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Context of 'January 25-26, 2006: NSA Allegedly Uses False Psychological Characterizations to Curb Whistleblowers'

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A National Security Agency (NSA) linguist runs afoul of his superiors after he and other linguists submit a report concluding that Islamist terrorists are planning attacks on America. The analyst, who insists on remaining anonymous and is nicknamed “J” by press reports, is fluent in an unusual number of languages. His and his colleagues’ study of Arabic language messages, and the flow of money to terrorist organizations from Saudi Arabia, lead them to believe that Saudi extremists are plotting an attack. J will recall in January 2006: “You could see, this was the pure rhetoric of Osama bin Laden and his group, the exact same group, and we had an early indication.… All of us in the group had this view of a burgeoning threat, and suddenly we were all trotted off to the office of security. Then came the call to report for a battery of psychological tests.” J will issue further warnings of potential terrorist strikes, this time involving hijackers, passenger planes, and US buildings, in May 2001 (see May 2001). In 2006, other current and former NSA officials will claim that the NSA routinely uses unfavorable psychological evaluations to retaliate against whistleblowers and those employees who come into conflict with superiors (see January 25-26, 2006). [Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006]

Entity Tags: “J”, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A National Security (NSA) linguist who only allows himself to be identified to the media as “J” warns his superiors at the agency that terrorists may be planning to hijack passenger planes to ram into buildings, and that security measures need to be implemented to prevent this. Instead, J is ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation. (J was given similar treatment in another instance eight years before; see September 11, 1993). J will later claim that NSA officials dismissed his warnings, and instead labeled him as “obsessed” with the idea of a “kamikaze” threat because of time he had spent in Japan. In 2006, J will say that any time his analysis countered conventional wisdom, he was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluations. He will eventually develop an irregular heartbeat due to the stress of anticipating further retaliatory, potentially career-damaging psychological evaluations. “I believe it was retaliation, but how do you prove that?” he will ask. J will spend his last decade at NSA with no promotion or raise, and will say that another linguist left the agency during that time out of disgust with what was happening. “Who was going to listen to us? Who could do anything anyway?” he asks in 2006. In 2006, other current and former NSA officials will claim that the NSA routinely uses unfavorable psychological evaluations to retaliate against whistleblowers and those employees who come into conflict with superiors (see January 25-26, 2006). [Cybercast News Service, 1/26/2006] It is not clear whether J’s warnings are related to the 33 other warnings picked up by NSA analysts during this same time period (see May-July 2001.)

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, “J”

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004) is gladdened to see the New York Times’s reports on the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005 and December 24, 2005). Klein has known since 2002 that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been using AT&T facilities to illegally eavesdrop on American citizens’ telephone and Internet communications (see Late 2002, January 2003, October 2003, Fall 2003, Late 2003, Late 2003, and January 16, 2004). He has considered going public with his knowledge, but has so far refrained because, he will later explain, “[t]he atmosphere was still kind of scary.” He will later say of the Times report, “They seemed to be talking mainly about phone calls, but anyway, it was revealed that there was an illegal spying program going on, and I thought, ‘Ah, this would probably blow the whole thing,’ and I thought it would all come out, and I don’t need to do anything.” However, Klein is horrified to see the government’s response. He will say: “[W]hat came out was the government turned around and went on the offensive against anybody who would dare to criticize them.… They’re issuing threats: Anyone who has a security clearance and spills any beans here is in for prosecution. That was deliberately said by them several times on TV to intimidate anybody in, say, the NSA who knew the truth, intimidate them so they would not come forward. So that silenced anybody in the intelligence community” (see December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 21, 2005, December 30, 2005, and January 25-26, 2006). In his 2009 book Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It, Klein will write that the Justice Department’s December 2005 investigation into the leak of classified information that led to the Times reports (see December 30, 2005) “was obviously intended to silence Congress, the media, and any potential whistleblowers inside the NSA who might have been tempted to come