Politics - National security whistle-blowers allege retaliation - sacbee.com
National security whistle-blowers allege retaliation
By JAMES ROSEN, McClatchy Washington BureauPublished 6:36 pm PST Tuesday, February 14, 2006WASHINGTON (SH) - Military and intelligence officers told spellbound lawmakers Tuesday that their careers had been ruined by superiors because they refused to lie about Able Danger, Abu Ghraib and other national security controversies.
Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, wearing a crisp olive Army uniform with the Bronze Star and other awards, delivered his first public testimony about his central role in Able Danger, a Pentagon computer data-mining program set up long before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to infiltrate the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
Shaffer told a House Government Reform subcommittee that he and other intelligence officers and contractors working on the top-secret program code-named "Able Danger" had identified Mohammed Atta, ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, but were prevented from passing their findings to the FBI.
"I became a whistleblower not out of choice, but out of necessity," Shaffer said. "Many of us have a personal commitment to ... going forward to expose the truth and wrongdoing of government officials who - before and after the 9/11 attacks - failed to do their job."
Shaffer contradicted recent statements by Philip Zelikow, former executive director of the Sept. 11 commission, who denied having met with Shaffer and other Able Danger operatives in Afghanistan in October 2003.
"I did meet with him," Shaffer said. "I have the business card he gave me. I find it hard to believe that he could not remember meeting me."
The commission set up by Congress to probe the Sept. 11 attacks didn't mention the Able Danger project on al Qaeda in its final report in July 2004.
When former Able Danger operatives began to talk with reporters and lawmakers about the program last year, the commission's chairman and vice chairman, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, released a statement saying the panel had looked into the work of Able Danger and found it "historically insignificant."
Shafer was to testify today (Wednesday) at a separate House Armed Services subcommittee hearing devoted to Able Danger.
Spc. Samuel Provance, also dressed in Army green, said he was demoted and humiliated after telling a general investigating the Abu Ghraib scandal that senior officers had covered up the full extent of abuse during interrogations of detainees at the U.S. military prison in Iraq.
"Young soldiers were scapegoated while superiors misrepresented what had happened and tried to misdirect attention away from what was really going on," Provance said. "I considered all of this conduct to be dishonorable and inconsistent with the traditions of the Army. I was ashamed and embarrassed to be associated with it."
The Abu Ghraib interrogations caused an international uproar in 2004 after the release of photographs of Iraqi prisoners in sexual and other degrading positions.
Provance made a new allegation about the Abu Ghraib controversy, saying that U.S. forces had captured the 16-year-old son of an Iraqi general under Saddam Hussein, Hamid Zabar, to pressure the general into providing information.
"I was extremely uncomfortable about the way General Zabar had been treated, but particularly the fact that his son had been captured and used in this way," Provance said. "It struck me as morally reprehensible, and I could not understand why our command was doing it."
Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican and chairman of the national security subcommittee that held the hearing, told Provance: "It takes a tremendous amount of courage for someone of your rank to tell a general what they may not want to hear."
Asked what his current military duties are, the former computer specialist replied," The only thing I've been doing since being demoted is picking up trash and pulling guard duty."
Russell Tice, a former National Security Agency analyst who was a New York Times source for its reporting on domestic wiretapping, told of having been classified as mentally ill and then fired in connection with an earlier episode at the espionage agency.
Tice said he would have to testify in closed hearings about the details of the eavesdropping program, which President Bush authorized soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. But under questioning by lawmakers, Tice suggested that other NSA programs also raised concerns for him.
"Some of the programs that I worked on I believe treaded on illegalities and, I believe, unconstitutional activity," Tice said.
In one of the hearing's most dramatic moments, Tice read aloud the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects Americans against "unreasonable searches and seizures" without a court warrant. Tice also read an NSA policy that limits the signals agency to monitoring foreign communications.
"As intelligence officers, we take an oath and swear to protect the Constitution," Tice said.
Michael German, a veteran FBI agent, said he was punished after reporting his bosses in Tampa, Fla., for having altered documents in a counter-terrorism investigation.
"They produced false documents and literally took Whiteout to change official records," German said.
Richard Levernier said the Energy Department pulled his security clearance after he complained that the agency was glossing over security problems at nuclear weapons sites.
"These agencies are out of control," said Rep. Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican. "If we don't take action we're all in trouble."
Shays said he convened the hearing because military and intelligence employees don't have the same whistleblower protections the government affords other federal workers or even employees of private firms.
"Whistleblowers in critical national security positions are vulnerable to unique forms of retaliation," Shays said. "There is nothing top secret about gross waste or the abuse of power."
Rep. John Duncan, a Tennessee Republican, criticized Defense Department officials for directing "trumped-up charges" against Shaffer. Duncan ridiculed the Pentagon for having accused the decorated intelligence officer of misusing small amounts of money while the government was wasting billions of dollars on rebuilding Iraq.
"If they really wanted to go after me, I had millions of dollars of equipment I was responsible for," Shaffer said.
After he began speaking out about Able Danger, Shaffer said, the Pentagon leaked personal information about him, including allegedly inflated expense reports for $67 in extra phone charges. Shaffer said the charges were to cover calls transferred from his work phone to his cell phone on weekends, so that he could be available at all times.
As the overflow hearing room grew silent, Weldon asked Shaffer to respond to separate Pentagon allegations that the colonel had been romantically involved with one of his aides.
"Have you ever had an affair with anyone on my staff, male or female?" Weldon asked.
"No, sir, but that was what DIA (the Defense Intelligence Agency) put out," Shaffer replied.