Is FBI using security clearances to muzzle critics? Whistleblower's lawyer says yes
"They can take them off the payroll, take their badge and gun, sideline them," said former Senate investigator and whistleblower attorney Jason Foster.
A whistleblower lawyer representing an FBI agent suspended after raising concerns about the treatment of Jan. 6 suspects says the bureau is using its control of security clearances to silence and punish critics.
Jason Foster, a former Senate investigator and head of the Empower Oversight whistleblower group, told Just the News on Monday his group is helping to represent Special Agent Stephen Friend, who last week made a whistleblower complaint to the Office of Special Counsel alleging he was suspended after raising concerns about treatment of Jan. 6 suspects, the use of SWAT teams and alleged manipulation of crime statistics.
Foster said the bureau was able to sideline Friend last week by suspending his security clearance pending a review, essentially leaving the agent in limbo and unable to do his job. Foster was asked whether he knew of any wrongdoing that Friend committed that would warrant suspending his security clearance. "No, absolutely not," he answered.
"This is a common tactic that we have seen with the FBI," Foster told the "Just the News, Not Noise" television show. "They're using it more and more, because they know that there's less oversight and less scrutiny of a security clearance decision because of the nature of it. It's harder to do oversight and have any kind of independent scrutiny.
"So rather than just suspending the person on a claim that they didn't do their job, or that they engaged in some misconduct, they'll simply suspend their clearance, which means that they can't do the work that they would normally do, then they can take them off the payroll, take their badge and gun, sideline them, and then hope that, you know, they can just sort of grind them into compliance or get them to quit rather than continue to fight because they don't have any money."
Before he started Empower Oversight, Foster was a chief investigator for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) for two decades and oversaw major probes of law enforcement conduct that included Russia collusion and the Fast and Furious gunrunning scandal.
The FBI responded Monday night to Friend's suspension for the first time, providing a statement to Just the News after the news organization inquired about the allegations Friend made in a complaint to the Office of Special Counsel
The bureau said it could not discuss the specifics of Friend's case but addressed the process for handling such whistleblowing allegations.
"While we cannot comment on the specifics of personnel matters, all FBI employees understand they are held to the highest standards because their work is critical to fulfilling our mission of protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution of the United States," the FBI statement said.
"Employees who don't carry out their responsibilities are held accountable through an objective administrative process," it added. "FBI employees who report evidence of wrongdoing through a protected disclosure are protected from retaliation. Such reporting supports the FBI's mission and is fully consistent with our core values."
In his whistleblower complaint reviewed by Just the News, Friend acknowledged he told a supervisor he "was going to refuse to participate in any J6 cases" because of concerns about violations of some defendants' constitutional rights.
"I expressed my concerns about violating citizens' Sixth Amendment rights due to overzealous charging by the DOJ and biased jury pools in Washington D.C," he told the Special Counsel's office.
Just the News reported earlier Monday that Friend alleged he believes the bureau and Justice Department are violating the constitutional rights of Jan. 6 defendants, falsifying statistics on domestic extremism and misusing SWAT teams to make misdemeanor arrests.
"I believed the investigations were inconsistent with FBI procedure and resulted in the violation of citizens' Sixth and Eighth Amendment rights," Friend wrote. "I added that many of my colleagues expressed similar concerns to me but had not vocalized their objections to FBI Executive Management.
Foster, who worked to protect other FBI whistleblowers when he worked in the Senate, described how quickly Friend went from an agent earning awards and high ratings to a pariah inside the bureau.
"He was an exemplary agent," Foster said. "He had received awards. You know, he did his job. But the moment that he reported wrongdoing related to J6 cases, all of a sudden, now he is put on suspension. He's walked out of the building, and they're taking his paycheck away."
He said Friend can temporarily exhaust his vacation time but eventually will go on unpaid status and "will have no paycheck anymore."
Foster said one of the "more disturbing" allegations his client made involved deploying SWAT teams to arrest suspects on misdemeanor charges. Friend served for years on an FBI SWAT team before being moved to Florida.
Friend was concerned about "the threat to public safety by executing search warrants in ... cases where it wasn't appropriate, in Steve's view and according to his history and practice of serving on a SWAT team in another field office," Foster said .
"What they were doing was even if it's a misdemeanor case, a nonviolent case, and even if it's a case where the person is represented by counsel and cooperating with the government, there are cases like that that Steve indicated that they were insisting on, executing warrants via SWAT, which is actually, in the point he made, a threat to public safety. Because if you use more aggressive means than is necessary then you risk a Ruby Ridge or Waco type situation. … Anytime you're sending agents in, knocking down doors with guns, you're creating more risks than you have to if that's not necessary."