forward. The administration was manipulating the secrecy oath which people had taken to get security clearances, turning it into a weapon to silence anyone who had knowledge of wrongdoing.” Klein decides that he must come forward. He never received a security clearance, so he cannot be threatened with legal action over violating such clearance. He will explain: “All I had and still have are some company documents and some knowledge of some illicit NSA installation at AT&T’s network. And if anybody—say, Congress—was willing to follow the trail, I can give them all the names they want, and they can go up the hierarchy of AT&T all the way up to Dave Dorman, who was the president back then, and they can go even higher, and they can find out who is responsible for this, and they can ask them under oath and subpoena what the heck is going on here, if they had the will to do it.” Klein later admits to some hesitation and trepidation at undertaking such an effort, and will cite the “McCarthyite” atmosphere he says the government has created in which “dissidents become the target of a lynch mob searching for ‘terrorists.’” But, he will write, he believes the Times stories are “a political indication of a shift at the top of government, a split of some kind which could provide an opening.… Maybe they would publish my material, I thought, and that would provide some protection.” By December 31, Klein writes a preface to his memo from almost two years before (see January 16, 2004 and December 31, 2005). [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 52-53]

Entity Tags: New York Times, AT&T, Bush administration (43), National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, Mark Klein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Russell Tice.Russell Tice. [Source: ABC News]Former National Security Agency (NSA) official Russell Tice says that many of the wiretapping operations he once helped run were illegal. “I specialized in what’s called special access programs,” Tice tells ABC News. “We called them ‘black world’ programs and operations.” Tice is ready to testify before Congress about what he calls the illegal wrongdoings that are part of the Defense Department and the NSA’s wiretapping programs enacted after the 9/11 attacks. Many of these programs were targeted at innocent US citizens. “The mentality was we need to get these guys, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to get them,” he says. The technology used to track and sort through every domestic and international telephone center is impressive. “If you picked the word ‘jihad’ out of a conversation, the technology exists that you focus in on that conversation, and you pull it out of the system for processing.” Intelligence analysts use the information to develop graphs that resemble spiderwebs linking one suspect’s phone number to hundreds or even thousands more. While the president has admitted giving orders that allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on a small number of Americans without warrants, Tice says says the number of Americans subject to eavesdropping by the NSA could be in the millions if the full range of secret NSA programs is used. “That would mean for most Americans that if they conducted, or you know, placed an overseas communication, more than likely they were sucked into that vacuum.” Tice has been subjected to what appears to be bureaucratic punishment for his willingness to blow the whistle on the nation’s warrantless wiretapping programs; last year the NSA revoked his security clearance based on what it calls "psychological concerns," and later fired him. Tice says that is the way the NSA often deals with employees it considers troublemakers and whistleblowers (see January 25-26, 2006). [ABC News, 1/10/2006; ABC, 1/10/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, National Security Agency, Russell Tice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Current and former National Security Agency (NSA) employees say that the agency often retaliates against whistleblowers by labeling them “delusional,” “paranoid,” or “psychotic.” They say such labeling protects powerful superiors who might be incriminated by potentially criminal evidence provided by such whistleblowers, and helps to keep employees in line through fear and intimidation. One NSA whistleblower, former intelligence analyst Russell Tice, is currently the victim of such agency allegations. Tice, along with three other former analysts, Diane Ring, Thomas Reinbold, and another analyst who wishes to remain anonymous, make the allegations of unfounded psychological labeling by the agency; their allegations are corroborated by a current NSA officer who also wishes to remain anonymous. [Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006]
