FBI reinstates its removal of FBI staffer’s security clearance

FBI revoked the staffer's clearance for what it called "questionable judgment" when it came to the agency's investigations into the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The FBI has reinstated the the security clearance of a former employee. Marcus Allen had his clearance revoked and was suspended from his role of staff operations specialist with the FBI back in February 2022, for what it called “questionable judgment” when it came to the agency’s investigations into the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. One of the organization’s who defended and represented Allen was Empower Oversight. To learn more about this case, Federal News Network’s Eric White talked with that organization’s president, Tristan Leavitt.

Interview Transcript:

Eric White  The FBI has reinstated one of its former employee’s security clearance after revoking it. Marcus Allen had his clearance revoked and was suspended from his role of staff operation specialist with the bureau back in February of 2022 for what it called “questionable judgment” when it came to the agency’s investigations into the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. One of the organizations who defended and represented Allen was in power oversight. To learn more about this case, we welcome the organization’s President Tristan Leavitt. Tristan, thank you so much for taking the time.

Tristan Leavitt  Yeah. Happy to be with you, Eric.

Eric White  So, let’s just start from the beginning. What happened to Mr. Allen, if you can just give me kind of an overview of the events that led up to this point?

Tristan Leavitt  So, Marcus Allen is somebody who had been in the Marines working as an intel analyst and had been deployed to Iraq a couple times. So he knew what he was doing when he’d worked for the FBI for several years down in their Charlotte field office, and he had received awards in there, commendations, so he never had any issues within the FBI. After January 6, Marcus Allen wasn’t present there, by any means, didn’t have anything to do with it. But as most of us in the United States saw, FBI Director Chris Wray came up to Capitol Hill just a couple of weeks after the events of January 6, and in one particular exchange before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Amy Klobuchar said to him, don’t you just wish we had some informants there, some way of knowing what was happening? And you just see the look on Director Wray’s face. He’s navigating that, so he gives a response, you know, understandably, the FBI needs to protect its confidential sources, but this is a pretty significant event. And it’s important for Congress to be able to do oversight of that. So he left the impression there were no informants there. Throughout 2021, there was maybe one Reuters article that came out that hinted that there might have been some informants. And then in late September, The New York Times splashed across the very top story, front page of the Sunday paper, that there had in fact, been at least two informants there for the FBI on January 6. Now today, we know that there were over 20, but at the time, this was very big news, which is why it was so prominent in New York Times. And so Marcus Allen took that information and relayed it to his supervisor saying, we need to be careful, there’s a very real chance that the D.C. elements of our organization may not be fully forthcoming here, based on director Wray’s testimony. That set off alarm bells within the FBI. Even though it was Marcus’s job to forward information like this around, all of the January 6 investigations had been farmed from the FBI’s Washington Field Office out to their various regional offices. And so Charlotte was engaged in that. So this was situational context he believed they needed to know. But after this, his security clearance was suspended, so that’s how we got involved. A year ago, I testified before the House weaponization subcommittee with Marcus and two other FBI whistleblowers we had represented and at the time, the FBI had just put out information the night before saying that their clearances had been revoked. So you know, they were called a security threat by the ranking member of that committee. But we had filed an Inspector General complaint alleging that it was because of whistleblower retaliation. January 6 aside, longstanding whistleblower law protects federal employees’ right to make disclosures about the head of an agency, and to, you know, share that information with one’s supervisors or colleagues. And so in that context, it simply was inappropriate for them to suspend his security clearance over that. But after a long period of time working with the Inspector General, I think the FBI knew that an IG report was probably likely to come out soon, and so they agreed to settle with him. And secondly, they reinstated his security clearance, giving him complete and full vindication.

Eric White  We’re speaking with Tristan Leavitt, he is the president of Empower Oversight. And, you know, as with most whistleblower cases, the idea is not just to punish somebody who maybe went against what the FBI desired, but it is to send a message or have a chilling effect. If I could ask you to speculate, what was that message that was being sent to other potential whistleblowers at the FBI?

