CIA employee’s quest to release information ‘destroyed my entire career’

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A 19-year veteran of the CIA claims he was fired for trying to make hundreds of once-secret documents public. Jeffrey Scudder shares his story about how his career unraveled. (Theresa Poulson/The Washington Post)
July 4
His CIA career included assignments in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, but the most perilous posting for Jeffrey Scudder turned out to be a two-year stint in a sleepy office that looks after the agency’s historical files.

It was there that Scudder discovered a stack of articles, hundreds of histories of long-dormant conflicts and operations that he concluded were still being stored in secret years after they should have been shared with the public.

To get them released, Scudder submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act — a step that any citizen can take, but one that is highly unusual for a CIA employee. Four years later, the CIA has released some of those articles and withheld others. It also has forced Scudder out.

His request set in motion a harrowing sequence. He was confronted by supervisors and accused of mishandling classified information while assembling his FOIA request. His house was raided by the FBI and his family’s computers seized. Stripped of his job and his security clearance, Scudder said he agreed to retire last year after being told that if he refused, he risked losing much of his pension.

In an interview, Scudder, 51, cast his ordeal as a struggle against “mindless” bureaucracy, but acknowledged that it was hard to see any winners in a case that derailed his CIA career, produced no criminal charges from the FBI, and ended with no guarantee that many of the articles he sought will be in the public domain anytime soon.

 “I submitted a FOIA and it basically destroyed my entire career,” Scudder said. “What was this whole exercise for?”

“The CIA does not retaliate or take any personnel action against employees for submitting [FOIA] requests or pursuing them in litigation,” said CIA spokesman Dean Boyd. “Of course, officers at CIA must also exercise their rights consistent with their obligation to protect classified material.”

At a time of renewed debate over the proper balance between secrecy and accountability for U.S. spy agencies, Scudder’s case reveals the extent to which there can be intense disagreement even inside agencies over how much information they should be allowed to withhold from the public and for how long.

Scudder’s case also highlights the risks to workers who take on their powerful spy-agency employers. Senior U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly argued that Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, should have done more to raise his concerns internally rather than exposing America’s espionage secrets to the world. Others who tried to do that have said they were punished.

Scudder’s actions appear to have posed no perceptible risk to national security, but he found himself in the cross hairs of the CIA and FBI.

Scudder’s attorney, Mark Zaid, described the case as an example of “aggressive retaliation against employees who seek to act in the public’s interest and challenge perceived poor managerial decisions. . . . The system is really broken.”

 

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