Identifying a Potential Spy - Tice, a former signals intelligence (SIGINT) officer, is the first NSA whistleblower to capture the media’s attention, when in 2004, the Pentagon investigated possible NSA retaliation against him. In 2001, Tice reported that a co-worker at the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was possibly engaged in espionage for China, possibly connected to California Republican official and Chinese double agent Katrina Leung. [Democracy Now!, 1/3/2006; Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006] Tice says, “I saw all the classic signs” in the DIA employee. After transferring to the NSA in November 2002, he reported his concerns again, this time adding criticisms of incompetence for the FBI, who in Tice’s view failed to properly investigate his allegations. Instead, Tice was ordered by NSA Security to undergo psychiatric evaluation. He was labeled “paranoid” and “psychotic” by NSA forensic psychologist Dr. John Michael Schmidt; Tice lost his top-secret security clearance as a result. [Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006]
Fired - He was fired from the NSA in 2005 after spending his last years at the agency pumping gas and working in an agency warehouse. “I reported my suspicion and got blown off,” he says. “I pushed the issue and that ticked them off, the fact that I questioned their almighty wisdom.” [Cox News Service, 5/5/2005] Tice again made news on January 10, 2006 (see January 10, 2006), when he admitted to being a source for the New York Times’s article about a secret NSA electronic surveillance program against American citizens, a program carried out in the name of combating terrrorism. [ABC News, 1/10/2006]
No Evidence of Mental Instability - As for Tice’s own psychological evaluation by Schmidt, according to three other clinical psychologists, there is “no evidence” of either of the disorders in Tice’s mental makeup. And another NSA psychologist pronounced Tice mentally sound in 2002, though having a “somewhat rigid approach to situations.” Tice is described by five retired NSA and intelligence officials as “congenial,” “enthusiastic,” and “a scholar of high intellectual rigor [with] sound judgment [and] unparalleled professionalism.” Tice says of the NSA’s attempts to smear whistleblowers with apparently baseless psychological allegations, “This nonsense has to stop. It’s like Soviet-era torture. These people are vicious and sadistic. They’re destroying the lives of good people, and defrauding the public of good analysts and linguists.” But it has been effective in cowing others who were, in Tice’s words, “too afraid or ashamed to come forward.” [Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006]
Further Allegations - Another former analyst, now employed by another federal agency and who only allows himself to be identified as “J,” describes similar targeting by the NSA. J is fluent in an unusually high number of languages, and is described by former colleagues as “brilliant” and possessed of “amazing” critical skills. “I believe the abuse is very widespread,” J says. “The targeted person suddenly is described as ‘not being a team player,’ as ‘disgruntled,’ and then they’re accused of all sorts of bizarre things. Soon they’re sent to the psych people.” J himself was targeted in September 1993 (see September 11, 1993) when he and other analysts concluded that the United States was being targeted by Islamic terrorists, and then again in early 2001 after predicting a terrorist attack using planes as weapons (see May 2001).
NSA Like the 'Gestapo' - A third whistleblower, a current NSA officer who refuses to be identified, confirms the allegations and says that baseless psychiatric allegations as a form of retaliation are “commonplace” at the agency. He says, “A lot of people who work there are going through the same thing. People live in fear here. They run it like some kind of Gestapo.” Those identified as “problems” are “yelled at, badgered and abused.…These are really good people, who start to be labeled crazy, but they’re telling the truth.” The official adds that the NSA often plants false evidence in personnel files as part of the intimidation campaign. Tice says the NSA maintains what he calls a “dirt database” of inconsequential but potentially embarrassing information on employees, gathered during routine clearance investigations and used as a form of leverage. The current officer says that an “underground network” has developed to discuss these issues. “It’s like the Nazis have taken over,” he says. [Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006]
Personal Vendettas - Diane Ring is another former NSA official targeted by her superiors. Unlike Tice, a self-described conservative who believes President Bush should be impeached over the NSA’s illegal wiretapping program, Ring is a Bush supporter who believes the surveillance program is entirely proper. Ring, a former NSA computer scientist, says she was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluations after coming into conflict with a colonel at the Pentagon. Ring is not a whistleblower per se like the others, but says she was targeted for retaliation because of a personal vendetta against her. The colonel “blew up” at Ring after she missed a meeting and explained that her branch chief had her working on a classified program that took priority over the meeting. Ring also was evaluated by Dr. Schmidt. When she complained about the apparent retaliation, her security clearance was, like Tice’s, revoked, and she was “red-badged,” or put on restricted access within the NSA offices. Ring says she received an excellent job evaluation just three months prior to the actions taken against her. She says her colleagues at the time were told not to talk to her, and she was restricted to working in a room filled with other red-badgers. She thinks