As part of its crack-down against insider "leaks," the CIA is reminding former employees about unauthorized contacts with the media. According to various media accounts, several retired analysts and agents claim to have received letters from their former employer, stating that they could lose their pensions if they speak to the press without permission.
Critics contend that the agency is trying to "intimidate" retirees who have criticized the CIA and Bush Administration policies. A spokesman for the agency describes those accusations as "overblown," noting that former employees who now work for the CIA as consultants or contractors could lose those positions for talking with reporters, but not their pensions.
This latest salvo in the leak scandal highlights another thorny issue within our intelligence community. For years, there has been a "revolving door" at Langley, Ft Meade, Bolling and Bethesda, with retired agency hands frequently signing on as consultants or contractors, often working the same issues or problems they handled as intelligence officers. With their security clearances still valid, they usually have access to the same information they reviewed while working for the agency.
On a positive note, the "revolving door" allows intelligence agencies to take advantage of years of expertise and skill on critical issues. Contractors and consultants can also save money, since the agency isn't on the hook for the health care plan and other fringe benefits paid to active officers.
But in today's "leak culture," the retention of former staffers as contractors and consultants has a clear downside. Consider this e-mail that I just received from a staffer on Capitol Hill, who spoke with an employee at an unnamed "three-letter" intelligence agency. It seems that some of the anti-Bush cabal are using contractor or consultant positions to stir up more trouble on the inside. My contact on the Hill reports:
"I got a call from inside the government. Someone wanted me to let people know that the people who were fired by Goss and/or have left thegovernment to write books have gone to work for intel outside contractors where they have just put on their badges and go right back into the agency and hang around just like before. I am told that they are in the lunch room talking to GS-9s and11s, and 12s to stir up a revolt."
If this report is accurate--and I have no reason to doubt its validity--then Mr. Goss needs to redouble his house-cleaning efforts at Langley, and his fellow agency directors might want to start hanging around the cafeteria as well. No one would deny any employee their right to free speech; but this sounds like an effort to forment rebellion within the agency, and that is not a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. There are clear prohibitions on certain types of political activity by federal employees, and the reported actions of these former officers would appear to fall under that category. I think it's time to start firing some contractors and cancelling consultant deals. These former spooks were hired to do intelligence work--not instigate a palace revolt.