The inspector general for the CIA obtained a “legally protected email and other unspecified communications” between whistleblower officials and lawmakers related to alleged whistleblower retaliation. The CIA inspector general allegedly failed to investigate claims of retaliation against an agency official for helping the Senate intelligence committee with the production of their report on torture, according to McClatchy Newspapers.

CIA Inspector General David Buckley apparently got his hands on a copy of an email between Daniel Meyer, who is the top official for whistleblower cases in the “intelligence community,” and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who has a record of legislative action on whistleblower issues.

According to McClatchy journalists Marisa Taylor and Jonathan Landay, “Meyer’s email concerned allegations that Buckley failed to thoroughly investigate a whistleblower retaliation claim.”

“The retaliation allegedly involved delays by the CIA in paying the legal fees of CIA officials who cooperated with the Senate committee. An indemnification agreement required the agency to cover those costs – which it eventually did – as long as the officers weren’t found to have committed any wrongdoing,” the two McClatchy journalists reported.

Unnamed sources told McClatchy that Buckley went to I. Charles McCullough III, who is the inspector general for the Director of National Intelligence and Meyer’s boss. This would appear to be a clear “violation of the confidentiality of the whistleblowing process.”

As noted in the story, “If government officials outside an inspector general’s office accessed such communications, they could discover whistleblowers’ identities and retaliate against them by targeting them as security risks known as ‘insider threats.’”

While it is unknown why exactly the CIA intercepted this communication, Meyer happens to work for McCullough in a “facility whose email network is part of the CIA’s system.” This fact alone would seem to enable the CIA to search through communications related to oversight, which it should not be able to access.

Also, the interception probably occurred because it was caught by the “Insider Threat” program. The program was adopted throughout government in the aftermath of military whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s disclosures of hundreds of thousands of previously classified documents to WikiLeaks.

McClatchy has exposed the “Insider Threat” program as a system that is sweeping in its capabilities. Any “unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material,” can be targeted. It encourages federal employees and contractor to be suspicious of each other and watch for “high-risk persons or behaviors.” Failure to report on suspicious activity could result in penalties. Plus, the program equates leaks to the media with espionage.

The program keeps profiles of “Disgruntled Employees” and “Insider Threats.” What is there to stop officials from using these profiles to target whistleblowers?

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is also overseeing the expansion of a system that would make it possible to conduct total surveillance of all security clearance holders. The development is in response to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures on top secret dragnet surveillance programs.

Clapper has said, “What we need is — and this is, I think, pretty much recognized — is a system of continuous evaluation where when someone is in the system and they’re cleared initially, then we have a way of monitoring their behavior, both their electronic behavior on the job as well as off the job to see if there is a potential clearance issue.”

Both Grassley and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden expressed concern about surveillance of employees in a letter to Clapper on June 18.

“Procedural safeguards to prevent the targeting of whistleblowers for extra scrutiny as well as minimization requirements to avoid collecting protected communications are some examples of the sorts of safeguards that should be developed. If captured inadvertently, protected disclosures certainly should never be routed back to an official involved in any alleged wrongdoing reported by the whistleblower,” the senators argued.

The letter is believed to have some connection to the CIA’s interception of whistleblower communications, and McClatchy obtained a copy of Clapper’s response.

His reply will seem similar to those who have heard the NSA’s justification for “incidentally” collecting the personal communications of hundreds of thousands of Americans, who are not legal targets.

“In the event a protected disclosure by a whistleblower somehow comes to the attention of personnel responsible for monitoring user activity, there is no intention for such disclosures to be reported to agency leadership under an insider threat program,” Clapper claimed. And, “If such disclosures occur, they’d be accidental, and in such cases there are safeguards in place to maintain the confidentiality of the whistleblowers.”

Presuming that one accepts intelligence agency officials would not try to silence whistleblowers—even though the case of NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake belies this presumption, to Clapper the communications of whistleblowers are just collateral damage of an internal dragnet surveillance program intended to root out alleged espionage actors.

The interception of Meyer’s email would also fall into the category of “such cases” and apparently the safeguards do not work because the person alleging retaliation was exposed to further retaliation from CIA leadership.

The Office of Director of National Intelligence continues to keep secret any documents, files and records that contain details on how intelligence agency employees are to protect federal employees’ rights under federal anti-discrimination laws or whistleblower protection laws from being violated by the “Insider Threat” program

Now, reportedly, Clapper indicated in his letter that McCullough and other intelligence agency IGs are “examining the potential for internal controls that would ensure whistleblower-related communications remain confidential, while also ensuring the necessary UAM (user activity monitoring) occurs.” That this was an after-thought is indicative of the culture that favors secrecy over accountability.

Finally, this intercepted communication did not occur in some kind of a vacuum. It took place as the CIA has been stalling the release of parts of a 6,300-page report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and torture program. It occurred as the CIA was spying on Senate staffers working to complete the report, who obtained documents the CIA did not want to be cited or included in the Senate report.

New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti reported that CIA director John Brennan, former CIA director George Tenet, “J. Cofer Black, head of the agency’s counterterrorism center at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks,” an “undercover officer who now holds that job; and a number of other former officials from the CIA’s clandestine service,” which was heavily involved in torture, are all preparing a “counterattack” to the Senate’s report.

The CIA has made it part of its mission to defend the torture its officials engaged in under President George W. Bush’s administration so that the reputations of career officials are not tarnished. That is why whistleblower communications were targeted. It is why former CIA officer and whistleblower John Kiriakou sits in a prison cell in Loretto, Pennsylvania. It is why the White House is playing politics with declassification. And it is why parts of the report are not public yet.

Creative Commons Licensed Photo from Lance Page / t r u t h o u t