Partisanship Aside, Trump Had Reason to Fire Michael Atkinson, Say Two Former CIA Whistleblowers

The inspector general violated the law by protecting the “Ukraine whistleblower” and  proved to be the enemy of real whistleblowers, say John Kiriakou and Pedro Israel Orta.  

By John Kiriakou and Pedro Israel Orta
Special to Consortium News

President Donald Trump, with some partisan fanfare, fired Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson last month, saying that he had “no confidence” in him.  Progressives howled that Atkinson should have been left to do what he was hired to do. 

Atkinson said under oath in January 2018 during his confirmation hearing that he would protect intelligence-community whistleblowers, specifically saying that he would “encourage, operate, and enforce a program for authorized disclosures by whistleblowers within the IC that validates moral courage without compromising national security and without retaliation.” But that’s not what happened. 

Former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats swearing in Michael Atkinson as inspector general of the intelligence community, May 2018. (Office of the DNI)

Atkinson proved to be the enemy of real whistleblowers. 

Atkinson was quick to  defend the “Ukraine whistleblower” who per the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel was not a whistleblower at all, as defined by the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA).

At the same time, Atkinson failed to enforce the same whistleblower reprisal protections for those inside the intelligence community who had reported wrongdoing under the ICWPA. Trump correctly fired Atkinson for serious integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness issues in failing to protect intelligence-community whistleblowers and covering up whistleblower reprisals.

Failures to protect intelligence-community whistleblowers have serious national security implications. Foreign assets, employees and contractors working for the intelligence community can have their lives turned upside down if they blow the whistle on waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality and are not protected. 

One outstanding and unresolved intelligence-community whistleblower reprisal case is John Reidy from the CIA.  Reidy disclosed serious deficiencies in classified CIA programs. The CIA chose to attack Reidy and cover up their own mistakes, which reportedly led to dozens of foreign intelligence assets being arrested and executed.  Reidy’s reprisal case remains unresolved with Atkinson failing to assist. 

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Atkinson refused to assist yet another CIA whistleblower, James Pars, as was widely reported.  The Pars case may have been a thorny issue for Atkinson because of the nature of the allegations.  Pars had served in the Inspector General’s office along with the very IGs who later acted against him. 

But Pars had properly reported through authorized channels serious allegations of wrongdoing with the interim leaders at the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General. The CIA and intelligence community response was to silence Pars by refusing assistance, taking more reprisals, not properly investigating the original reprisals, and finally terminating Pars.

Moreover, Atkinson failed to assist Daniel Meyer, the former executive director of whistleblowing for the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General.  Pars made disclosures to the then-director of national intelligence and his principal deputy about the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General’s abuses and reprisals against Meyers. Even though these senior officials acknowledged the issues, Meyers was fired.  Again, Atkinson failed to assist. 

To date, the Reidy, Pars and Meyers reprisal cases remain open.  There is no doubt that Atkinson inherited a mess, but instead of helping, he chose to cover up and not to take actions to correct these wrongs.

Atkinson’s actions constituted very serious failures to uphold the integrity, efficiency and effectiveness of intelligence-community whistleblower protections. Atkinson chose instead to violate the law by protecting the “Ukraine whistleblower” which did not meet the ICWPA reporting requirements and failed to fall under the authority of the director of national intelligence or the intelligence community inspector general. Trump had every right to fire Atkinson for cause.

Congress must uphold the rule of law by providing Reidy, Pars and Meyers with the relief the whistleblower protection law mandates. It is time for Congress and the Office of theIntelligence Community Inspector General to protect the real intelligence-community whistleblowers first by enforcing the lawful reprisal-protection standards.

Second, the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General must cease initiating sham investigations covering up institutional failures and reprisals.

Third, Reidy, Pars and Meyers deserve immediate remedies and corrective action. Until these actions are taken and are made standard operating procedure, whistleblowers in the intelligence community will keep their mouths shut.  And we’re all worse off for that. 

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act — a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

Pedro Israel Orta is a former CIA and IC IG officer and whistleblower.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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13 comments for “Partisanship Aside, Trump Had Reason to Fire Michael Atkinson, Say Two Former CIA Whistleblowers

  1. Uncle Bob
    May 20, 2020 at 13:55

    dove-tailing off this, Ben Norton in The GrayZone published a story about The Intercept and their troubling history of Burning their sources..
    “The Intercept published a story that landed Reality Winner in prison, burning its third source. That article was co-authored by Richard Esposito, an embedded police reporter who is now the NYPD’s top spokesperson.

