By DAHNA BLACK
Members of the whistleblower community gathered in the courtyard of the Steven R. Mott House last Monday and Tuesday for the 2011 Washington Whistleblower Assembly, entitled "A Conference for Accountability." The focus of this year's Assembly, spearheaded by the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and co-sponsored by POGO and other allies, is part of a larger advocacy effort to protect and increase whistleblower protections.
National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake was honored as the keynote speaker. Drake blew the whistle on a failed multi-billion dollar intelligence program called Trailblazer. The Justice Department originally prosecuted Drake under the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking classified information, charging him with ten felony counts. But the Department’s misguided case against him collapsed in June, and Drake pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of exceeding authorized use of a computer. At the Assembly, Drake said the need for better protections for whistleblowers is greater now more than ever. “Whistleblowing has become a hazardous occupation free of hazardous duty pay," Drake said.
Robert MacLean, a former Federal Air Marshal (FAM) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) whistleblower, received a “Profile in Courage Award” during the Assembly’s closing ceremony. In 2003, MacLean blew the whistle within the Department of Homeland Security. After he was ignored, he went to the media to disclose an attempt to remove air marshal coverage of long distance, “high-risk” flights amidst heightened warnings based on intelligence that terrorists were planning on hijacking planes and flying them into U.S. East Coast targets. In 2006, the TSA fired MacLean, and said that he disclosed information marked as “Sensitive Security Information” (SSI), though it was not marked as such at the time or communicated in accordance with SSI policy. MacLean lost his retaliation case before the Merit Systems Protection Board in July. The federal Office of Special Counsel said the Board's ruling would "chill would-be whistleblowers." MacLean has said he plans to appeal.