National Security

Whistleblower in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ case gets money and an award

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was accused in the draft of an investigative report of having leaked classified information to the makers of the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” but the finding was deleted from the final version. The whistleblower who reported that has settled with the federal government.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was accused in the draft of an investigative report of having leaked classified information to the makers of the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” but the finding was deleted from the final version. The whistleblower who reported that has settled with the federal government. AP

A senior intelligence official has settled with the federal government after he alleged that he was punished for disclosing that the Pentagon’s watchdog had shielded former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from allegations that he’d leaked sensitive information.

Daniel Meyer, who previously oversaw the Defense Department’s decisions on whistleblower cases, also accused the Pentagon inspector general’s office of targeting him for being gay.

As part of the agreement, the Pentagon inspector general’s office said it would give Meyer an undisclosed monetary settlement, according to three people with knowledge of the negotiations. They asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The inspector general’s office also promised to give Meyer two awards in “recognition for his services,” a Sept. 19 settlement document obtained by McClatchy says.

Meyer, who is now the top official overseeing whistleblower retaliation complaints for the intelligence community, agreed to drop the complaint he’d filed with an administrative panel that handles grievances by federal employees.

Meyer had accused his former Defense Department bosses of “manipulation of a final report to curry favor” with Panetta.

The settlement also may strengthen the whistleblower case of Thomas Drake, who was the first National Security Agency official prosecuted by the Obama administration for allegedly leaking to the news media.

A draft of the inspector general’s report had concluded that Panetta had leaked classified information to the makers of the film “Zero Dark Thirty,” Meyer said. That conclusion, however, was removed from the report’s final version.

Since then, the CIA has released documents that support Meyer’s allegations.

Allegations of anti-Semitism against Joseph Schmitz, one of Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisers, also surfaced in Meyer’s complaint filed with the federal panel. Meyer contended that Schmitz, then-Pentagon inspector general, had told former Pentagon official John Crane: “I fired the Jews,” while downplaying the extent of the Holocaust.

Meyer cited the accusations, although he did not witness the alleged remarks, as part of his complaint alleging that former and current Defense Department officials in the inspector general’s office had retaliated against him as a gay man and created an atmosphere of discrimination. Crane described the allegations against Schmitz under oath.

Schmitz and the Pentagon officials accused in his case denied all the allegations. Meyer declined to comment.

Kathie Scarrah, spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office, said her office and Meyer had come to a “mutually satisfactory resolution” including giving him an award. Scarrah added that “Meyer withdraws and repudiates, unconditionally and completely, all allegations” against the officials he accused.

Meyer and the Pentagon inspector general’s office agreed the settlement did not “constitute an admission of any violation of law, rule or regulation,” the Sept. 19 document says.

Meyer’s settlement, however, comes as an investigation into a related case advances.

The Justice Department inspector general is looking into allegations that officials with the Pentagon inspector general’s office improperly destroyed documents in a court proceeding.

Crane, who was mentioned in Meyer’s complaint, alleged Pentagon officials had destroyed documents connected to the criminal case of former National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake. Crane, who resigned in 2013, says he was forced out after blowing the whistle on the alleged destruction and other matters. He contends Pentagon inspector general officials destroyed the documents to cover up evidence that might have exonerated Drake.

In a sign that the Justice Department inspector general’s office is moving forward in its inquiry, investigators have interviewed Drake.

The government’s criminal case against Drake fell apart in 2011, and he was sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to a minor misdemeanor for exceeding the authorized use of a government computer.

Drake was one of the first officials to be targeted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking to the news media.

The Pentagon inspector general’s office concluded Drake was a whistleblower. However, it found there was no evidence that NSA officials had pursued him because of that cooperation. The NSA also denied retaliating against him.

Attorneys for Drake and Crane said they believed Meyer’s settlement would help their clients’ ongoing cases.

“Dan Meyer is a critical witness . . . so the fact that he prevailed strengthens his credibility,” said Jesselyn Radack, Drake’s attorney.

John Lavinsky, counsel for the Justice Department inspector general’s office, declined to comment on whether an investigation was underway, saying it was his office’s practice not to “confirm or deny the existence of investigations.”

The inquiry arose from one of a series of still-secret complaints filed by multiple former and current officials in the Pentagon inspector general’s office about the office’s handling of whistleblower cases.

The group, whose identities are protected as part of the whistleblowing system, accused senior officials within the inspector general’s office of attempting to water down or change findings in whistleblower investigations because of fear of political controversy.

“There are still outstanding concerns about how DOD IG treats whistleblowers,” said Mandy Smithberger, an expert on national security whistleblowers with the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit government watchdog.

Marisa Taylor: 202-383-6164, @marisaataylor

  Comments