U.S. Army Plans to Fire Whistleblower For Speaking to the Media

The U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Laboratory located at Fort Gillem, Georgia.

Army threatens to fire whistleblower for talking to McClatchy (McClatchy Newspapers):

The military’s embattled crime lab is trying to fire an outspoken whistleblower who’s spotlighted its problems.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory warned its firearms branch chief, Donald Mikko, in a memo of its plans to fire him, in part for talking to a McClatchy reporter.

As part of an internal investigation, Mikko was interrogated for about four hours and questioned about his contacts with McClatchy, according to his attorney Peter Lown. The Army Criminal Investigation Command, which oversees the lab, launched the inquiry after McClatchy published a story late last year about the lab losing evidence.

McClatchy has written more than a dozen stories about the lab since last March, which included details of the misconduct of two former analysts who made serious errors during DNA and firearms testing and who later were found to have falsified and destroyed documents when confronted with the problems.

As a result of McClatchy’s articles, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D- Vt., and Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s top-ranking Republican member, urged the military to look into the lab’s handling of the misconduct by one of the analysts. An investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general is ongoing.

“The Army is looking for a scapegoat to blame for the recent adverse media reports,” Lown said.

The Criminal Investigation Command, abbreviated as CID, says it’s never targeted anyone for talking to the news media, and it’s asserted that McClatchy’s series of stories has overblown isolated mistakes and misconduct that shouldn’t reflect on the lab’s overall reputation.

Army probes crime lab workers after critical news reports – February 2012 (McClatchy Newspapers):

Stung by critical stories about their crime laboratory, officials at Army Criminal Investigation Command recently questioned lab employees for hours and scrutinized personal phone records looking for contacts with reporters.

The inquiry was launched after a McClatchy reporter asked questions late last year about the lab losing evidence. A command spokesman characterized the investigation as looking into violations of privacy law, but the investigation report, which McClatchy obtained, shows that the command was interested primarily in whether employees had provided information that resulted in a story about lab problems.

“This investigation was aimed at rooting out anyone even remotely critical of the lab,” charged Peter Lown, an attorney for one of the employees questioned in the probe. “The lab’s management doesn’t want any more critical stories.”

McClatchy has written a dozen stories about the lab since last March, including detailing the misconduct of two former analysts who made serious errors during DNA and firearms testing and who later were found to have falsified and destroyed documents when confronted with the problems.

As a result of McClatchy’s articles, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D- Vt., and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have urged the military to look into the lab’s handling of the misconduct by one of the analysts. An investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general is ongoing.

The Army’s investigation of media contacts comes as the Obama administration takes a hard-line stance on leaks. President Barack Obama’s Justice and Defense departments have criminally prosecuted more former and current government officials on charges of disclosing information than previous administrations have.

Unlike in the Army investigation, however, all the prosecuted officials were accused of divulging classified intelligence, which can be a felony.

“This is an unprecedented crackdown by the Obama administration,” Jesselyn Radack, a lawyer with the Government Accountability Project, a public interest organization that protects whistleblowers. “It sends a very chilling message to any kind of whistleblower who is considering dissenting or speaking out.”

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