  2. michael888
    May 20, 2020 at 07:07

    “The number of whistleblower reprisal and restriction complaints has steadily increased for several years. In FY 2019, the DoD received 2,123 complaints of reprisal and restriction, a 74 percent increase from the 1,219 complaints received in FY 2015.”
    “While the number of whistleblower reprisal and restriction complaints has steadily risen over the past 5 fiscal years, the substantiation rate has remained relatively constant. Between FY 2015 and FY 2019, the substantiation rate has remained in the range of 12 to 15 percent.”
    Having worked in the Federal Government (quite a while ago), it seems whistleblower regulations are there to identify and get rid of troublemakers or anyone who would challenge the authority at the top. Probably worse in the DOD and in Intelligence Agencies, feudal fascist domains. I was at NIH.

  3. Sam F
    May 19, 2020 at 19:18

    Yes, a failure of Congress and the ICIG to protect whistleblowers, by enforcing ICWPA reprisal-protections, and preventing coverups and reprisals, suggests interest in abusing secret agency powers, a prelude to tyranny.
    It appears that the ICIG should prioritize investigation and corrective action for Reidy, Pars and Meyers.
    Perhaps the ICWPA needs a sunshine clause of permit public scrutiny of redacted documents to discourage abuses.

  4. Linda Furr
    May 19, 2020 at 12:17

    The list is long of honorable people who went through protocol to report serious governmental wrongdoing and were punished for doing so. That list includes John Kiriakou, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and a number of other brave people who faced imprisonment for their commitment to integrity.

    • joey_n
      May 19, 2020 at 16:25

      Regarding Snowden, I once stumbled upon an article from 2013 written by Dave Emory on Spitfire List.


      Snowden is not an idealist, but a cynic and fascist, who advocates the elimination of social security, returning to the gold standard, thinks high unemployment is fine and a necessary part of capitalist correction, as well as a practitioner and endorser of short-selling.

      What are your thoughts on this? Do you believe this is a smear job against Snowden?

    • Digby
      May 21, 2020 at 04:33


      Emory also has the gall to smear WikiLeaks as “right-wing” and “fascist”.


      WikiLeaks is a fascist, “Alt-Right” institution that aided Trump’s election. Facebook, one of whose largest stockholders is Trump supporter Peter Thiel, also helped aid the election of “The Donald.”

      I don’t understand. Julian Assange exposes American war crimes, and this is how Emory thanks him? What gives?

  5. Randal Marlin
    May 19, 2020 at 10:07

    Can you remind us, or give a reference to, the “Ukraine whistleblower”?

    • Nathan Mulcahy
      May 19, 2020 at 12:04

      He was a CIA spy spying on the White House.

    • John Kiriakou
      May 19, 2020 at 14:03

      He was the CIA analyst who reported Trump’s call with the President of Ukraine.

    • Randal Marlin
      May 21, 2020 at 17:16

      Thanks, I take it that his (or her?) name has not been made public.

    • A guy in NH
      May 21, 2020 at 23:46

      If you were to search for a guy named Eric Ciaramella you may find the info you seek.

      Its rather amazing to observe the lengths to which the system will go to protect its innards from the light of day.

      Its even more amazing that the so-called “free press” lets the system get away with it. It just goes to prove that the press isn’t free – it’s owned.

  6. May 19, 2020 at 09:25

    Atkinson sounds a lot like the fired”acting” DoD OIG #GlennFine:

    “Atkinson failed to assist Daniel P. Meyer, the former executive director of whistleblowing for the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General. Pars made disclosures to the then-director of national intelligence and his principal deputy about the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General’s abuses and reprisals against Meyers. Even though these senior officials acknowledged the issues, Meyer was fired. Again, Atkinson failed to assist.”

  7. bardamu
    May 18, 2020 at 22:35

    Yeah, it ought to be clear enough that any whistleblower immediately so declared by large corporate media and saluted by major power blocs in the US government is not a whistleblower, but something else.

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