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BOOZALLEN: Rethinking Corporate Policy Toward Whistleblowers

Friday, Jun. 21, 2013

Edward Snowden, National Security Agency whistleblower, has been fired from his job at Booz Allen Hamilton. This month, Snowden went public with details on the NSA’s PRISM, a government surveillance program, which he gained through his work at the firm. Booz Allen released a statement confirming that Snowden had been terminated due to “violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy.” With its primary business involving highly sensitive government information, it is no surprise Booz Allen places a premium on discretion. Nonetheless, news of NSA’s PRISM program has been embraced by the public, and has sparked calls for open debates on the program from both members of Congress and President Obama. Whistleblowing is often detrimental to a firm’s short-term financial position, but has proved to be a valuable practice, from society’s perspective, in keeping firms and governments accountable. Did Booz Allen handle Snowden’s whistleblowing case correctly? Should companies leave room for principled whistleblowing on some issues?

  Kirk: It would be very hard to construct a policy that allowed employees to violate some obligations of confidentiality or specific performance for clients. Snowden had opportunities to raise his concerns internally within Booz Allen, or to resign and end his complicity with a system he felt was unethical. If Snowden felt he had an obligation to violate his own contractual obligation to secrecy, he should be willing to be tried and even prosecuted. Civil disobedience is most powerful when it demonstrates the whistleblower’s willingness to pay a price to get the word out.

  Patrick: Firms like Booz Allen would not exist if they included a “whistleblower clause,” as their business is predicated on secrecy. On the other hand, there is great concern over the efficacy of “internal whistleblowing” and its fairness to the whistleblower. The company retains the power to sweep both the issue and the whistleblower under the rug, through stripping the whistleblower of responsibility and power over an extended period of time. Ideally, the public would band together to provide a safety net to whistleblowers, allowing whistleblowers to speak up despite lacking company support; but, can we trust the masses to get these things right?

Booz Allen Fires NSA Whistleblower Following Leaks

A Framework for Thinking Ethically

 

NEXT STORY: SHOULD FIRMS PARTICIPATE IN GOVERNMENT DATA PROGRAMS?

Comments Comments

Joe Schmid said on Jun 24, 2013
Premature labeling an action/behavior immediately channels thinking frequently discounting or ignoring germane facts. Take away the label whistleblower and what do you see. The public disclosure of a wartime signals intercept program that has administrative authority, and congressional and judicial oversight. A disclosure that did not report misconduct; it reported the existence and nature of national security programs. Mr. Snowden did not need to rely on the Booz Allen internal whistleblowing process. Mr. Snowden is an IT savvy person. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) Disclosure of Information Form used to report government misconduct is only a couple of mouse clicks away. Mr. Snowden chose not to follow the process and in his role was clearly protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act with its safeguards and guarantees. Mr. Snowden's stated motivation in an interview with a film director and producer was that he was "disenchanted with Obama" not motivated by the public good or the misconduct of Booz Allen or the government. His intent based on the emerging facts was to cause harm; and bring attention to himself. Mr. Snowden was previously fired from the CIA for cause and now a second time by Booz Allen. You see a pattern of conduct better labeled something other than whistle-blowing and surely not heroic as some are reporting. The fact that Mr. Snowden is seeking asylum supports a different labeling of his behavior. Nothing he has done fits the definition of a whistleblower; and labeling him such denigrates those who were and have come before. Mr. Snowden's behavior in and of itself was unethical. By his own admission he didn't follow any discernible ethical decision making process to guide his actions. Regarding Booz Allen, they need a thorough review of their hiring process, not a review of their formal code of ethics that dates back to the 1930?s; and not a review of their "Greenbook" and the internal whistle blowing process documented in Chapter 1 Section 4 "Mandatory Reporting of Violations"; or the integrity of their Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer or the Ethics Office. Mr. Snowden's actions were predictable; and his previous behavior made him unsuitable for a role of trust and secrecy that he was hired into. The criminal charges brought against Mr. Snowden were earned by his personal choices and behavior. I agree with Kirk. Let the legal system play out and let the ensuing public disclosure determine the character of Mr. Snowden and how he and his actions should be correctly labeled. - Like - 3 people like this.
Ash said on Apr 16, 2014
In an ideal world Snowden should of followed the internal procedures and warned people higher up within the organisation as this was seen as harmful. However this was not an issue with something within the process being harmful, the issue was with the actual use of data that was and is supposed to be private, that was the goal of NSA. So let us say he did Whistleblow internally what would of happened. Quite possibly he could of been flagged for it within the company and then if he continued to pursue it he may be in jail right now. The government have a lot of secrets, not all government officials are bad, many aren't but secrets can't be let out and they will do what they deem necessary. Thus this is why in my opinion I feel it was right that he told the world about this. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Patrick said on Apr 16, 2014
Ash, interesting thoughts. I think it would be helpful to get a clearer understanding of what procedures and processes Booz Allen had for whistleblowers to see what Snowden's alternatives were. Then again, I do agree that it is likely that he would be persecuted even if he went through "standard protocol." - Like
Reinhold Schlieper said on Jan 27, 2014
I don't think that Snowden's "character" is relevant here. None of us knows anything about his motivations; those are private and known to him only. I would restrict myself more to a consequentialist analysis. The point is that, without Snowden, none of us would have thought about this issue. Without Snowden, none would have thought about who all was listening in when Chancellor Merkel made phone calls. As far as I'm concerned, Edward Snowden can be a completely unethical rat without taking away one iota from the beneficial nature of what he has done. If I had to comment on how he did what he did, I might come up with some alternative suggestions with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, but such hindsight does not diminish his deed. - Like - 1 person likes this.
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