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Whistleblower protection: Know what you are getting into

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Almarah Belk, Intelligence Community’s Whistleblowing and Source Protection deputy executive director for outreach, educates Team Pete on the difference between whistleblowing and leaking at a seminar about whistleblowing protection at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Nov. 8, 2016. Whistleblowing is a legal, protected and the accepted way to voice concerns with serious problems while leaking information to the press or another source is illegal, unprotected and unacceptable. It’s important to know the difference. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Almarah Belk, Intelligence Community’s Whistleblowing and Source Protection deputy executive director for outreach, educates Team Pete on the difference between whistleblowing and leaking at a seminar about whistleblowing protection at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Nov. 8, 2016. Whistleblowing is a legal, protected and the accepted way to voice concerns with serious problems while leaking information to the press or another source is illegal, unprotected and unacceptable. It’s important to know the difference. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Almarah Belk, Intelligence Community’s Whistleblowing and Source Protection deputy executive director for outreach, educates Team Pete about whistleblowing protection during a briefing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Nov. 8, 2016. The briefing was held to inform people about whistleblowing so if an applicable situation arises, they will know the proper way to proceed. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Almarah Belk, Intelligence Community’s Whistleblowing and Source Protection deputy executive director for outreach, educates Team Pete about whistleblowing protection during a briefing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Nov. 8, 2016. The briefing was held to inform people about whistleblowing so if an applicable situation arises, they will know the proper way to proceed. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Whistleblowing is legal, protected and the accepted way to voice concerns with serious problems. Leaking information to the press or another source is illegal, unprotected and unacceptable. It’s important to know the difference.

Members of the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community’s Whistleblowing and Source Protection group brought their information roadshow to Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Nov. 8. The briefings are being held around the nation to inform people about whistleblowing so if an applicable situation arises, they will know the proper way to proceed.

The definition of whistleblowing is the lawful disclosure of wrongdoing based on violation of the law, rule or regulation, said Almarah Belk, deputy executive director for outreach for ICW&SP. It does not include analytic or policy disputes nor supervisory disagreements. Retaliation against whistleblowers is prohibited by law.

“We want (government) employees to know the right and lawful ways to disclose information,” Belk said. “We want them to understand there are policies, procedures and protections available and to at least know where to go.”

“We want all (employees) trained to do this lawfully,” added Dan Meyer, executive director of the ICW&SP. “So they will know the correct path to take.”

Rules governing how employees are protected as whistleblowers are based upon the U.S. title they are employed under. The processes and procedures for disclosure are different, as are protections, depending on those titles.

During the presentation Belk offered several examples of government employees who had access to classified information and how they chose to communicate about what they learned at work.

One example of a whistleblower is Joe Darby. He was an Army National Guard staff sergeant who blew the whistle on prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib facility in Iraq. He anonymously disclosed a CD to his Criminal Investigation Division officer eight months before someone else leaked the photos.

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is an example of a leaker, Belk said. He had a political agenda to expose NSA domestic monitoring programs and downloaded a massive amount of information and took four government laptops before disclosing classified data to reporters.

“There was and is a process in place he could have used to provide the information and make his disclosure,” she said. “Now he’s essentially in exile in Russia.”

Protecting sources is important. The whistleblower program exists under regulation of executive orders 12674 and 12731 to provide government accountability and to serve as a first line of defense for government employees, said Belk. Once a whistleblower discloses information, within a reasonable belief, it falls upon the IG as the independent oversight office to decide whether any action will be taken.

“We are going to have another Snowden event,” Belk said. “That’s why we are travelling around showing people how to do it the right way.”

Meyer said the best place to start is with the local IG office. He said there is a whistleblower hotline as well.

For more information: 21st Space Wing Inspector General (719) 556-2104

Department of Defense IG Hotline: (800) 424-9098; http://www.dodig.mil/hotline/hotlinecomplaint.html

Intelligence Community IG Hotline: (855) 731-3260

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