The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives apparently has put out a warning to potential whistleblowers, suggesting in its training manual that leaking secret government information could result in death by firing squad.
Citing a federal law-enforcement official, The Washington Times reports
that the training materials not only warn that whistleblowers could be shot but include a turn-of-the-century photo of a firing squad in the introduction to its annual National Security Information online course.
The Times notes that the reference to a firing squad is creating controversy at a time when the agency can little afford it.
The ATF already is under fire for its handling of the controversial Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation. The agency also is battling the American Civil Liberties Union and congressional conservatives over blocking publication of a book, written by John Dodson,
an ATF agent who blew the whistle on problems with the Fast and Furious program.
The firing-squad photo and warning has been part of the ATF manual since March 2008. Richard Marianos, special agent in charge of the ATF's Washington division, said the Justice Department plans to remove it from training materials, but for now it has to stay until the government reopens.
Richard Roberts, a public information officer for the International Union of Police Associations, said the photo simply is meant as a joke to underscore a serious warning about the importance of keeping information about investigations from leaking out.
“During many years of law-enforcement experience, I can attest to the fact that law-enforcement personnel often use gallows humor as a release from the grim realities of the profession,” he told the Times.
But Stephen Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblower Center, isn't laughing. He told the Times the photo is evidence that the Justice Department has forgotten about rights under the First Amendment, which protects leaks to the media.
Kohn called the photo "hypocritical, unconstitutional, and unprofessional," adding that it is meant "to silence and intimidate whistleblowers."
“The government leaks information all the time and they get away with it,” Kohn said. “They don’t go after leaks that they support. The government leaks, and when it is officially condoned they do not investigate or prosecute.”
People who disclose classified government information sometimes are faced with the punishment of death. Bradley Manning, the soldier who was sentenced to 35 years in prison
for releasing classified information to WikiLeaks, could have been sentenced to death for "aiding the enemy" with his historic leak.
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