was falsely alleged - with Israelis lobbying Congress."

"Rather, my actions involved a situation when I came across documents that showed the FBI is committing illegal and unconstitutional acts, and instead of following the chain of command, I showed it to a journalist. And for that mistake I paid a price...," he wrote.

In other respects, Mr. Leibowitz seems to have endured the ordeal of prison with extraordinary equanimity.

"It's been nearly a year since I was released from a minimum-security prison after spending there one year," Mr. Leibowitz wrote. "When I was released I did not feel that I regained my freedom because I never lost my freedom in the first place."


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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