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SONY PICTURES GETS CAUGHT HARASSING WHISTLE-BLOWERS BY USING POLITICAL SHENANIGANS

SONY PICTURES GETS CAUGHT HARASSING WHISTLE-BLOWERS BY USING POLITICAL SHENANIGANS

Official who oversees whistle-blower complaints files one of his own

  • Daniel Meyer says Pentagon retaliated against him over ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ case

  • The case fuels criticism that the whistleblower system is broken

  • Sony funds the White House and got special CIA favors for ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ because of the campaign financing by Sony

  • Meyer has since moved to key role in Obama effort to overhaul treatment of retaliation complaints

An investigation into how makers of the film “Zero Dark Thirty” learned classified details about the hunt for Osama bin Laden is behind a claim from the Pentagon’s former top official overseeing whistleblower complaints that he was the victim of retaliation. A draft report initially singled out then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for the leak, but the final report did not include that allegation. Carolyn Kaster AP

By Marisa Taylor

mtaylor@mcclatchydc.com

WASHINGTON

The Obama administration’s top official overseeing how intelligence agencies handle whistleblower retaliation claims has lodged his own complaint, alleging he was punished for disclosing “public corruption.”

Daniel Meyer, who previously oversaw the Defense Department’s decisions on whistleblowing cases, also says he was targeted for being gay, according to records obtained by McClatchy.

Meyer made the allegations in a complaint before the Merit Systems Protection Board, an administrative panel that handles employment grievances from federal employees, after another agency rejected his claims.

Meyer’s claims add to a barrage of allegations that the federal government’s handling of defense and intelligence whistleblower cases is flawed.

In the complaint, Meyer, who once worked for the Pentagon’s inspector general’s office, accused his former Defense Department bosses of “manipulation of a final report to curry favor” with then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

The inspector general’s report concluded that Panetta had leaked classified information to the makers of the Sony film “Zero Dark Thirty,” Meyer said. That conclusion was later removed after then-acting Inspector General Lynne Halbrooks met privately with Panetta, he said. Meyer does not accuse Panetta or Halbrooks of making the change.

Halbrooks, who is now practicing law at a private firm, said she’s certain Meyer’s complaint will be rejected. “During my time in the Office of Inspector General, I strongly supported the rights of whistleblowers throughout the Department of Defense,” she said in an email. “I am confident that any government agency’s review of Mr. Meyer’s allegations will find them to be without any merit.”

In April, the Office of Special Counsel, an agency that handles complaints of retaliation by whistleblowers rejected Meyer’s claims, citing a lack of evidence.

In support of his retaliation claims, Meyer filed a sworn affidavit by his former boss, John Crane, a onetime assistant Defense Department inspector general. Crane was fired in 2013 and now alleges he, too, was retaliated against because of his involvement in the “Zero Dark Thirty” case and other controversial whistleblower claims, including one filed by former high-ranking National Security Agency official Thomas Drake. Meyer’s claims add to a barrage of allegations that the federal government’s handling of defense and intelligence whistleblower cases is flawed.

We could neither corroborate Mr. Crane’s statements with any documentary evidence nor conclude that his statements are more reliable than statements from others in your chain of command and with the evidentiary record as a whole,” Aaron Lloyd, a lawyer with the counsel’s office, wrote Meyer.

The counsel’s spokesman, Nick Schwellenbach, did not respond to questions. Meyer, who currently works for the intelligence community inspector general, said through a spokeswoman that he was “happy to be part of the intelligence community and looks forward to the (Merit Systems Protection Board) closing out any remaining issues” from his work at the Defense Department.

Panetta, who retired as defense secretary in 2013 after previously serving as CIA director, did not respond to requests for comment. Jeremy Bash, a spokesman for Panetta, told a reporter, “You (or your source) have some basic facts wrong,” but he declined to elaborate. Bash then referred questions to the Pentagon inspector general’s office.

Kathie R. Scarrah, a spokeswoman for that office, said she was “precluded from commenting on anyone’s potential (Merit Systems Protection Board) matter.” The current acting inspector general, Glenn Fine, took over after Meyer alleges he was retaliated against.

