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Intelligence community didn’t alter whistleblower rules

October 2, 2019 GMT

CLAIM: The intelligence community secretly removed the requirement that whistleblowers must have first-hand knowledge in order to submit a complaint.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Members of the intelligence community have never been legally required to provide first-hand knowledge of misconduct to blow the whistle.

THE FACTS: Online articles, social media posts and President Donald Trump have promoted a groundless theory that a CIA officer’s whistleblower complaint was improperly filed because it was not based on first-hand knowledge.

The complaint filed in August by the CIA officer alleges that Trump abused his office in pressing the Ukraine president to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.

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Social media claims have sought to undermine that whistleblower complaint by suggesting that the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community changed the rules in August to allow for complaints to be filed based on second-hand information.

The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community’s office responded to such accusations Monday, saying that the whistleblower did have some first-hand, “direct- knowledge of certain alleged conduct.”

Furthermore, federal law does not prohibit intelligence community workers from filing a complaint if they are aware of wrongdoing only based on second-hand or hearsay information.

The law only requires federal workers to have a “reasonable belief” of misconduct in order to file a complaint, according to Debra D’Agostino, a federal employment lawyer.

Whistleblowers do not even have to fill out a form to flag a complaint. They can report misconduct to their supervisor or call the designated inspector general hotline, according to whistleblower instructions available on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s website.

In this case, the whistleblower flagged a portion of Trump’s July call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a typed, nine-page document addressed to the House Intelligence Committee. The IG said that while the whistleblower was not a direct witness to the call, the IG separately obtained other information during its preliminary review that supported the allegations to deem them credible.

Reports making the false claim about the rules have pointed to a change in the whistleblower complaint form, which removed a section that stated the inspector general needed to have direct, first-hand information to deem a case credible.

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That form did not agree with federal law, said according to Michael German a former FBI agent and whistleblower who recently wrote about his experiences in a book called Disrupt, Discredit and Divide.

“A law would supersede any form, written up by any agency,” German said.

The inspector general’s office confirmed in a statement Monday that earlier this year the language about first-hand information was removed from the form because “it could be read - incorrectly - as suggesting that whistleblowers must possess first-hand information in order to file an urgent complaint with the congressional intelligence committees.”

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536

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