The nearly 20 current or former officials from the FBI, CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and even the supersecret National Security Agency who make up the core of the conference share an unusual distinction: They are all deeply out of favor with their longtime employers.
After speaking up, either internally or publicly, about alleged wrongdoings, many have been pushed out, typically under a cloud of usually unrelated but classified personal allegations. Many are still fighting to preserve their careers or at least their reputations. Most cannot discuss the allegations they are making in detail because the specifics are highly classified. Some even have trouble outlining the alleged violations that ended their own careers. The agencies they work for also refuse to answer questions about the specific cases.
Tice was in attendance, as were FBI whistle blowers John Cole and Sibel Edmonds.
Ironically, the whistle blower at the conference who perhaps had the most to say was the least able to say it.
One of the biggest names of the conference never even uttered a word. Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer is the military intelligence operative who recently went public with a controversial claim that a year before September 11, his top-secret task force "Able Danger" was able to identify the man who later turned out to be the lead hijacker as being connected to al Qaeda. Shaffer is a veteran of top-secret operations against terrorists, including some in Afghanistan, and several of his DIA colleagues have come out publicly to confirm that they remember Mohamed Atta being identified in 2000 as part of a project that combed through public databases looking for hidden links. But these allegations have been vigorously denied by the Pentagon and the White House, while several members of Congress are investigating. Shaffer was slated to speak but instead sat quietly by as his lawyer, Mark Zaid, spoke for him.
"Tony is not allowed to talk," Zaid said. "He is effectively gagged from talking. He is gagged from talking to Congress."
Indeed, while Shaffer's case is being championed by Republican Rep. Curt Weldon, the Pentagon has prohibited him from speaking further to members of Congress without prior approval. He has already watched the Pentagon revoke his security clearance. Zaid says that the Pentagon cited a series of old, unsubstantiated claims that had been addressed during his routine security screenings earlier in his career. "When he was 15, he took some pens from the U.S. Embassy where he was doing an internship," Zaid said. "This is one of the reasons" Shaffer was given for the revocation. Officials also brought up several newer allegations, including two small claims of unauthorized expenses, as well as an allegation that he accepted an award to which he was not entitled. Zaid says that Shaffer disputes all the allegations and can offer evidence in his defense.
As we discussed yesterday, Russ Tice has offered to testify before Congress about the NSA Snoopgate scandal. The problem is that in the course of retaliation against him for reporting a suspicious co-worker, a Department of Defense psychologist diagnosed him as a paranoid. Now that he's coming forward about domestic spying, the right wing echo chamber will label him as a disgruntled paranoid, and unless others in the NSA voluntarily corroborate his story, Congress and the mainstream media are not likely to take him seriously.
Given what's already happened to Tice--and others like Shaffer, Cole, and Edmunds--any NSA employee who back's Tice's story will have to be very brave indeed.