July 3rd, 2013

Internal complaint systems attack those who dare tell truths


Bullied targets often wait a long time to complain about their plight. Delays happen when they are not quite certain what freight train hit them. They ruminate too long about why they unjustly were targeted? How could someone be so cruel? Eventually, they want to tell their employer.

Chain-of-command reporting requirements are common. Got a problem? Tell your supervisor. But when your supervisor is the bully, the requirement is a dangerous trap. It turns out to be equally ineffective when the bully’s boss is asked to make the bullying stop. [See the 2012 WBI Strategies Effectiveness study about the futility of confronting the bully directly or telling the bully's boss.]

People erroneously believe workplace bullying is an HR-level problem. Not so. It is more about leadership or the lack thereof. [See what understanding by a leader looks like.] Expecting HR to resolve bullying by holding a manager-bully accountable is a rare event. HR is there to defend the interests of management. They are not a neutral party in disputes. Retaliation is the most frequent consequence of following internal procedures for righting a wrong.

The larger point is that internal systems put the institution in the tripartite role of abuse by agents of the employer, then they are investigators, and finally they are judges and adjudicators. How can this turn out well for those subjected to harm by that same system? Internal investigators grant credibility to managers, while non-supervisory workers are considered malingerers, malcontents, disgruntled and mendacious. Senior managers consider workers who report that the best connected friends of those senior managers have done bad things to be the problem. The reporting is considered the problem — not the unconscionable actions that the complainant felt had to be reported.

And so we see the model repeated by several government institutions: the NSA, the CIA-FBI, the Dept. of Defense. Truth tellers (whistleblowers) and truth-telling victims are hunted like criminals, dehumanized, discounted, ignored, tormented, terminated, discharged from service, or imprisoned all to discourage others from showing the same kind of courage.

National Intelligence Director (and former Booz Allen Hamilton executive) James Klapper who lied to Congress (he euphemistically called it being the “least untruthful”) about the NSA spying on American citizens has apologized. It is a crime to lie to Congress, but don’t look for adherence to the law for Clapper any time soon. Whistleblowers are not so fortunate.

It is a crime to reveal classified intelligence data. Three whistleblowers have three different experiences we can learn from.

NSA – National Security Agency

1. Thomas Drake worked for the NSA after years as an Air Force officer gathering intelligence on East Germany during the cold war. He watched Pres. George W. Bush authorize Stellar Wind in 2001, a secret telephone surveillance program that tracked all phone records, including domestic U.S. calls. It bothered him but was told the White House approves, so it was legal. He testified to Congressional committees in closed secret sessions about fraud and abuse of intelligence systems, but his contributions were never included in the Congressional Record. He spoke to a reporter from 2006 to 2007 about matters not classified as secret, though he had top secret clearance. In 2010, the government said he caused “exceptionally grave damage to national security” by revealing secrets.

Drake, in accordance with the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, took his concerns up the chain of command, to the very highest levels at the NSA, and then to Congress and the Department of Defense. He stayed within the system. For his conformity, his home was raided by a dozen armed FBI agents. He endured extensive physical and electronic surveillance. In a secret meeting with the FBI, the chief prosecutor from the Department of Justice said to Drake, “How would you like to spend the rest of your life in jail” – unless he cooperated with their multi-year, multimillion-dollar criminal leak investigation launched in 2005 after the NY Times revealed NSA wiretapping. He was charged me with a 10-felony count indictment, including five counts under the Espionage Act, more than 35 years in prison. The government lost its espionage case against Drake and settled for a guilty plea to exceeding the authorized use of a computer. He served one year’s probation and did community service. To us, Drake appears to have been lucky, but he did say the following:

We are seeing an unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers and truth-tellers: it’s now criminal to expose the crimes of the state … By following protocol, you get flagged – just for raising issues. You’re identified as someone they don’t like, someone not to be trusted … Certainly, my life was shredded. Once they have determined that you are a “person of interest” and an “enemy of the state”, they want to destroy you, period.