Tristan Leavitt  Well, we’ve since learned a fair amount about this. And this is actually the subject of a lot of concern, something that’s actually, we believe, we expect the FBI, the DOJ Inspector General is going to open up a new probe on, which is that after January 6, where it was perfectly legitimate for the FBI to investigate any FBI agents, certainly who were inside the Capitol who are engaged in violence, you know, is appropriate for them to investigate that of the American public, much less people from within the FBI. But after that, it kind of led to this hysteria within the FBI where anybody that got brought to the attention of the security division within the FBI, once they were inside that funnel of suspicion, they couldn’t get out. The disclosures that are coming to us indicate that that office really just said, well, we just don’t want people to have clearances in these instances, even if it’s for completely valid political views. And not long after January 6, one of the things that we highlighted recently in a letter to IG Horowitz, just from this week, we reminded him of a letter we sent last summer where we had provided an affidavit from an FBI supervisor who was on a call with all special agents in charge from the FBI about a month after January 6, and said, if you don’t like the way the FBI is approaching this, you don’t need to be in the FBI. The FBI, you know, we don’t need people like that here. And so we’ve seen is that the security division asked questions about things. We just released a document where they asked questions specifically like, of an employee’s coworker. So to be clear, this is an instance where you’re under suspicion, they suspend your clearance, they go to do interviews with coworkers of the individual whose clearance is suspended, and someone’s required to answer those questions. You’re told at the beginning of the interview, failure to, you have a duty to reply to the issues. Should you refuse to answer or fail to reply fully and truthfully, actually it’s your own clearance may be taken. So people were being asked to rat out their coworkers and the questions for them were, did you, after being asked if you’ve ever socialized with them, so it’s asking about, even outside of work, did you ever hear them vocalize support for President Trump? Did you ever hear them vocalize objection to the COVID-19 vaccination? So these are entirely inappropriate questions for the security division to be asking. I mean, for anyone in the FBI to be requiring answers to, much less as a basis for revoking someone’s security clearance. And so this is the real, you know, the chilling seems to have been where people came into this funnel suspicion with the security division. They pushed out people that had views that were not in keeping with those and in the mainstream, you know, in the leadership of the agency there, including just support for President Trump even. Now, for someone like me, I’ll say, right, having been at the Office of Special Counsel where you enforce the Hatch Act, right. The whole goal of creating a nonpartisan civil service system at the end of 1800s was to get rid of things like loyalty tests and patronage. And so this idea that, in an effort to keep the FBI pure, they’re going to ask questions like this, it goes exactly to what the civil service system was designed to prevent, is really, really dangerous.

Eric White  Well, can I come at it from the other side here, as saying, you know, January 6’s unprecedented attempt to really subvert the U.S. government, there was probably a lot of speculation regarding how the agency should react? And obviously, the agency had not seen anything like this before. So are you saying that this was maybe an overreaction? Or could they have handled it a little bit better in trying to decipher, you know, we have to make sure that none of our people were actively trying to support this movement, that, you know, once again, was something that the government had never seen before.

Tristan Leavitt  I think asking questions like, do you support violence? I mean, security clearance process, do you support the overthrow of the US government? Were you present on January 6 inside of the Capitol? All of that is completely legitimate, in my view. When you step beyond that, to just political views, did the employee ever vocalize support for President Trump? I mean, people had a First Amendment right to go and hear him at a rally. And again, if they are outside of the Capitol, that’s just not the FBI’s place. And again, the COVID-19 vaccination questions, even if they might overlap among a segment of the population that did express objections to the vaccination. Keep in mind these questions were asked three months after the federal employee vaccine mandate was suspended. So there’s no legitimate purpose for them to ask a question like that. When I was at the Merit Systems Protection Board, as we tried to implement the executive order that came out, we put a lot of thought into making sure that these questions about someone’s personal medical health information weren’t spread all over the agency. So we were very careful in making sure that went to just one designated individual within the agency to have the security division of the FBI ask this of someone’s colleagues, again, that goes way beyond the events of January 6, which again, people should have been punished for engaging in violence for breaking laws. It’s a very different thing to ask someone’s political views. Those are not one in the same.

Eric White  Tristan Leavitt is president of Empower Oversight. Thank you so much for joining us.

Tristan Leavitt  Thanks for having me, Eric.

Eric White  And we’ll post this interview along with a copy of those documents that Tristan had mentioned at federalnewsnetwork.com. You can also subscribe to the Federal Drive wherever you get your podcasts.

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