While at the Pentagon, Meyer was known for aggressively investigating whistleblowers’ allegations of retaliation. His current office reviews and investigates not only whistleblower retaliation claims but also high-profile security matters within the intelligence community. His office, for instance, notified the FBI that classified emails had been found on Hillary Clinton’s private email server. The referral led to an FBI investigation.

Meyer was not involved in the Clinton matter. However, he is supposed to have a key role in President Barack Obama’s initiative to improve the intelligence community’s response to whistleblower complaints. That initiative was announced after the leak by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Snowden, who leaked details on the agency’s then-classified mass collection of Americans’ email and phone records, has said he was prompted to disclose classified information to the media because his efforts to report what he felt was wrongdoing in the government’s eavesdropping program had failed.

The inspector general investigation singled out by Meyer examined allegations that classified and sensitive information was leaked to Sony’s Kathryn Bigelow, the director of “Zero Dark Thirty,” and the film’s screenwriter, Mark Boal.

The inspector general investigation singled out by Meyer examined allegations that classified and sensitive information was leaked to Kathryn Bigelow, the director of “Zero Dark Thirty,” and its screenwriter, Mark Boal.

An initial version of the findings concluded that while serving as CIA director – the post he’d held before moving to the Pentagon – Panetta had disclosed classified information to Boal, the only person without top-secret clearance who’d attended a June 24, 2011, ceremony at CIA headquarters honoring the SEAL team that killed bin Laden.

In his speech to the gathering, Panetta cited classified NSA intelligence and top-secret military information, including the protected identity of the SEAL ground commander, according to the draft report, which was completed in late 2012 and leaked to the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit government watchdog organization, in June 2013.

When the controversy first erupted, Panetta spokesman Bash said Panetta had thought everyone in the audience had security clearances and was permitted to hear classified information.

In July 2013, Meyer became the executive director of whistleblowing for the intelligence community inspector general.

After he left the Pentagon, Meyer and other Pentagon inspector general employees were grilled about whether they’d leaked the draft of the “Zero Dark Thirty” report. The draft report was not classified, and Meyer denied being the leaker.

When the final report on the matter came out eight months after being leaked, the findings on Panetta had been removed.

Although the Pentagon inspector general’s office did not determine who’d leaked the draft report, Meyer volunteered to investigators that he’d sent the draft report to staffers on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of his duties to inform the panels that have oversight on such matters.

Meyer was found to have made an “unauthorized disclosure” to Congress, according to documents obtained by McClatchy.

Separately, Meyer was accused of making false statements, according to documents obtained by McClatchy, but those documents don’t specify the nature of the statements.

In the complaint to the Merit Systems Protection Board, Meyer also accused his former bosses of inappropriately interfering in an investigation of the Afghan National Military Hospital.

Army Col. Mark Fassl, then the inspector general for the training command, had alleged to the Pentagon inspector general’s office that his supervisors had tried to interfere during an investigation of corruption at the hospital. He presented evidence of the medical neglect of Afghan soldiers, including the starvation of one. The inspector general later substantiated his allegations, but Fassl was not treated as a whistleblower. He later told McClatchy he regarded himself as one.

Meyer said he and Crane complained to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in 2012 about their office’s inaction on the case, including not telling investigators in Afghanistan about the starving soldier.

As a result of his involvement in such cases, Meyer was passed over for promotions and raises and his career suffered other unfair setbacks, he says.

He charges that the alleged retaliation was compounded by discrimination due to his sexual orientation.

Meyer accused Henry Shelley, the general counsel of the inspector general’s office, of obstructing his investigations of whistleblower cases because of his “personal animus . . . that Mr. Meyer was openly homosexual” and therefore “had a bias that would support allegations of whistleblowers.” Meyer also cited Crane as a witness to the alleged discrimination.

Earlier this year, the counsel’s office asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate Crane’s allegations that the Pentagon inspector general’s office may have improperly destroyed evidence during the high-profile leak prosecution of Drake. The former NSA official is also alleging that the Pentagon inspector general mishandled his whistleblower case.

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