May 23, 2024

Wyden Secures New Protections for Intelligence Community Personnel Facing Political Firings and Whistleblower Retaliation

Wyden Provisions Included in 2025 Intelligence Authorization Act

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced that he secured key protections for Intelligence Community personnel from political firings as part of the Intelligence Authorization Act that passed the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday evening.  

The Wyden provision ensures that personnel who are involuntarily moved from one employment status to another can retain their protections from firing. The provision also assures that if an intelligence community employee is fired without due process, as is currently authorized, the agency must explain its reasons to Congress.

“If a federal intelligence agency is going to fire someone with no due process, Congress needs to know if it was politically motivated,” Wyden said. “Few things are more damaging to national security than threats to the independence and professionalism of the Intelligence Community.”

Wyden also secured key protections for Intelligence Community whistleblowers:

  • Allowing whistleblower complaints to be provided directly to Congress if sending the complaint to the whistleblower’s agency, as is currently required, could compromise the anonymity of the whistleblower or result in the complaint being delivered to the subject of the complaint.
  • Ensuring that whistleblowers can’t have their security clearances revoked on a pretext.
  • Removing the cap on damages for retaliatory revocation of whistleblowers’ clearances.
  • Prohibiting, as acts of reprisal, public disclosures of whistleblowers’ identities as well as orders to undertake psychological examinations.
  • Ensuring that former intelligence community employees can still submit whistleblower complaints.

Wyden continued his efforts to improve oversight and increase transparency of the Intelligence Community’s collection of Americans’ data:

  • Requiring reporting to Congress on the IC’s purchases of Americans’ sensitive data and how the data is used and handled, as well as public reporting on policies and procedures related to the IC’s purchases of sensitive Americans’ data.
  • Requiring the IC to make public a policy on the collection of U.S. location information.

Wyden also advanced his work to reform the country’s broken classification and declassification system, in particular by requiring the designation of a government Executive Agent to reform the system and a report on funding for the Executive Agent and the Public Interest Declassification Board.

Wyden expressed concern about a provision giving the Attorney General new powers to police the authenticity of AI-generated media. Notably the provision exempts law enforcement, state actors and contractors at all levels, allowing the government to freely use unlabeled deepfake material.

“This provision raises numerous First Amendment and other questions that need to be scrutinized and debated in public,” Wyden said,

Finally, improvements were made with regard to FISA Court review and congressional oversight of the sweeping new FISA authorities passed last month.  While the bill also helps rein in the authorities, the new limits on the authorities are secret. 

“It is important to narrow the incredibly broad authorities that Congress unwisely passed last month,” Wyden said.  “But it is a fundamental democratic principle that an American citizen should be able to read the law and have some inkling about what government officials are and are not allowed to do, particularly when it concerns warrantless surveillance. Secret law is dangerous and undermines trust in government and in the Congress.”