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A surge in whistle-blowing ... and reprisals

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Richard Levernier is one who went public with his security concerns - and feels he's paid a heavy price. He first reported security breaches at the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons sites to management. Seeing no changes, he released an unclassified report to the media. While government investigators found his concerns credible, he lost his security clearance. Four years later, he's unemployed and, he says, unemployable.

"I spent my whole life in the nuclear security business. And you can't get a key to the men's room without a clearance," says Mr. Levernier, one of five whistle-blowers who spoke Tuesday before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations.

Army Spc. Samuel Provance was demoted after disobeying an order not to speak to the press about prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. "Young soldiers were scapegoated, while superiors misrepresented what had happened.... I was ashamed and embarrassed to be associated with it," he told the House panel.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer lost his security clearance after testifying to the 9/11 Commission and Congress about Operation Able Danger, a program that he says tagged four 9/11 hijackers before the attacks.

Former FBI special agent Michael German and former intelligence officer Russell Tice also testified that they felt they'd been retaliated against for speaking out about problems, and both lost their security clearances.

"Security clearance revocation is the new harassment of choice against national security workers," says Thomas Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit public-interest law firm in Washington that assists whistle-blowers.

While federal workers have had whistle-blower protection since 1989, a 1999 US court ruling requires these workers to have irrefutable evidence of waste, fraud, or abuse to be eligible for protection. Last year, House and Senate committees each passed bills that strengthened protections for whistle-blowers, but neither bill has come to the floor for a vote. Only the Senate version includes national security whistle-blowers.

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