Five government whistleblowers said Tuesday they had faced retaliation for calling attention to alleged government wrongs, such as prisoner abuse in Iraq and illegal surveillance at the National Security Agency.
They told their stories to the House Government Reform Committee's national security subcommittee, whose chairman, Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., indicated an interest in altering the law to better protect national-security whistleblowers.
Shays said they are vulnerable to unique forms of retaliation, including suspension or revocation of security clearance, which can have the same "chilling effect" as demotion or firing.
"The system is broken," Shays said.
In written testimony, inspectors general from the Defense, Justice and Energy departments said complaints of reprisals involving security clearances were rare.
"The allegations were either not substantiated or were closed after a preliminary inquiry determined there was insufficient evidence to warrant a full investigation," acting Defense Department Inspector General Thomas Gimble said.
The five whistleblowers, who have made headlines before, offered their stories at Tuesday's hearing. Many described their inspector general as ineffective or co-opted by the security offices.
Army Spc. Samuel Provance laid out what he considers to be a pattern of systemic abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. He said his rank was reduced for disobeying orders not to speak about mistreatment he saw at the prison.
Russ Tice, a former NSA analyst, has called attention to possible constitutional abuses and security breaches at NSA. He said he was given psychological evaluations deeming him mentally unstable, and his clearance was revoked. He's now unemployed.
Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer says the Defense Intelligence Agency has made a series of allegations against him since he disclosed information about a program known as Able Danger. He says the program identified four Sept. 11 hijackers before the attack. Government officials have raised doubts about his claims, which are the subject of another hearing Wednesday.
Richard Levernier, a retired Energy Department nuclear security specialist, said he lost his security clearance and effectively his job for giving the media an unclassified report about shortfalls in nuclear security.
And former FBI special agent Michael German said the Justice Department's inspector general found his claims of a botched terrorism investigation in Florida were substantiated. He says he faced retaliatory actions, some of which the inspector general also found.
In the written statements from the inspectors general, many of the whistleblowers' individual claims were not addressed.
"Whistleblowers who raise good-faith allegations of misconduct about activities at their agencies play an important role in ensuring transparency and accountability throughout government," Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine said.