The official channels don’t work. That’s the message Snowden sent — one that was countered by multiple high-level government officials who’d never had the whistle blown on them.
Government entities protect their own. Whistleblowers who attempt to bring things through the proper channels are deterred almost every step of the way. The few times they manage to get their reports to someone who might actually be able to do something about it — like Congressional oversight or the various Inspector General offices — those affected by the report will do everything they can to silence it.
The New York Times discusses what happened when the whistleblower report about President Trump’s phone call to the president of Ukraine was routed through the official channels. The whistleblower (who the NYT questionably outed as a CIA officer) used a third party to bring the complaint to the CIA’s counsel. The CIA’s top lawyer needed to find out whether the allegations about the content of the phone call were accurate. So, she called the White House to get the transcript of the call.
You can see where this is going. The New York Times fills in the details, showing why doing things the way the government wants you to do them seldom results in blown whistles. (This is taken from the NYT’s podcast transcript, which is why it doesn’t read like a NYT article.)
[I]t turns out that the lawyers in the White House have apparently also heard rumblings about the July 25 call. They don’t know how serious it is, but there are a series of calls on the week of August 5 between the C.I.A.‘s lawyers and the White House lawyers. And they’re trying to figure out what’s going on. And very quickly, they learn that a number of people within the White House have concerns about this July 25 call.
The White House took it seriously as well. Seriously enough to start trying to track down the whistleblower. The whistleblower decided to take his complaint directly to the Intelligence Community’s Inspector General since it appeared the White House was more interested in silencing the whistleblower than addressing the complaint.
The IG’s office started questioning people, alerting even more members of the administration about the severity of the complaint. And once the CIA’s counsel arrived at the conclusion that this was a serious allegation, the CIA’s legal office informed the Director of National Intelligence. The DNI then decided to contact the DOJ, since the normal process involves bringing it directly to the President — something that’s not really an option when the complaint involves the president.
[B]ecause the Department of Justice has gotten a heads up about this through the C.I.A. complaint, when this official more formal, supposedly independent whistle-blower complaint arrives, the people inside the Department of Justice, they know what they’re going to do. And what they’re going to do is basically say, there’s nothing to see here, this ends here.
If the CIA officer had solely utilized the proper channels, the CIA’s office would have brought it to the administration’s attention and the administration would have buried it. Utilizing the Inspector General helped prevent this burial from happening, but even the DNI’s office stood in the way of the report being brought to Congress, at least temporarily.
Nothing about this works well, if at all, if there’s enough people in power interested in making a report disappear. This one managed to make its way to the public due to actions taken by the House Oversight Committee. Without the public being informed a whistleblower report containing serious allegations was being hidden from it by the DNI, the DNI and DOJ would have swept it under the rug. And then the administration would have gone after the whistleblower, much like Trump has threatened to do already.
Just because this report ultimately ended up being made public does not mean the official channels work. That the House Intelligence Committee decided to do something rather than nothing when approached by the IC Inspector General is an anomaly, not the usual course of action. If the entity committing the alleged misconduct has enough power, the whole thing can be made to go away, along with the whistleblower and their career. And, in this case, there’s still the question of whether it would have been done at all (Rep. Adam Schiff’s decision to call public attention to the report) if it wasn’t politically expedient. Stopped clocks are right twice a day. The official channels for whistleblowing need to be right a lot more often before they’ll even approach that rhetorical low bar.
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