Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire must speak out in support and defense of the whistleblower and the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act. And he should demand the president stop threatening his employee — and resign if he continues.
He must do so because the whistleblower is one of his — he leads the entire Intelligence Community and it is clear that the whistleblower is an Intelligence Officer with one of the Communities’ 17 components. One who has followed the law and regulations, and now is in danger because of his or her actions. He must do so because protection of whistleblowers is a critical part of the apparatus of oversight that provides the Intelligence Community credibility and legitimacy in our democracy. And he must do so because the law says that Whistleblower must be protected.
First, the Director of National Intelligence has a unique responsibility to those he leads. Intelligence officers are trained to defend themselves overseas against counter-intelligence threats and physical danger. To do so, they are schooled in the tradecraft of espionage — deception, obfuscation, and yes, lying. But those skills are dangerous in a democracy, which is why part of that training, and the resulting culture of the Intelligence Community, leaves Intelligence officers almost defenseless at home. We do not want our intelligence professionals to bring their skills to bear in domestic politics. In the face of furious attacks from American government officials in Congress and at the White House, they are vulnerable. That is why their leader, a political appointee, must stand for them, shielding them from the attacks they cannot respond to. Director Maguire should stand for his officers because they are in danger, and he is their leader.
Second, whistleblowers are also a critical part of a system of oversight that includes the Congress, the inspectors general, internal training, ombudsmen, and crime reporting requirements. That oversight system may seem like just drag on the IC, but is actually a vital part of the Intelligence Community. Espionage is a dangerous thing, and it is perhaps one of the more difficult tricks in an open free democracy to also have a first-class espionage capability. Espionage excellence and functioning democracy only mix under specific conditions, and those conditions include a vigorous and effective system of oversight. The ability of people inside the intelligence system to safely step forward and report wrongdoing is part of that oversight system. Damage to the whistleblower “structure” is, in the end, damage to the CIA DIA, FBI, NSA, and the rest of the Community, damaging its capabilities, and its continuing vitality within the American system. Director Maguire should stand for the whistleblower because standing for him or her is standing for the entire Intelligence Community.
Third, the director must stand for the rule of law. And the law in the United State is clear: the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act was passed by Congress, and signed by the president, in order to protect whistleblowers from exactly what is happening to this particular whistleblower right now. And that law is backed up by a Presidential Decision Directive, and stated intent of both the Director of National Intelligence. Director Maguire should stand for the Whistleblower because standing for the Whistleblower is standing for the law.
When Director Maguire testified before Congress back in September he said “I want to state support for the whistleblower and the right and the laws.” And that the whistleblower “did the right thing.” Almost two month have past. Members of Congress have continued to try to expose the whistleblower, questions his or her patriotism and loyalty. Just a few days ago Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) alleged that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was the whistleblower’s “handler,” a thinly disguised accusation of disloyalty at best, espionage at worst. And the president of the United States continually tweets accusations and threats.
It is his duty to speak, and speak loudly and emphatically. What he should say: To the members of Congress you need to state your support for the whistleblower. To the President, he should say clearly: “You must stop, or I will resign.” When I wrote this, there are reports that the secretary of the Navy and the Admiral commanding Navy Seals have threatened to resign if the president continues obstructs efforts to remove a Navy Seal convicted of war crimes (and pardoned by this President). The following day the secretary of the Navy left his position. The DNI should follow their example.
Steven Cash previously served as Senator Dianne Feinstein’s designee on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and later as her Chief Counsel on the Judiciary Committee; he also served as both an Assistant General Counsel and Operations Officer with the CIA. He is now in private practice handling national security and White Collar matters for Day Pitney’s Washington and New York Offices.