Senators prominent for advocating for government whistleblowers are now asking the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for more details about what continuous monitoring of cleared professionals will entail.
Senators Ron Wyden and Chuck Grassley sent a letter to ODNI director James Clapper June 18, highlighting that any monitoring must also preserve the rights and confidentiality of government whistleblowers.
“If whistleblower communications with Inspectors General or with Congress are routinely monitored and conveyed to agency leadership, it would defeat the ability to make protected disclosures confidentially, which is especially important in an intelligence community context. Truly meaningful whistleblower protections need to include the option of a legitimate channel for confidential disclosures,” the senators wrote.
They went on to express concern that whistleblowers may feel that reporting violations will place a target on their backs that could put their jobs, and their security clearances, in jeopardy. They also said that fear of being able to report issues through official channels may result in more releases of sensitive information in public forums.
The senators also questioned remarks made by Clapper on the Hill, where he noted the need for a system of continuous evaluation that monitors every person with access to classified information. Wyden and Grassley asked for clarification that Clapper doesn’t intend to monitor members of the legislative branch who hold access to classified information (members of congress by default of their position, and legislative branch employees who undergo background investigations). The senators argued that monitoring of the legislative branch would “raise serious issues related to the separation of powers and potentially violate fundamental privileges of the Legislative Branch guaranteed in the Constitution.”
The renewed push for security clearance reform was renewed by the senate in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks and the Navy Yard shooting. Over the course of the past several months ODNI has attempted to clamp down on unauthorized disclosures with new restrictions against IC employees’ interaction with the press and punishing unauthorized disclosures.
ODNI hopes to implement continuous monitoring by September of 2016. A date even it classified as ambitious. As congress rallies on both sides of the debate, expect more testimonies, more letters, and more attempts to clarify what exactly it will entail.