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Whistleblower stripped of security clearance over military app

Anthony Kim noticed a problem with the Navy's tactical mapping apps known as KILSWITCH and APASS. The apps were designed for use in combat, but soldiers were downloading them to personal devices that lacked proper encryption. This opened the apps to a hacking risk. Kim, a civilian program analyst, knew this problem posed a very real danger in combat. He works for the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division. He is a major with 28 years of military service. He was a Navy pilot and Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), someone who orders combat airstrikes.   

Response from troops in battle

The troops who rely on technology in battle are frustrated and angry that the military leadership waited a year and a half to alert them to a problem that could endanger their lives. The Navy and marines have distributed the apps throughout their organizations, and even to some U.S. allies. Only the Marines have issued a force-wide alert regarding misuse of the apps. Some troops, especially the JTACs, feel disappointed by the Pentagon. They trust leadership to vet the safety and security of their technology.

Chain of command

Major Kim reported the problem in March 2017 to the civilian leadership in his office, but they first ignored him, then punished him. They warned him to stop "disparaging" the product, then reduced his pay, despite a previously glowing performance review. Kim finally reported the problem to Pentagon officials. His complaint sparked an investigation by the Navy Inspector General into the problem. 

One month later, security officials from Kim's office placed him on unpaid leave and suspended his security clearance. They claimed he made "threatening statements" but failed to identify when or where that happened. 

Seeking legal recourse

Kim argues that his superiors illegally retaliated against him, even though he did everything by the book. He followed his chain of command, unlike Edward Snowden. His legal advisor points out that, although Snowden's actions were reckless and dangerous, his excuse for not using the chain of command was fear of retaliation. His fears proved to be well-founded. Kim's case is not an isolated incident at the Department of Defense. The DOD has used security clearance revocation as a punishment in multiple whistleblower cases recently.


DOD officials have now reinstated Major Kim’s security clearance and continue to investigate the retaliation situation. They must do more, however, to prevent this type of action in the future.  

Congressional response

This problem has caught the attention of Congress. The Senate passed a provision in its latest National Defense Authorization Act to increase congressional oversight of security clearance revocations. In addition, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) recently introduced a bill in the House to protect the security clearance of whistleblowers. These laws may be the first steps to reform in this area. Hopefully the next person to find a dangerous defect in military equipment will be rewarded rather than punished.


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