Reprisals alleged by NSA worker

August 15, 1994|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Writer

In the tense years after the Cuban missile crisis, recruiters from the National Security Agency arrived in Puerto Rico in search of linguists.

Several dozen young Hispanic college graduates soon were hired by the spy agency. Among them was Emma Carbone, who came to Fort Meade in 1966 and jumped headlong into the struggle against communism.

But Ms. Carbone also spent half of the next 28 years fighting an unlikely foe: the NSA.

The 52-year-old Linthicum woman, now a personnel officer at the agency, contends that her relentless efforts to get it to hire and promote more Hispanics have led to a steady stream of reprisals against her.

Despite excellent evaluations and commendations, she said she has not received a promotion since 1980. More than a decade ago, an NSA official acknowledged that her vigor on behalf of diversity probably harmed her career.

Five years ago, an NSA investigator found "disparate treatment" against Ms. Carbone and recommended a promotion, only to be overruled by a superior. Her case now is before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington.

Ms. Carbone is prohibited by agency guidelines from talking to anyone outside the NSA without the agency's clearance. But Irving Kator, a Washington lawyer who has represented her since 1982 said, "I'm convinced that Emma's case is one of reprisal. Her qualifications are better than others who got promotions."

NSA officials declined to discuss Ms. Carbone's case. But she apparently isn't alone in believing there has been retaliation by supervisors at the agency. In April, a report by the Pentagon inspector general said 25 NSA employees had complained of such retaliation. Forty-one had complained about promotions.

The agency has "several such allegations" under investigation, Vice Admiral John M. McConnell, the NSA's director, said in a May 23 memo. "We must create an environment where employees are confident that they can raise issues and seek redress of grievances without fear of damaging their careers," the admiral said.

He said the agency would not tolerate reprisals and would hold supervisors accountable.

"I suppose he means it," Mr. Kator said. "But the boys down the line don't."

The agency, charged with collecting intelligence from satellites and worldwide listening posts, has about 20,000 employees at Fort Meade and is among the largest employers in the state. The complaints at NSA -- as well as the CIA -- have raised concerns in Congress, which has scheduled a hearing next month. Ms. Carbone expects to testify, Mr. Kator said.

Besides charges of discrimination, the House Intelligence Committee is to explore whether NSA and other intelligence agencies should come under the Whistle Blower Protection Act, which created an agency to protect federal employees from reprisals if they complain about their bosses. The intelligence agencies are exempt from the law.

NSA developed its own whistle blower protection policy in July 1993, according to Michael A. Smith, NSA's director of policy. It covers complaints about supervisors as well as allegations of wrongdoing reported to Congress, the Office of Special Counsel or any government investigative agency.

When Ms. Carbone arrived at NSA in the mid-1960s, the agency had few minority workers and Hispanics were pigeon-holed into jobs as linguists.

From 1977 to 1993, when NSA was aggressively hiring, the agency did little to hire and promote minorities, according to the agency's Equal Employment Opportunity Strategic Plan, released in March.

Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans accounted for 1 percent of the NSA work force in 1977, rising to 3 percent in 1993. Black employees accounted for 8 percent in 1977 and 9 percent in 1993.

Ms. Carbone was named the agency's acting Hispanic employment manager in 1973. Two years later, she took part in an exchange with the U.S. Air Force Security Service in San Antonio, where she also worked as a Hispanic recruiter and won a national award for her efforts.

Returning to NSA in 1977, she was employed in personnel and in 1982 applied to become the Hispanic employment program manager.

But NSA selected a less qualified employee for the post, said Mr. Kator, who is convinced that the agency "didn't want a rabble-rouser. They didn't want someone who would do something."

John T. Hamilton Jr., then NSA's chief of staff for administration, said in a May 1983 affidavit that Ms. Carbone worked hard on behalf of Hispanics and her "aggressive pursuit" possibly hurt her career and made her "unpopular in the eyes of some managers."

Ms. Carbone filed a discrimination complaint in 1982, arguing that she was more qualified for the position than the person who was selected. She lost in 1985 when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond noted that NSA hired another Hispanic for the job.

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