NSA Whistleblowers Were Allegedly Isolated, Intimidated(The following is the second of a two-part series on the National Security Agency's alleged abuse of employee whistleblowers.)
Jan. 26, 2006
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(CNSNews.com) - Whistleblowers who have stepped forward to accuse the National Security Agency of retaliating against them by falsely labeling them "paranoid," "delusional," or "psychotic," cover a range of political views. Russell D. Tice, a self-described conservative, believes President Bush should be impeached over the current controversy involving the NSA's domestic surveillance program. Another whistleblower, Diane Ring, is a staunch Bush supporter who supports the surveillance program.
Ring is a former NSA computer scientist who said she was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation after she ran afoul of a colonel at the Pentagon. Her case differs from the others in that she was not initially a whistleblower, but believes the retaliation arose from a personal vendetta against her. The colonel had chastised Ring for missing a briefing. When Ring explained that she had been directed by her branch chief, who was her superior, to work on a classified program during the briefing period and that the directive took priority, the official reportedly "blew up."
Ring said she was first given a "management consult," instructing her to seek counseling then was pressed to see NSA forensic psychologist Dr. John Michael Schmidt. After she lodged a complaint about the alleged retaliation with the NSA inspector general, Ring said the agency moved to revoke her security clearance, "red-badging" her. "Red-badged" employees only have access to the corridors at the NSA.
"I had just received a 4.5 out of 5.0 job evaluation rating 3 months prior," Ring told Cybercast News Service.
According to Ring, her colleagues told her in the hallways at NSA that they had been ordered not to communicate with her. Ring said she was assigned to spend her days in a room full of other "red-badgers." She believes the isolation was one part of an intentional campaign to break her and drive her out of the NSA.
For eight months, the former action officer from the Pentagon read books and magazines. "They had these red-badgers spread out all over the place. Some were sent to pump gas in the motor pool and chauffeur people around," said Ring. "In our room, some people brought sleeping bags in and slept all day long. Others read. I would think that would incense the taxpaying public."
Soon after being isolated, Ring said she began losing sleep and was ordered to undergo more psychiatric evaluations administered by Schmidt. Ring said Schmidt eventually reported that another doctor had diagnosed her with a "personality disorder," but according to Ring, she later produced a letter from that doctor who said he had never told Schmidt such a thing.
Like others in her position, Ring began to go to the NSA Employee Assistance Service (EAS) for confidential counseling about what she was going through. But a current NSA officer who spoke with Cybercast News Service on the condition of anonymity and is identified in this report as "Agent X," warned that NSA officials are able to obtain 'confidential' EAS records when they are attempting to retaliate against an employee.
"Their goal is to freak you out, to get inside your mind," X said.
Ring claims that NSA General Counsel Paul Caminos lied about her case before a judge, denying that he had sent an internal email forbidding anyone from supporting Ring. Ring said she was "floored" by Caminos' actions, comparing the process to being "shell-shocked."
"I served in Bosnia. We had mines going off all around us, all day long. That was nothing compared to this," Ring said.
She now plans to send a letter to the new NSA director, Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, asking that he order an investigation of her case. "This is his time to shine," said Ring. "He can really clean house."
Like "J," the linguist whose account was detailed in Part 1 of this report, Ring believes that the problem at NSA involves only a few people. "The whole lot of them is corrupt though," Ring said. "There is zero integrity in the process. And zero accountability. "
'Doing a mental'
Former NSA officer Thomas G. Reinbold confirmed that the practice of "psychiatric abuse" inside the NSA is "very widespread."
"They call it 'doing a mental' on someone," Reinbold said, and it has a "chilling effect" on other potential whistleblowers, he added. "They fear for their careers because they fear someone will write up bad [psychological] fitness reports on them."
Reinbold was labeled "paranoid" and "delusional" by Schmidt after he complained to an inspector general on Feb. 25, 1994, that the federal government was guilty of contract tampering. An evaluation conducted by Schmidt eight months earlier had concluded that Reinbold did not present a mental health or security risk, according to court documents.
Reinbold was working at the time as a contracting officer representative assigned to the Naval Security Group (NAVSECGRU) at Sugar Grove, W.Va.
NSA temporarily suspended his "Sensitive Compartmented Information" (SCI) security clearance, which is more exclusive than a "Top Secret" clearance and Reinbold said he was escorted from Sugar Grove by armed naval officers.
