Eyal Press writes: Last week Pfc. Bradley Manning returned to court for his final pretrial hearing in the WikiLeaks case, an appearance that has renewed debate about how to balance the imperatives of national security against the rights of whistle-blowers.
But while Private Manning’s ordeal has received exhaustive news coverage, it may ultimately have a less profound bearing on this tension than a barely noticed memo quietly released by the Obama administration earlier this year.
Issued on Jan. 25, the memo instructs the director of national intelligence and the Office of Personnel Management to establish standards that would give federal agencies the power to fire employees, without appeal, deemed ineligible to hold “noncritical sensitive” jobs. It means giving them immense power to bypass civil service law, which is the foundation for all whistle-blower rights.
The administration claims that the order will simply enable these agencies to determine which jobs qualify as “sensitive.” But the proposed rules are exceptionally vague, defining such jobs as any that could have “a material adverse impact” on national security — including police, customs and immigration positions.
If the new rules are put in place, national security could soon be invoked to deny civil servants like Franz Gayl the right to defend themselves when subjected to retaliation. Back in 2010, Mr. Gayl was accused of engaging in a pattern of “intentional misconduct” and suspended from his job. A Marine Corps adviser who had been deployed to Iraq in 2006, Mr. Gayl claimed he was being punished for publicly disclosing that Pentagon bureaucrats had ignored battlefield requests for mine-resistant armored vehicles, at a time when roadside bombs were killing and maiming soldiers.
Like many whistle-blowers, Mr. Gayl appealed to the Merit System Protections Board, an independent, quasi-judicial agency created in 1978 to safeguard the rights of civil servants, which ordered him to be reinstated. [Continue reading…]