NSA director tells staff to remain focused


Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and head of the U.S. Cyber Command, testifies before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

As the controversy flying around Edward Snowden continues to swirl, the National Security Agency’s director is attempting to boost his staff’s morale.

Snowden upended the intelligence community by revealing government telephone and electronic data mining programs.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

“The ongoing national dialogue is not about your performance,” Gen. Keith B. Alexander told NSA employees in a message this week. The workforce “has executed its national security responsibilities with equal and full respect for civil liberties and privacy. The issue is one that is partly fueled by the sensational nature of the leaks and the way their timing has been carefully orchestrated to inflame and embarrass.”

Snowden, a former CIA employee and NSA contractor, leaked secret documents about the widespread monitoring of Americans and others to The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian news organization. He has been charged with espionage, called a traitor by some in Congress and labeled a betrayer of his country by Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

Rather than focusing on Snowden, whistleblower advocates say the focus of the controversy should be on the government surveillance programs.

Snowden fled from Hong Kong, where he had given interviews, to Moscow, where he reportedly has taken refuge in the transit lounge of the international airport. His whereabouts have drawn so much attention that reporters flew from Moscow to Havana under the mistaken impression that Snowden was on the flight.

“Please do not let this distract you from your work or cause you to worry that your work is not valuable, valued, and honorable,” Alexander said to employees. “It is all three.

‘Let me say again how proud I am to lead this exceptional workforce, uniformed and civilian, civil service and contract personnel,” he continued. “Your dedication is unsurpassed, your patriotism unquestioned, and your skills are the envy of the world.”

Alexander said that the staffers “embody the true meaning of noble intent through your national service.” He cited a 1962 speech on “duty, honor and country” by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Quoting MacArthur, Alexander said the words “teach us ‘not to substitute words for action; not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm.’ You have done all that and more.”

While Snowden has been castigated by government officials, the programs he exposed have been criticized as examples of widespread government overreach. Alexander said he and other agency leaders “will take the heat.”

With emphasis in italics and bold face, he added: “We need you to focus on our primary mission of defending our nation and our allies.”

Protections

Whistleblower advocates are hailing a Merit Systems Protection Board ruling that extends protections for federal employees who suffered agency retaliation for exposing waste, fraud and abuse.

Under the MSPB decision issued Monday, provisions of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act can apply to cases filed with the agency before the legislation became law in November.

“This is a major victory for whistleblowers,” said Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit group. “We all should be grateful to the Merit Systems Protection Board majority for leadership restoring credible whistleblower rights to pending challenges of retaliation, not merely new harassment. The ruling will have a professional life-or-death impact in numerous pending cases. It also means the WPEA will control newly-filed challenges to harassment that occurred while passage was delayed through secret Senate holds for eight years.”

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, whose agency investigates allegations of retaliation, applauded the decision, saying it “ensures that federal workers will immediately receive the full scope of protections under the whistleblower law, as Congress intended.”

The ruling came in a case involving the Department of Homeland Security, which would not comment. The Office of Personnel Management said it was reviewing the decision.

Commissaries open

Budget cuts mean civilian Defense Department employees will have less money because of 11 days of unpaid leave from July 8 through Sept. 30. But they will still be able to shop in many base commissaries overseas that will remain open on furlough days with local workers.

The Defense Commissary Agency says 37 stores in Europe and the Pacific will remain open with sufficient local staff. Local employees are exempt from furloughs because of international agreements. There are 66 overseas stores.

The agency “is committed to doing everything possible to minimize the impact of any budget decisions on its patrons,” said Joseph H. Jeu, the agency’s director and chief executive. “We’re doing just that at overseas commissaries, where we have sufficient local national employees to open [the stores] during furloughs.”

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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