Whistleblowers in the Intelligence Community:  Basic Information You Should Know
by A
nthony J. Cipparone                               

Whistleblower is a term used to identify those public service employees and contractor employees who lawfully report fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement to those in a position to investigate and review such activity. Whistleblowers in the US Intelligence Community (IC) are those employees and contractor-employees who work in any of the 17 federal executive agencies that constitute the IC. Intelligence Community Whistleblowers play an important role in ensuring that intelligence programs and operations are accountable and conducted in accordance with federal law and regulations.

For important national security purposes, the most sensitive Intelligence Community programs and operations are often conducted in secret and, as a result, without the public oversight that occurs in most non-IC federal departments and agencies. The role of the Whistleblower may, therefore, be critically important to ensuring the integrity of important national security activities. The Whistleblower, however, like all federal employees and contractors in the IC, has a legal obligation to safeguard and protect classified information from unauthorized disclosure. That means the IC Whistleblower must ensure that s/he follow the proper security process and procedures within their respective agency when reporting any suspect activity.

Following are seven points that would-be Whistleblowers working in the Intelligence Community need to know:
1.  Can a Whistleblower’s identity be protected?

Yes.  Those charged with the investigation and review of Whistleblower complaints take great steps to ensure the confidentiality of a Whistleblower’s identity in accordance with the law and established regulations. However, there are rare instances when corroboration of the alleged complaint may only be achieved through the Whistleblower. Whistleblowers who are concerned about protecting their identity should make this known when they file their complaint.

2.  To whom may the Whistleblower report their allegation of corruption?

Whistleblowers may report complaints of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement to their agencies’ Inspector General, the Intelligence Community Inspector General, their agencies’ General Counsel, as well as their government management.

If confidentiality is important, however, would-be Whistleblowers should realize that certain components are better equipped to maintain their confidentiality. Offices of Inspector General can provide the most protections of confidentiality under the law. Government managers, however, may find it more difficult to do so particularly if the agency decides to take action(s) based upon the complaint.

3.  What happens to the Whistleblower’s complaint after it has been reported?

The complaint, which is an allegation of wrongdoing, must now be thoroughly investigated and reviewed by authorized officials to determine whether it has any basis in fact. This process may be lengthy depending upon the nature and scope of the allegation. Offices of Inspector General usually have a staff of professionally trained investigators who handle these matters.

4.  Can you be fired or face reprisal for being a Whistleblower?

No. Whistleblowers are protected from reprisal by federal regulations through a Presidential Policy Directive known as PPD-19, as well as an Intelligence Community Directive, ICD 120. Whistleblower protections for military personnel are separately outlined in a Department of Defense Directive, DoDD 2050.06.

5.  What should you do if you believe you were fired or reprised against for being a Whistleblower?

An employee or contractor who believes they were fired or reprised against because they reported a Whistleblower complaint should immediately contact the entity where they initially reported their allegation to report their concern.

6.  Does the IC Whistleblower have any obligations when reporting allegations of wrongdoing?

Like all employees and contractors of the IC, the Whistleblower is obligated under federal law and regulations to protect classified information from unauthorized disclosure. The Whistleblower should follow his or her specific agency’s process and procedures for reporting allegations of corruption. An Agency’s Office of Inspector General is often a good source of information and guidance in these matters.

7.  Should a Whistleblower hire an attorney to represent him or her?

It is not necessary for a Whistleblower complainant to hire an attorney when reporting their allegation. Anyone considering hiring an attorney, however, must follow their agency guidance since the attorney must be cleared before classified information may be shared and/or discussed.


Whistleblowers have played an important role in the conduct of oversight and accountability in the federal government and the Intelligence Community. Blowing the whistle, in a lawful manner, may result in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of important government operations.

The Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) public website contains a wealth of information about Whistleblowers, and their role and responsibilities.

Anthony Cipparone is a retired CIA Senior Intelligence Service Officer. He served as the Deputy and Acting Assistant Inspector General for Investigations
Council on Intelligence Issues
:  Readers should be aware that the Council, or CII, provides information about legal services and attorneys in the CII legal network to assist IC officers, including whistleblowers, who may be interested in seeking legal counsel.  For information, refer to Legal Resources and Contact Us on this website.