From the Project On Government Oversight
By NICK SCHWELLENBACH
Earlier this year, POGO blogged on the case of Army Lt. Col. Michael Holmes, whose story was first reported in Rolling Stone magazine. Last week, Holmes and his fellow soldier Laural Levine filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to get access to the results of an Army investigation that was launched after the Rolling Stone article was published. The Army investigation looked into charges that an Army general in Afghanistan directed information operations specialists to conduct “psychological operations” on visiting Members of Congress instead of focusing on the insurgents as they were intended to be used.
To recap (as you read this keep in mind that there are two Army investigations—the first is considered a retaliatory investigation by Holmes, and the second was in response to Rolling Stone’s coverage and is the target of Holmes’ FOIA lawsuit):
Last year in Afghanistan, Holmes asked questions and pushed back against planned Army activities he was to take part in because he thought they violated the legal parameters that he was bound to comply with as an information operations specialist in the U.S. military. The planned activities were modified to Holmes’ satisfaction after a military lawyer, whom Holmes contacted with his complaint, backed him up.
If the story ended there, I wouldn’t be writing this. It’s what happened next that led to the publicity surrounding this episode.
Following the favorable resolution of the matter that Holmes was troubled by, Holmes and Levine, who worked closely with Holmes in Afghanistan, were subjected to what they deemed a retaliatory Army investigation.
Holmes went to the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General (DoD OIG) with a complaint about the Army investigation. After several months and no contact with any DoD OIG staff, the DoD OIG told Holmes they would not investigate because the military lawyer to whom he disclosed his concerns was not a protected channel for disclosures, according to a DoD OIG letter Holmes received. The DoD OIG reached this conclusion even though it appears at odds with the DoD OIG’s interpretation of a protected channel for whistleblower disclosures. The DoD OIG has said individuals in a uniformed servicemember’s chain of command are protected channels. At a minimum, the military lawyer was part of Holmes’ legal chain of command. Holmes was told by a member of his chain of command to go to that lawyer, and Holmes was also told that the lawyer was the point of contact “for legal advice on info ops.”
Two things happened as a result of the Rolling Stone article:
- As mentioned above, the Army launched an investigation. According to the FOIA lawsuit filed by Holmes and Levine, “General David Petraeus, then commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, ordered an investigation into whether Lt. General William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops, had conducted psychological operations on members of Congress and all related matters.” The lawsuit says that “the investigative report was completed and sent to General Petraeus in April 2011.”
- Holmes’ lawyer Mark Zaid requested a review of the DoD OIG’s decision not to investigate his allegations of retaliation. According to a letter Zaid received, the DoD Inspector General is reviewing the decision by his office not to investigate Holmes’ claim that the original Army investigation was retaliatory.
Nick Schwellenbach is POGO’s Director of Investigations. Follow Nick on Twitter.