National Security

CIA whistleblower loses in court, sparking warning of ‘chill’ for those seeing abuse

Applicants to the CIA routinely must wait 545 days to receive security clearances and proper vetting, says Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who is ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Such delays hurt recruitment, discouraging talented people from applying.
Applicants to the CIA routinely must wait 545 days to receive security clearances and proper vetting, says Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who is ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Such delays hurt recruitment, discouraging talented people from applying. AP

A federal judge Wednesday dismissed a complaint by a Cuban-American employee of the CIA, and his attorney said the decision may put a chill on other whistleblower charges from within the intelligence community.

The employee, a Miami native who goes by the pseudonym James S. Pars, alleged that his career at the CIA had derailed after complaining of conditions at a remote foreign posting that he said were akin to a “college dorm,” and that the agency failed to conclude an inquiry into his charges after nearly three years.

Pars’ attorney, Susan L. Kruger, said Wednesday’s ruling by a federal judge in Washington would have a ripple effect across multiple intelligence agencies.

“What might happen here is that potential whistleblowers won’t want to speak up because their agencies will ignore any kind of whistleblower complaint that will come their way,” Kruger said.

Federal Judge Trevor N. McFadden ruled that Pars’ lawsuit failed to establish that the CIA had a legal obligation to conduct an inquiry and that Pars could ask courts to compel action.

A CIA spokesman, Dean Boyd, said the judge’s memorandum opinion “clearly spells out the reasons for the court’s decision in this matter. We have no further comment for you.”

Pars began a one-year assignment in December 2014 as a deputy chief of base in an unidentified war zone wracked by rocket attacks. His stint was cut short after barely three months.

His CIA superior at the base, Pars said, “would get depressed and get into cooking spells for hours. Baking was her specialty.” She picked favorites among employees, allowing them to do little while others toiled hard, he said. The senior communications officer, he added, “would constantly not do his job. Would watch TV all day in his office … Would come in late every day.”

The superior would take employees on “trips for food, shopping or trips to the gym” even if it exposed them to potential rocket attacks, Pars said in his lawsuit.

The dispute partially rests on action taken by former President Barack Obama in 2012 when he signed a directive ensuring that intelligence agency employees could report waste, fraud or abuse and be protected from workplace retaliation as long as they acted through government channels.

Pars said he put in for numerous other jobs at the CIA after his one-year tour was cut short in February 2015 but was repeatedly turned down, landing his 16-year career on ice.

In an email to McClatchy, Pars described himself as a South Florida native.

I lived in Miami from 1967 through 2000.

James L. Pars, alias of CIA employee

“I lived in Miami from 1967 through 2000. Born and raised in a Cuban-American household of immigrants who fled Cuba,” Pars said.

In a separate statement, Pars said that he’d done a brief stint in the U.S. Army Reserves before joining the CIA, and that he is a licensed Christian minister.

Pars’ lawsuit, filed in late December 2016, aimed to compel the CIA’s Inspector General’s Office to complete its inquiry of his retaliation complaint. Until such an inquiry is complete, Pars is unable to appeal to the higher-echelon inspector general of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

By failing to conclude the inquiry in a timely manner, or even at all, Kruger said, the CIA thwarted Pars’ ability to pursue his whistleblower complaint at a higher level. Such action, she said, would have “a chilling effect on potential whistleblowers in the intelligence community.”

Pars, who is on forced administrative leave, has continued to pepper legislators on Capitol Hill and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats with email pleas regarding his case.

In one report last week to the CIA’s Personnel Evaluation Board, and copied to U.S. Sens. Richard Burr, R-NC, and Mark Warner, D-Va., the chairman and ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee, Pars outlined reprisals he said he had suffered.

Internal watchdog offices at several agencies in the intelligence community have faced turmoil or charges that the protections they offer whistleblowers are inadequate.

Press reports cite an exodus of employees at the Defense Intelligence Agency’s inspector general’s office, and the whistleblower ombudsman for the Director of National Intelligence was placed on administrative leave last November amid reports that his office had been sealed with crime-scene tape.

The Trump administration’s choice for CIA inspector general, Christopher R. Sharpley, faced sharp questioning from legislators last November over charges that he and other agency employees had retaliated against CIA employees who had gone to congressional committees over alleged misconduct.

Tim Johnson: 202-383-6028, @timjohnson4

  Comments