Editor’s note: In two previous columns, Rebecca Hagelin detailed the vulnerability of America’s railway systems to terrorist attack. Today, she explores what is needed to protect government agents who go public with crucial information on national security and government corruption. Darlene Catalan, former U.S. Customs agent turned whistleblower, provides a detailed account of how rampant corruption in the U.S. Customs department has made America vulnerable to terrorism in her book “U.S. Customs, Badge of Dishonor.” WND is pleased to exclusively offer autographed copies of this important work by a courageous former federal agent.
A crucial question of national security is waiting to be answered by the U.S. Congress in 2002: Should U.S. Customs, CIA, FBI and other federal agents be protected from retaliation by management if they dare report failures in our system which leave us vulnerable to terrorism?
One would think so, hope so, expect so. Sounds like a no-brainer – especially since so many Americans lost their lives to terrorism on Sept. 11. Yet, believe it or not, when a brave, gutsy on-the-ground hard-working government agent exposes government waste, fraud, abuse, corruption or weaknesses in security, there is nothing in place to protect them from professional revenge by their bosses.
It’s time for that to change – America’s safety depends on the ability of government employees to speak the truth.
Darlene Catalan, a former Special Agent for the Office of U.S. Customs, recently submitted written testimony to the U.S. Senate in support of S. 995, also known as the “Whistleblower Protection Act.” She gave a chilling account of how she suffered professional retaliation when she blew the whistle on government corruption as it related to inspection of railroad tank cars which enter the U.S. by the thousands every day.
Ms. Catalan has reason to believe the U.S. railway system is ripe for use by terrorists to commit deadly deeds throughout the nation – all because of a porous border which allows trains to enter from both Mexico and Canada virtually unchecked. Catalan resigned from the U.S. Customs Service in 1999 “after having been subjected to retaliation, intimidation, threats and harassment on an enormous scale” which came as a result of her being a whistleblower to corruption she previously identified within the agency.
The shameful story of attempts by our government to silence Ms Catalan can be read in her new book, “U.S. Customs: Badge of Dishonor.” Catalan provides a gripping expose on how the “good ole boy” network runs the U.S. Customs Department and how management is composed of politicians – “yes” people and cronyism – resulting in the U.S. borders being little more than lines drawn on a map.
According to Doug Hartnett of the Government Accountability Project, Ms. Catalan’s story is not uncommon. There are currently government workers from many federal agencies who have vital information on issues of national security, but fear retaliation if they tell. “Since 9-11, GAP has had a steady increase in the number of government agents who want to expose serious issues of national security; however, these dedicated agents and workers are offered no protection from their bosses and management. History has shown us, through Catalan’s case and others like it, that if you dare to make disclosures, you can be demoted, transferred, denied promotion and have vital investigations shut down.”
Examples of vulnerabilities reported to the non-profit GAP include security lapses at our nuclear power plants and weapons facilities. Hello? Is anybody listening?
In this time when America is still reeling from the largest terrorist act in U.S. history – and on our own soil – it is crucial that we hear from the honest, hard-working agents on the ground who know what’s going on in the bureaucracy they work under. Hartnett says, “The people on the front lines have the best information – if we can’t protect them from speaking out, they will be forced to serve the bureaucratic institutional interests instead of serving the public.”
Catalan and Hartnett join Gary Aldrich of the Patrick Henry Center, another non-profit agency aimed at protecting government whistleblowers, in a common understanding: The honest agent-on-the ground – those who become whistleblowers – are committed to this country. The great irony is that they blow the whistle on corruption and weaknesses in the system because they love America. Yet, they are the ones who have to pay dearly for our freedom.
“The Whistleblower Protection Act” has bi-partisan support in both the House and the Senate. Although Congress has twice passed similar protections, the federal Court of Appeals has frustrated the intention of those protections, resulting in whistleblower rights now existing only on paper. The law must be updated to provide real protection for public servants. If you believe it’s time to put an end to the good ole boy network that covers-up corruption in government, let your elected officials know. Also, take the time to let Congressman Dan Burton, (202) 225-2272, and Congressman Dave Weldon, (202) 225-3671, on the “Government Reform Committee” hear from you.
As Hartnett puts it, “Without Whistleblower protection for federal government employees, we will not know of our national vulnerabilities until they become national tragedies.”