House panel to hear from several whistleblowers

By Audrey Hudson
June 24, 1999

Several government whistleblowers will testify today before a House committee that they were fired, demoted or harassed for reporting the "systematic pillaging" of U.S. military and nuclear secrets to their superiors and Congress.

According to documents and advance testimony obtained by The Washington Times, the federal employees say the retaliation and harassment was directly linked to their internal criticism and testimony before Congress.

The Government Reform Committee's hearing will focus on the retaliations at the Defense and Energy departments and how advocates of tighter security for technology are facing intimidation.

"These witnesses have important information, and it is extremely troubling that they perceived threats to their jobs for telling the truth," said Indiana Rep. Dan Burton, the committee chairman. "We will not stand for government employees suffering retaliation simply because they told the truth about national security."

Los Alamos physicist Robert Henson, who first uncovered Chinese spying at the laboratory, was fired twice for bringing it to the attention of the Energy Department. He will testify that his firing was in retaliation for delivering a message nobody wanted to hear. He has since been reinstated at the lab after initiating a lawsuit.

Lt. Col. Edward McCallum, director of the office of safeguards and security at the Energy Department, says he was put on administrative leave in retaliation for criticizing security at DOE nuclear facilities.

Peter M. Leitner, a senior strategic trade adviser for the Defense Department and a witness in congressional investigations, says retaliation against him prompted letters from Tennessee Republican Sen. Fred Thompson to the Pentagon expressing his concern for his witness.

As a result, the Office of Special Counsel is investigating political reprisals and illegal retaliation against Mr. Leitner.

"Ever since these testimonies, I have been subjected to, in staccato fashion, one adverse harassing act after another," Mr. Leitner states in his testimony.

He says his performance ratings were lowered and he was isolated from meetings on nuclear exports, particularly when the inspectors general were visiting the interagency meetings in response to a Senate inspection request.

Mr. Leitner says he was harassed over sick leave, was given a "trumped-up" letter of reprimand, charged with a security violation and threatened with charges of insubordination.

"To be victimized by my own government -- particularly the Defense Department -- for consistently putting the near- and long-term national security of the United States ahead of all other considerations is something that I still find astounding to this day," he said.

In 1997, Mr. Leitner issued denials for many export-license applications from DOE laboratories, including Los Alamos, Sandia, Livermore and Oak Ridge.

The licenses would have facilitated the transfer of high-technology equipment with direct application to nuclear-weapons development and testing "to the most dangerous entities within the Russian nuclear weapons" design and manufacturing complex.

"I objected then and continue to object today to these so-called lab-to-lab transfers because there was no evidence of a security plan to protect U.S. technologies from being used against us," Mr. Leitner said.

Jonathan Fox, an arms control specialist for the Defense Department, will tell how he was ordered to rewrite a critical memo on the eve of a state visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin in October 1997.

Mr. Fox's first memo said one deal with China presented "real and substantial risk" to the United States and allied countries." He was directed to change the memo so that it stated the agreement was "not inimical" to U.S. interests. He will testify that he has also suffered retaliatory actions.