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Does the U.S. Department of Justice want to muzzle whistle-blowers? Several federal prosecutors and investigators have recently sued the agency, claiming that it retaliated against them after they tried to report internal wrong-doing. And in a pattern that could further embarass the department, each whistle-blower came forward over national security concerns. In one case, Richard Convertino claims that he was punished after he privately criticized the Justice Department’s commitment to prosecuting terrorists. An assistant U.S. attorney in Detroit, Convertino sued the agency in February. He alleges that after he made his criticisms, department officials leaked the name of one of Convertino’s confidential informants to the Detroit Free Press. The officials, he charges, wanted to “render it difficult, if not impossible, for [him] to work in the future” with informants, thus ruining his ability to be a prosecutor. Other law enforcement officials who have filed whistle-blower actions include: -Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Bassem Youssef, who claimed in a 2003 suit that his agency didn’t follow up on an Al Qaeda tip it received two months before the September 11 attacks. He says he was denied promotions. -Former FBI agent Jane Turner, who revealed that fellow agents pocketed a knickknack from the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York. She previously reported mishandling of child molestation cases. Turner says she was investigated in retaliation, then forced out of her job. -John Roberts, a former FBI professional responsibility agent who reported that agents covered up misconduct in the 1992 shooting of the wife and son of white supremacist leader Randall Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Roberts says he was denied promotions. -Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department lawyer who objected to FBI agents’ tactics for interrogating John Walker Lindh, the young U.S. citizen who joined the Taliban and eventually pled guilty to aiding the terrorists. Radack says she was drummed out of her job, then subjected to a criminal investigation after she leaked e-mails to Newsweek. The Justice Department didn’t respond to multiple requests to discuss these cases. However, in late February Attorney General John Ashcroft appointed a special prosecutor to review Convertino’s conduct, following charges that he withheld documents while prosecuting a case. Last year Barbara Comstock, then a Justice spokeswoman, told The New York Times that “whistle-blowers have all the protection of the Whistle-Blower Act.” Yet the law, first passed in 1989, doesn’t explicitly bar retaliatory investigations. Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) has proposed a bill to close this loophole. But for now, payback probes remain a particular problem for whistle-blowers who work in law enforcement. Elaine Kaplan, who represents whistle-blowers at D.C.’s Bernabei & Katz, explains that a boss with a grudge can look for dirt on an employee, “and then there’s an independent reason other than the whistle-blowing that you can take action.”

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