August 21, 2013

TRANSPARENCY: Dana Milbank: The price Gina Gray paid for whistleblowing.

President Obama, in his news conference this month, said that Edward Snowden was wrong to go public with revelations about secret surveillance programs because “there were other avenues available for somebody whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions.”

This is a common refrain among administration officials and some lawmakers: If only Snowden had made his concerns known through the proper internal channels, everything would have turned out well. The notion sounds reasonable, as do the memorandums Obama signed supposedly protecting whistleblowers.

But it’s a load of nonsense. Ask Gina Gray.

Gray is the Defense Department whistleblower whose case I have been following for five years. She was the Army civilian worker who, before and after her employment, exposed much of the wrongdoing at Arlington National Cemetery — misplaced graves, mishandled remains and financial mismanagement — and she attempted to do it through the proper internal channels. Pentagon sources have confirmed to me her crucial role in bringing the scandal to light.

For her troubles, Gray was fired. . . . Sadly, Gray’s case is emblematic of the way this administration has handled whistleblowers. Obama came into office pledging transparency and professing admiration for government workers who expose abuses. But his administration has pursued more cases under the 1917 Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined (including the prosecution of National Security Agency workers who tried to register their objections through “proper” channels). And the alleged intimidation of would-be whistleblowers goes beyond those involved in sensitive intelligence. For example, diplomat Gregory Hicks told a House committee that he was demoted because he gave congressional investigators a description of the attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, that was at odds with the official version of events.

It’s Chicago Rules. You see something, you say nothing.

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