2. Edward Snowden, former CIA employee, Booz Allen Hamilton employee working on NSA projects, who in 2013 revealed the massive NSA commitment to spying on American citizens. At the time of this post, he awaits acceptance of his asylum application by a welcoming country. Thomas Drake said about Snowden:

a magnificent act of selfless civil disobedience to protect our liberty … The government has got its knives out: there’s a massive manhunt for Snowden. They will use all their resources to hunt him down and every detail of his life will be turned inside out. They’ll do everything they can to “bring him to justice” – already there are calls for the “traitor” to be “put away for life”.

CIA-FBI

3. Jack Kiriakou, a former CIA officer and FBI agent, was set up by the FBI, tried, convicted and jailed for daring to say that the CIA tortured prisoners during the George W. Bush era. Read his story and advice to Edward Snowden.

Department of Defense and Military Sexual Trauma (MST) cases

There are an estimated 26,000 sexual assaults per year among active duty military, with only 3,000 reported. Why? The system turns on those raped and assaulted and defends sexual predators. Traumatized victims are then denied medical benefits when they are dishonorably discharged or diagnosed with a mental health disease by unscrupulous military psychologists. The story is told vividly in the marvelous documentary, The Invisible War.

4. Tina Clemans, mother of former airman Myah Smith, submitted her daughter’s story to the U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee at its June 4, 2013 hearing. Myah enlisted in the Air Force as did her father, uncle, grandfathers, and great grandfather. After basic training, she was scheduled for technical training. Four days before that training, she was given a cigarette laced with a date rape drug from a fellow service member. Her family advised Myah to go to Command to report the drugging assault.

Instead of going to the hospital for a rape kit, she was taken to a psych ward, locked in a suicide unit, prescribed medications for a personality disorder she did not have (she was groggy from the laced cigarette). She was denied repeated requests for expedited transfer (expressly created to protect sexual assault victims) to safety. She was punished and given a Letter of Reprimand.

[Myah] endured months of anguish, hospitalizations, humiliation, punishment and torture–having to clean and work in the area where she was assaulted a second time–raped, sodomized, threatened with death for reporting further and forced to live in close proximity to her perpetrators.

Everyone in her chain of command knew what had happened to her, even Generals, because her parents made it known. Congressmen got involved. Nothing was done. The second assault left her beaten unconscious, stripped naked, raped and bleeding. Myah’s mother moved to Texas to be with her. The Air Force dishonorably discharged Myah. Attorneys were able to reverse that decision and after a year, she won her honorable discharge and disability rating so she can receive care at VA hospitals. Myah suffers from PTSD and brain damage. The Air Force never even X-rayed her in hospital after the brutal assaults and rapes. Her military career is over. She followed the Chain-of-Command reporting protocol and nearly died.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Personnel of the Armed Services Committee proposed legislation that would forbid the military from retaining control of complaints of sexual assault and sexual trauma. She proposed external parties do the investigating. It clearly is not safe for MST victims to trust military commanders. However, committee chair Levin squashed that proposal siding with the Generals. Gen. Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified that “military commanders remain central to the legal process … Reducing command responsibility could adversely affect the ability of the commander to enforce professional standards and ultimately, to accomplish the mission,”

The headline in the Washington Post read: “Military Brass Wins on Sexual Assault.” Guess who loses by sticking with the status quo chain of command method?

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013 at 4:58 pm and is filed under Commentary by G. Namie, Fairness & Social Justice Denied, Media About Bullying, Print: News, Blogs, Magazines, The New America, Tutorials About Bullying, WBI Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



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  1. yeskia says:

    In the context of U.S. ‘workplace bullying’, and in my opinion, the fundamental problem is that bullying/aggressive behaviour per se, is rewarded.
    The ‘system’ is not designed for revealing truth, it is specifically designed to protect the employer’s interests and to ensure that the policies and procedures create insulation from employee’s.
    Human Resources is the buffer, and if anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of confiding internal cover-ups or coworker bullying, knows just how fast and furious the retaliation is for voicing the truth.
    All the rhetoric and all of the talk about the negative affects from bullying gets lost in legal babble.
    Unless one has experienced being bullied, then one cannot fully understand or appreciate the devastation and trauma bullying causes.

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