Striking a Balance: Whistleblowing Protections in the Intelligence Community

Other Titles


Whistleblowing has become more important and more controversial as many federal employees take their information directly to the press. Despite the several federal statutes offering employees protections from reprisal for whistleblowing within their agencies, employees continue to take inside knowledge of corruption, scandal, waste, and mismanagement directly to the public via the media. Current whistleblowing laws protect government employees who utilize their agency?s internal grievance procedure, including informing their Inspector General?s office, Office of Personnel Management, or other human resource office. The laws typically do not protect employees who leak information to the press. Federal employees within the intelligence community however, were explicitly excluded from most protection clauses until 1990. Even after those laws were amended to cover federal employees, the statutes are still designed to favor the agency. As an example, federal employees from the Central Intelligence Agency have one of the most complicated procedures for correctly blowing the whistle on their agency and/or superiors. The CIA is required by law to protect their employees; however, national security provides the agency with a strong defense that makes these statutes almost meaningless for CIA agents. Several CIA agents have been fired or demoted due to their whistleblowing. To understand the consequences of excluding national security employees from the whistleblowing protection laws and the consequences of these exclusions, I will examine the legislative history of federal whistleblowing statutes and determine why national security agencies were excluded from coverage under these protection clauses. I will study the goals of various statutes, as described in Senate and House of Representative hearings and testimonies in the creation of several bills. I will focus on the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1987 that was vetoed by Ronald Reagan, the Intelligence Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 1999, the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and its 1994 amendments, and the Notification of Federal Employees of Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2003. Also currently in Congress is the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007 or H.R. 985 and the Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act or S. 274, which would add intelligence agency employees to protected groups when whistleblowing information is provided directly to authorized members of Congress or the agency?s internal office.
I will then focus on the CIA and the process and procedures for handling employees? claims of wrongdoing within the agency. Currently whistleblowing literature focuses on business operations and mainstream government employees such as scientists, researchers and other professionals. Very little has been written on federal law enforcement employees such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, CIA and others. In deciding to limit protections of national security employees in the whistleblowing statutes, it seems likely that Congress engaged in discussion about the consequences of including those employees in the protections. I will explore this question of whether Congress used national security as a rationale that effectively enables the federal government, particularly the executive branch, to knowingly participate in wrongdoing. This would enable individual agencies to engage in wrong doing without fear of repercussion. Omitting employees from these agencies would also protect the executive branch and directors of the agencies from public scrutiny because national security keeps that information from ever becoming public knowledge. Under these rationales, agencies are able to set their own procedures for whistleblowing internally with little oversight from outsiders.
Finally, I will examine a few examples of whistleblowers in the CIA and the outcomes of their actions. Was the information they provided utilized to change the organization or was the employee?s life and career affected? These questions can help us understand whether national security employees are in great danger of reprisal and whether their knowledge about wrongdoing is critical to the public. I will examine two cases of Central Intelligence employees: one who sought to utilize the agency?s internal procedures for whistleblowing and another charged with leaking information outside the agency to the media. These cases, taken from two very different points in history, will illustrate the differences in procedures, but similar outcomes of two CIA whistleblower cases. Richard Barlow was fired in 1989 for reporting to his superiors that Pakistan had built a nuclear bomb, and Mary O. McCarthy was fired in April 2006 after supposed leaks to the media about secret operations.
Little of the whistleblowing literature and case studies address the ways in which the public can access whistleblowing complaints and outcomes. I hope my research will contribute to the current debate in Congress for an effective whistleblowing statute to protect intelligence community employees and offer the public some access to critical information about these powerful agencies.

Journal / Series

Volume & Issue



Date Issued




whistleblowing; federal


Effective Date

Expiration Date




Union Local


Number of Workers

Committee Chair

Committee Co-Chair

Committee Member

Degree Discipline

Degree Name

Degree Level

Related Version

Related DOI

Related To

Related Part

Based on Related Item

Has Other Format(s)

Part of Related Item

Related To

Related Publication(s)

Link(s) to Related Publication(s)


Link(s) to Reference(s)

Previously Published As

Government Document




Other Identifiers


Rights URI


dissertation or thesis

Accessibility Feature

Accessibility Hazard

Accessibility Summary

Link(s) to Catalog Record