DHS Appears Willing To Violate Whistleblower Laws To Shut Down Leaks – Techdirt

from the STOP-LEAKING,-the-leaked-memo-stated dept

Tue, Oct 27th 2020 9:34am —
Tim Cushing

This Administration — like the one before it — isn’t a fan of leaks or whistleblowing. This Administration seems to be leakier than most, possibly due to the Commander-in-Chief’s vindictive shit-canning of anyone insufficiently deferential. When distrust abounds, the leaks will flow.

The Administration would like these leaks to stop. To accomplish this, it has tried several things — most of them legally-questionable. During his stint at the DOJ, Jeff Sessions suggested subjecting every National Security Council staffer to a polygraph test to sniff out who had leaked transcripts of Oval Office phone calls. The State Department issued a memo warning its employees about the dangers of leaking, including the possibility of prosecution. The memo against leaks was promptly leaked. The DHS has decided to focus its attention on exterior “threats:” namely, journalists who publish leaks. The First Amendment is apparently secondary to leak stoppage.

The DHS is still struggling with leaks. And it’s struggling to contain its struggles with leaks. Earlier this month, a memo demanding employees report leaks, leakers, and anything else they might think is suspicious was leaked to journalists.

Randolph D. “Tex” Alles, a senior DHS official, emailed all employees on Tuesday warning them to be careful handling “all classified, controlled unclassified, and draft information” and that unauthorized disclosures — whether deliberate or inadvertent — risked violating agency policy and potentially federal law. Alles sent the email after “sensitive but unclassified” information had been shared with “external entities.”

Reporter Ken Klippenstein also received a copy of the leaked memo. His “copy” was two screenshots apparently taken by a DHS employee.

So far, we have a leaky DHS, an attempt to plug leaks, yet another leak, and, two weeks later, claims the leaked anti-leak memo is actually illegal. Citing Klippenstein’s October 13 tweet, the American Federation of Government Employees (the largest federal employee labor union) says the memo issued by DHS Under Secretary Randolph Alles violates the law.

We are writing to seek your reconsideration of a recent directive that illegally stifles guaranteed whistleblower rights of its employees. (Exhibit A) This action is a crude violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act and appropriations provisions that shield DHS employees’ free speech rights and must be remedied immediately.

Exhibit A is Klippenstein’s tweet. The letter also refers to Buzzfeed’s reporting on the same memo from Alles.

DHS officials are apparently willing to violate the law to shut down leaks. That’s why the agency’s targeting of journalists wasn’t shut down while it was still just a bad idea. I doubt the DHS will rescind this memo without a court order or Congressional investigation, but it’s safe to say threatening to violate the law isn’t going to do much to deter future leaks or whistleblowing. The DHS’s problems with leaks will continue.

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Filed Under: dhs, doj, leaks, whistleblowers