Whistleblowers worry about fate of spy agency ombudsman

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A decision to put the man who handles whistleblower complaints at U.S. spy agencies on administrative leave has raised worries on Capitol Hill that it's part of a plan to hamstring the program that helps intelligence workers report waste, fraud and abuse. A top Republican said he is investigating.

Whistleblower groups were alarmed when they heard that Dan Meyer, director of the Intelligence Community Whistleblowing and Source Protection program, was put on leave late last month and escorted out of his offices.

Intelligence officials won't say why Meyer was put on leave, but insist they support whistleblower programs. Whistleblower groups fear Meyer is being sidelined and his program is being weakened to reduce its effectiveness.

In a letter to National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, referred to allegations that intelligence officials are taking steps to hamper the four-year-old program.

"It will be critical for Congress to determine whether this action (involving Meyer) is part of that alleged effort," Grassley wrote in his Nov. 29 letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press on Friday. The decision to put Meyer on leave was first reported by Foreign Policy.

Grassley said it would be "unacceptable" if Meyer was being targeted in retaliation for communicating with Congress about whistleblower issues. He called on Wayne Stone, the acting inspector general for the intelligence agencies, to make sure the contents of Meyer's offices, which likely contain evidence in open whistleblower cases, is secured.

Grassley also requested that his staff be given by Dec. 8 all documents relating to the decision to put Meyer on administration leave. Grassley has not yet received any of the materials he requested.

Coats' office said it could not comment on personnel matters. "We are committed to ensuring that all intelligence community personnel have the means available to report wrongdoing to a variety of authorized individuals without compromising national security or retaliation," a statement said.

On Oct. 26, Coats and his deputy sent a letter to U.S. intelligence workers saying they were committed to making sure intelligence employees have ways to report wrongdoing without compromising national security or suffering retaliation. The whistleblower protection program is "active and strong," the letter said.

Whistleblower groups aren't convinced.

Stephen Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblower Center, said Meyer was very effective and aggressively worked on behalf of whistleblowers.

He said intelligence officials cannot get rid of the program, which was established by federal law. "They just need to get rid of the person who makes the program effective," Kohn said.

"They don't want a whistleblower advocate in that position. He is aggressive. He is aggressively pro-whistleblower. ... He has held intelligence agencies accountable. If he is removed, the program is dead. No one will trust it and they shouldn't."

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog group founded in 1981 that investigates corruption and misconduct, agreed.

Meyer has been a champion for whistleblowers and has attracted "enemies inside the bureaucracy," Brian said. "This looks like a blatant attempt to get rid of him simply because he is doing his job."

At a National Whistleblower Day celebration on Capitol Hill in July, Meyer was mistakenly introduced as someone who worked for a congressional committee.

Meyer joked that a lot of people in the executive branch "think I am a spy" for congressional committees, but then quickly explained that he really ran a whistleblower program that could be accessed by employees in all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies.

His aggressive approach was evident in his remarks.

Meyer said intelligence employees who want to blow the whistle on wrongdoing or misconduct could do so without fear of being exposed. "My promise to the community and its stakeholders is that I will be brutally blunt about the extent of that protection — where it's strong and where there are pitfalls," Meyer said. "That's what I'm known for and I'll be glad to help you if you need help."

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