Law & the Courts

Obama CIA Read Congressional Staffers’ Emails about Protecting Whistleblowers

Former President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally at North Division High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 26, 2018. (Sara Stathas/REUTERS)

President Obama’s CIA surveilled emails sent by congressional staffers pertaining to how best to protect agency whistleblowers, a release of previously classified documents this week confirmed.

The CIA prepared reports on the contents of the emails, which they now claim were read as part of “routine counterintelligence (CI) monitoring of government computer systems.”

Charles McCullough III, who served as CIA inspector general at the time, called the surveillance “lawful and justified.” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), however, told the Washington Times that the recently released report raised questions about the CIA’s motivations.

“The fact that the CIA under the Obama administration was reading congressional staff’s emails about intelligence-community whistleblowers raises serious policy concerns as well as potential constitutional separation-of-powers issues that must be discussed publicly,” said Grassley, who, according to the Times, has been trying to force the memos’ declassification for four years, but was prevented by Obama administration officials’ “bureaucratic foot-dragging.”

“Nothing — nothing — should inhibit or interfere with Congress’s constitutional job and protecting whistleblowers,” Grassley added.

Obama, who ran on a pledge to protect government whistleblowers, received intense criticism during his second term for aggressively prosecuting them instead. From 2008 to 2015 alone, the Obama administration prosecuted eight people under the 1917 Espionage Act, more than double the number of individuals prosecuted under all previous presidents combined.

Critics further alleged that the administration displayed a double standard in aggressively prosecuting low-level whistleblowers while allowing high-profile, senior officials to go unpunished. For example, former Obama CIA director David Petraeus was only charged with a misdemeanor after providing his biographer and mistress notes containing “the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberate discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings and . . . the President,” and lying to FBI investigators about it.

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