Intelligence whistleblowers are generally Intelligence Community (IC) employees or contractors who bring to light allegations of agency wrongdoings by, for example, disclosing information on such wrongdoings to congressional intelligence committees. Such disclosures can aid oversight of, or help curb misconduct within, intelligence agencies. However, intelligence whistleblowers could face retaliation from their employers for their disclosures, and the fear of such retaliation may deter whistleblowing. Congress and President Obama have taken measures to protect certain intelligence whistleblowers from retaliation, and thereby seemingly encourage these whistleblowers to disclose information on agency wrongdoing. These measures are the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998 (ICWPA), Presidential Policy Directive 19 (PPD-19), and Title VI of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2014 (Title VI). Each of these measures details what disclosures fall within the scope of its protections, which generally include certain disclosures through government channels (e.g., disclosures to agency inspectors general or congressional intelligence committees). None of these measures protect against retaliation or potential criminal liability arising from disclosures to media sources. The ICWPA applies to both IC employees and contractors, whereas PPD-19 and Title VI appear to apply only to IC employees.
The ICWPA is the oldest of the three intelligence whistleblower protections and, of the three, provides the least amount of protection to those falling within its scope. The ICWPA does not explicitly prohibit retaliation against IC whistleblowers. Rather, it outlines procedures through which whistleblowers can disclose to the congressional intelligence committees information on “urgent concerns,” such as violations of law or false statements to Congress. The ICWPA further contains no explicit mechanism for obtaining a remedy for retaliation stemming from disclosure of an urgent concern to Congress. It merely allows an IC whistleblower who has faced an adverse personnel action because he disclosed an urgent concern to the congressional intelligence committees to then use the ICWPA’s disclosure procedures to inform the committees of the retaliation.
PPD-19, unlike the ICWPA, expressly prohibits an IC employee from taking an adverse personnel action or security clearance determination against another employee because of a protected disclosure. It additionally requires intelligence agencies to develop procedures for internally investigating, through agency Inspectors General, allegations of impermissible retaliation. After finding that impermissible retaliation has occurred, Inspectors General can recommend that agency heads take corrective action. When an employee has exhausted the internal review procedures that must be established under PPD-19, he can appeal to the Director of National Intelligence, who then has the discretion to convene a review panel. If it finds that improper retaliation occurred, the review panel can recommend that the agency head take remedial action.
Title VI seemingly codifies, and expands upon, some of the protections of PPD-19. Its protections, and modes of enforcement, differ depending on the type of retaliation alleged. More specifically, Title VI’s protected disclosures and enforcement methods in the context of allegations of adverse personnel action are distinct from its protected disclosures and enforcement methods for allegations of adverse security clearance or information access determinations.