Reinbold accused the NSA of fabricating evidence in his personnel file in order to oust him. The phony evidence, Reinbold alleged, included that he was a danger to himself and others, and that he had said "if [he] was going down, [he] would take everyone with him." During this time, Reinbold also requested that Schmidt's earlier statements, labeling him "paranoid" and "delusional" be removed from his file.
An administrative hearing held on Sept. 7, 1995, found that the revocation of Reinbold's security clearance was unjustified and that the NSA should restore both his clearance and his job. However, Reinbold was not able to get the damaging information removed from his file. He later sued, but then was forced to retire because of his diabetes. During his career, Reinbold said, he received 26 commendations and awards as well as a medal for the strategic intelligence he provided during the first Persian Gulf War.
"I gave 29 years of my life to the intelligence community," Rienbold said. "They couldn't get me out the door fast enough. There are very good people, getting screwed and going through hell," he told Cybercast News Service.
Some of the whistleblowers plan to ask U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) for help. While Diane Ring wants her job back, or at minimum, to be allowed to resign with her security clearance intact, Tice believes there is no reason for optimism. "Our time is over," Tice said he told Ring. "But we can make a difference for those who come behind us," he added.
Cybercast News Service contacted the NSA on Jan. 17 about the allegations contained in this report, including those involving the security department, the NSA inspector general, the Office of the General Counsel and staff psychologists such as Schmidt. Two days later, Don Weber, senior NSA media advisor responded. "At this time I have no information to provide; however, if that changes, I will email you soonest. Thanks for the query," Weber stated.
Dr. Don Soeken, founder and director of Integrity International, a whistleblower advocacy group, supports the public stance taken by the whistleblowers. Soeken became a whistleblower himself while employed as a psychiatric caseworker for the U.S. Public Health Service in the 1970s. He told Cybercast News Service that he discovered the government employees sent to him with diagnoses of mental illness or imbalance were actually whistleblowers who had no mental problems. Soeken's superior backed his findings, which eventually led to hearings on Capitol Hill.
"When this retaliation first starts, there's a tendency by bosses to use code words like 'delusional,' 'paranoid' and 'disgruntled'" said Soeken. "Then they use psychiatric exams to destroy them. They kill the messenger and hope the PR spin will be bought by the public."
Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit advocacy group, told Cybercast News Service that "psychiatric retaliation" is a knee-jerk reaction against whistleblowers.
"It's a classic way to implement the first rule of retaliation: shift the spotlight from the message to the messenger. We call it the 'Smokescreen Syndrome.'" Superiors investigate and brand the whistleblower for anything ranging from financial irregularities, to family problems, sexual practices, bad driving records or even failure to return library books, Devine said. "It's a form of abuse of power."
Beth Daly, senior investigator for the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), said whistleblowers in the intelligence community have no real protection due to flaws in the Whistleblower Protection Act. "You have to go through the inspector general or the director of the CIA to let them know if you're going to Congress and what you're going to disclose. And inspector generals are notorious for revealing who whistleblowers are," Daly said.
On Feb. 14, U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), chairman of the House National Security subcommittee, will begin hearings to investigate the allegations of security clearances being revoked as a form of retaliation. Vince Chase, an investigator with the subcommittee, told Cybercast News Service that three panels of witnesses would testify and that the focus would be on the lack of protections for national security agency whistleblowers.
Some intelligence agency whistleblowers had been skeptical about the proceedings, believing that their concerns would not be accurately represented by witnesses such as inspectors general. But the subcommittee has now invited Russell D. Tice to testify, as well as the organization to which he belongs, the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC).
Prof. William Weaver, senior advisor to NSWBC and a legal expert in governmental abuse, is expected to emphasize the lack of oversight and direct accountability. The Concerned Foreign Service Officers Coalition, an NSWBC partner, will be offering written testimony as well.
Former FBI language specialist Sibel Edmonds, president of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, praised the development in a letter sent Jan. 25 to supporters. "This shows once again that we may be powerless in pursuing our own individual cases and going against the monstrous government brick wall of abuse," Edmonds wrote, "but together, collectively, as a coalition of now 70+ (national security) whistleblowers, we have a voice, a mighty powerful one indeed."
Meanwhile, Agent X, Russell Tice and the other whistleblowers quoted in this report believe other former NSA employees might be better able now to come to terms with what happened. "They probably feel alone, but this shows they're not alone. There are a lot of people who this has happened to," Agent X said.
Related: Part One: NSA Accused of Psychologically Abusing Whistleblowers