Whistle-blower Alleges Retaliation p. 16

By: DEBRA GERSH HERNANDEZ AN FBI SPECIAL agent alleges the Bureau is engaged in a campaign to destroy his career because he is a "whistle-blower," who is suspected of leaking information to the news media, among others.
Department of Justice spokesman Carl Stern called that charge "absolute, contrived nonsense," and Attorney General Janet Reno told reporters that, "Nothing is being done in retaliation."
Frederic Whitehurst, a supervisory special agent for the FBI, recently was questioned by a special independent counsel about leaks to the press.
Stern said the questioning was part of an overall investigation into the disclosure to Playboy magazine of memos written by Whitehurst about ongoing investigations, and which contained information protected by privacy law.
Stern said there also is a separate investigation into Whitehurst's earlier allegations involving the FBI crime lab.
"Since the memos were written by him, he obviously is one person who would be questioned," Stern said. "We have a responsibility to try to determine how that information was passed into the hands of Playboy magazine."
The DoJ first learned of the media leak when Playboy asked it to verify the authenticity of the documents, Stern said, emphasizing that the investigation is about the documents, not Whitehurst.
But Whitehurst's attorney, Stephen M. Kohn, called that "baloney," and charged that when information about Whitehurst, some of which he said was false, was leaked to Newsweek magazine, there was no investigation.
"In looking through that stuff [in the letter from Playboy to DoJ], there is nothing about confidential sources and methods. There's nothing in it that struck me as being classified," Kohn said.
"There is stuff in it that people would be talking about," he added, declining to specify, but calling it "sensational information" about problems with the FBI crime lab in more than one case, with the "meat" of the material dealing with bombing cases, which are Whitehurst's specialty.
Kohn added that he was "not trying to justify whoever leaked this," and said that Whitehurst "played by the rules."
Stern said there is a "whole investigation in the Inspector General's office about the allegations he [Whitehurst] raised about the FBI crime lab. This new element has to do with an investigation of someone to find out how documents with raw information about Department of Justice employees were sent into Playboy magazine . . . .
"To distort and contort that into some inquisition of Frederic Whitehurst is tabloid rubbish. I wish you wouldn't print it," Stern said angrily.
Giving Playboy "full credit" for contacting Justice about the documents, Stern said, "Obviously, when we become aware they have documents that privacy laws and other statutes required be confidential, obviously we have a responsibility to investigate.
"To make this some grand inquisition is absolute tabloid nonsense," he continued. "Because it involves him, is he supposed to be immune when we inquire about information taken from our files?"
But Whitehurst's attorney said this is approximately the sixth time Whitehurst has been investigated since 1989, when he first disclosed information about "misconduct" in the FBI lab to attorneys for the defense in a case Kohn would not identify.
"On that occasion, it's beyond any doubt that he blew the whistle on serious scientific misconduct," Kohn said, explaining that Whitehurst "went to an expert for the defense and explained some of the problems that the person they were about to call to the stand had."
Whitehurst was suspended for a week and placed on six months' probation for that action, according to Kohn.
Kohn said Whitehurst also has been investigated for allegedly going to Congress, which he would neither confirm nor deny; for refusing to sign a Bureau-created list of his "concerns"; for fitness for duty; and for "blowing the whistle" on elements of the World Trade Center bombing investigation, leading certain lab tests to be scuttled.
According to Kohn, throughout these investigations, Whitehurst has received exemplary performance reviews from his fellow scientists, even though the Bureau has undertaken a "whisper" campaign that is used against him.
"The current use of the SIC [special investigative counsel] to re-create a plumber's unit in the Justice Department and 'stop the leaks' to the press is wrong," Kohn wrote in a letter to Attorney General Reno.
"There is no basis within the U.S. Constitution or our system of government to keep the allegations outlined in that letter secret," Kohn wrote.
Kohn said Whitehurst plans to ask President Clinton to initiate proceedings, as outlined in an obscure statute.
?(In a 1994 photo, Frederic Whitehurst (center), supervisory special agent of the FBI, flanked by mary Jo White, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and FBI director Louis Freeh, receives an award for his work on the World Trade Center bombing case. The photo was provided by the National Whistleblower Center.) [Photo & Caption]


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