she was isolated as part of an intentional campaign to force her to leave the agency. “They had these red-badgers spread out all over the place.” she recalls. “Some were sent to pump gas in the motor pool and chauffeur people around. In our room, some people brought sleeping bags in and slept all day long. Others read. I would think that would incense the taxpaying public.” Schmidt eventually reported that another doctor diagnosed Ring with a “personality disorder,” but Ring has a July 21, 2005 letter from that doctor, Lawrence Breslau, which reads in part, “On mental status examination including cognitive assessment she performs extremely well.” In the letter, Breslau says he never made such a diagnosis. She, like others in her position, went to the NSA Employee Assistance Service (EAS) for confidential counseling, but the current NSA officer says that though those sessions are supposed to be confidential, NSA officials can and do obtain “confidential” sessions for retaliatory purposes. “Their goal is to freak you out, to get inside your mind,” that officer says. Rice claims that NSA General Counsel Paul Caminos lied about her case before a judge, denying that he had sent an internal e-mail forbidding anyone from supporting Ring. Ring says she was “floored” by Caminos’s actions: “I served in Bosnia. We had mines going off all around us, all day long. That was nothing compared to this.” She is currently working on clearing her name with the NSA’s new director, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander. Ring believes that the problem at NSA involves a small number of people, “The whole lot of them is corrupt though. There is zero integrity in the process. And zero accountability.”
'Psychiatric Abuse' 'Very Widespread' - Like his fellow whistleblowers, former NSA officer Thomas Reinbold says the practice of “psychiatric abuse” inside the NSA is “very widespread.” Reinbold, who recelved 26 commendations and awards during his career at the NSA, including a medal for the intelligence he provided during the 1991 Gulf War, says, “They call it ‘doing a mental’ on someone.” Such practices have a “chilling effect” on other potential whistleblowers: “They fear for their careers because they fear someone will write up bad [psychological] fitness reports on them.” Reinhold was labeled “paranoid” and “delusional” by Schmidt after he complained to an inspector general on February 25, 1994, that the federal government was guilty of contract tampering; Schmidt’s evaluation contradicts a psychological evaluation he conducted on Reinbold eight months before that found he was mentally sound. At the time, Reinbold worked as a contracting officer representative for the Naval Security Group (NAVSECGRU) in Virginia. Reinbold had his high-level security clearance revoked, and was escorted off the grounds by armed security officers. Reinbold says NSA officials fabricated evidence in his personnel file to force him out; that evidence included allegations that he was a danger to himself and others, and that he had said “if [he] was going down, [he] would take everyone with him.” In September 1995, an administrative hearing found that the revocation of Reinbold’s security clearance was unjustified and recommended restoring his clearance, but did not allow the damaging information to be removed from his personnel file. He later sued the agency, and then retired because of diabetes. “I gave 29 years of my life to the intelligence community,” he recalls. “They couldn’t get me out the door fast enough. There are very good people, getting screwed and going through hell.”
Helping Those Who Come After - Some of the whistleblowers hope to gain the assistance of politicians to help their cases. But Tice is less optimistic. “Our time is over,” Tice says he told Ring. “But we can make a difference for those who come behind us.” The five whistleblowers have the support of the whistleblower advocacy group Integrity International. Its founder and director, Dr. Don Soeken, himself a whistleblower while he was with the US Public Health Service in the 1970s, says, “When this retaliation first starts, there’s a tendency by bosses to use code words like ‘delusional,’ ‘paranoid’ and ‘disgruntled’. Then they use psychiatric exams to destroy them. They kill the messenger and hope the PR spin will be bought by the public.” Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project says that “psychiatric retaliation” is a knee-jerk reaction against whistleblowers: “It’s a classic way to implement the first rule of retaliation: shift the spotlight from the message to the messenger. We call it the ‘Smokescreen Syndrome.’” Superiors investigate and smear the whistleblower for anything from financial irregularities to family problems, sexual practices, bad driving records, or even failure to return library books, Devine says. “It’s a form of abuse of power.” The Whistleblower Protection Act was written to protect those like Tice, Ring, Reinbold, and Soeken, but, says Beth Daly of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the act has serious flaws. “You have to go through the inspector general or the director of the CIA to let them know if you’re going to Congress and what you’re going to disclose,” she says. “And inspector generals are notorious for revealing who whistleblowers are.”

Entity Tags: Paul Caminos, Project for Government Oversight, Naval Security Group, Russell Tice, Tom Devine, Thomas Reinbold, National Security Agency, US Public Health Service, Keith Alexander, Lawrence Breslau, Diane Ring, Defense Intelligence Agency, Beth Daly, Don Soeken, House National Security Subcommittee, Government Accountability Project, John Michael Schmidt, Integrity International, “J”

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence analyst and current whistleblower Russell Tice tells the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations that he worries about what he calls a “special access” electronic surveillance program that is far more wide-ranging than the warrantless wiretapping recently exposed by the New York Times. However, Tice says he is forbidden by law to reveal specifics of the program to Congress. Tice says he believes the program violates the Constitution’s protection against unlawful search and seizures, but for him to discuss it with anyone in Congress or even with the NSA’s inspector general would violate classification laws. A spokesman for Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) says both Kucinich and committee chairman Christopher Shays (R-CT) believe that a few members of the Armed Services Committee have high enough security clearances for Tice’s information: “Congressman Kucinich wants Congressman Shays to hold a hearing [on the program]. Obviously it would have to take place in some kind of a closed hearing. But Congress has a role to play in oversight. The [Bush] administration does not get to decide what Congress can and can not hear.” In January 2006, it emerged Tice was one of the sources for the New York Times’s revelation that the NSA is engaged in possibly illegal wiretapping of American civilians as part of the war on terror (see January 10, 2006). Tice was fired from the NSA in 2005 and labeled “paranoid,” a classification Tice says was pasted on him in retaliation for his whistleblowing both inside the agency and to the public (see January 25-26, 2006). [United Press International, 2/14/2006] Author James Bamford, an expert on US intelligence, says, “The congressional intelligence committees have lost total control over the intelligence communities. You can’t get any oversight or checks and balances; the Congress is protecting the White House and the White House can do whatever it wants.” [In These Times, 5/15/2006]

Entity Tags: Russell Tice, Christopher Shays, Dennis Kucinich, House Armed Services Committee, James Bamford, House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired AT&T technician and incipient whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) issues his first press release, summarizing his knowledge of AT&T’s complicity with the National Security Agency (NSA) in that agency’s illegal domestic wiretapping program (see December 31, 2005). Klein has given documentation supporting his claims to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in support of that organization’s lawsuit against AT&T (see January 31, 2006). Klein’s press release tells of the NSA’s “secret room” in AT&T’s Folsom Street, San Francisco, facility (see January 2003) and reveals for the first time the NSA’s use of the Narus STA 6400 to comb through the wiretapped data (see January 16, 2004). The release reads in part: “Based on my understanding of the connections and equipment at issue, it appears the NSA is capable of conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the Internet—whether that be people’s email, Web surfing, or any other data. Given the public debate about the constitutionality of the Bush administration’s spying on US citizens without obtaining a FISA warrant (see December 18, 2005, December 20, 2005, December 21, 2005, December 21, 2005, December 25, 2005, January 5, 2006, January 10, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 18, 2006, and January 31, 2006), I think it is critical that this information be brought out into the open, and that the American people be told the truth about the extent of the administration’s warrantless surveillance practices, particularly as it relates to the Internet. Despite what we are hearing (see December 19, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 21-22, 2005, and January 19, 2006), and considering the public track record of this administration (see December 24, 2005, Early 2006, January 23, 2006, January 25-26, 2006, and February 2, 2006), I simply do not believe their claims that the NSA’s spying program is really limited to foreign communications or otherwise consistent with the NSA’s charter or with FISA. And unlike the controversy over targeted wiretaps of individuals’ phone calls, this potential spying appears to be applied wholesale to all sorts of Internet communications of countless citizens.” Klein issues the press release in part to give himself some publicity, and the protection from government harassment such publicity might entail (see February 11, 2006 and After). [Wired News, 4/7/2006; Wired News, 4/7/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 66-67]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, Bush administration (43), National Security Agency, Mark Klein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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